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Interpretive Political ScienceSelected Essays, Volume II$
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R. A. W. Rhodes

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198786115

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198786115.001.0001

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On Life History

On Life History

(p.96) 6 On Life History
Interpretive Political Science

R. A. W. Rhodes

Oxford University Press

This chapter turns from ethnography to contemporary history, focusing on ‘life history’ as another example of blurring genres. The British tradition of political life history has six conventions: ‘tombstone’ biography; separation of public and private lives; life without theory; objective evidence and facts; character; and storytelling. The chapter reviews each before turning to the swingeing critique by ‘the interpretive turn’. Postmodernism deconstructed grand narratives by pronouncing the death of the subject and the author. The chapter outlines an interpretive approach that reclaims life history by focusing on the idea of ‘situated agency’: that is, on the webs of significance people spin for themselves against the backcloth of their inherited beliefs and practices. It explores, with examples, the implications of this approach for writing life history, stressing different uses for biography open to political scientists. It briefly discusses why the British tradition of political life history has proved resistant to change.

Keywords:   biography, interpretive turn, life history, situated agency, blurred genres

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