Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education
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Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education

Edited by Sara Delamont

The Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education offers both basic and advanced discussions of data collection, analysis and representation of all the best qualitative methods used in educational research.
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Chapter 41: Autobiography: Tales of the Writing Self

Sara Delamont


Sara Delamont The autobiographies discussed in this chapter are those published by academic qualitative social science researchers, focused on how their careers and scholarly ideas have evolved, and on their recollections about specific research projects. So the types of publication discussed are Leach’s (1984) account of his life in British social anthropology, Bernard’s (1990) and Greeley’s (1990) intellectual autobiographies written as distinguished American sociologists for a volume edited by Berger (1990) and Behar’s (2007) reflections on her family background and research among the Jewish community in Cuba. These are scholars who have done qualitative research, and have written about how that data collection, analysis and textual production fitted into their lives, changed them and led to their success. Those who fail to complete their doctorates, fail to get lectureships and fail to publish are not asked to publish their autobiographies. These texts are sometimes called ‘confessionals’, but that has rather negative connotations: it implies that the scholar has done unethical, immoral or shameful things in the past. It is ironic that successful researchers who publish autobiographical pieces, or weave autobiographical ideas into their books, frequently choose to present themselves as cultural incompetents in their own society and in that of their informants; as people who are unable to maintain their personal relationships; and as lacking in skills such as choosing appropriate clothes (Hobbs, 1988, p. 6), knowing when people are telling them tall stories (Foltz and Griffin, 1996) or when not to have a sexual relationship (Wolcott, 2002). Behar is...

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