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Collective Biography

An experience of inscribed collectivity:

the trace of a gendered journey (mid-point
17:10:2006 Bristol UK)


Mike Gallant
Upper Hillside
Shetland ZE2 9JX

Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 7
An experience of inscribed collectivity

An experience of inscribed collectivity:

the trace of a gendered journey (mid-point
17:10:2006 Bristol UK)


This paper is an attempt, through text and other

visual techniques, to convey my own experience of

taking part in a short collective biography workshop.

Through the experience of the workshop,

subsequent reflection and diaries, and through the

use of writing as a methodology I have created a

paper that reflects my belief that inscribed within

my body is my own local knowledge of gender and,

more importantly, intimate connection to other

humans – I continue to consider how open these

inscriptions are to adaptation, development,

conflation or abandonment.

This is a ‘Rites of Passage’ story. After setting the

context, I give a short history of this Collective

Biography, before exploring aspects of my personal

An experience of inscribed collectivity

experience. I conclude by briefly considering the

pain of inscription.

Stuff and Non/sense

I am troubled and confused. Where to begin?

Hesitate. Deep breath. My God, this paper has

been a challenge. My body feels tense right now –

why was it that yesterday, when I knew that I must

finally put all my notes together and create a text fit

for my peers (and the academy), I inexplicably

pulled a muscle in my shoulder that makes it more

painful to type? Why do I know that the typing

would in any case be painful? Why is my breathing

shallow breathing in this moment of introspection, of

dialogue with my selves?

Many questions; many answers:

1. ‘A text fit my peers’, I say in passing, and perhaps

that is one crucial aspect of this present writing: how

An experience of inscribed collectivity

to do justice to the shared experience of others? Of

course, this is no different to the prospect of

communicating any form of research that involves

human beings beyond myself. And yet that

experience of Group C1 in conversation and

collaboration demands more – maybe because it

became so essentially ‘meaningful’ to me that I

continue to hold it in aspic, to watch it like the

desired dessert whose sweetness can only be

savoured after the tedious main course. I’m bloated

by the vastness of the main course of my life. I want

no space to consume my just desserts. And then

there is a desperate fear that, while I look on, the

experience may already be ossified, fit only for the

mausoleum of many group experiences.

2. I need to recognise that the subject matter of our

collective conversation (early experiences of gender)

resonates with my continuing personal experience of

my daughter’s bullying at the hands of older boys.

There is a mouldering tanginess of disgust in the

passages of my head, and a pent up energy within

these old bones. A paradox of mildewed compost-bin

An experience of inscribed collectivity

history and lime pickle all in one stumbling,

continuous moment of life. I am part of this live

political experience. I am the Action Researcher in

my own world. I wish to make a difference.

3. I am afraid that I may not be able to make a

difference. I am afraid that this work today may not

make a difference. I am afraid.

Gender-related stories I recognise from my own growing up experience - 1

‘… it kind of irks me to see boys sit down unnecessarily.

Stand tall and be proud. With a little practice they can help
extinguish a campfire because believe me, until you have
experienced that little gem you haven't really lived.’

Jack’s Shack, 2006

As Mikhail Bakhtin suggests, “…I become myself

only by revealing myself to another, through

another and with another’s help…. I cannot do

without the other: I cannot become myself without

the other: I must find myself in the other, finding the

other in me (in mutual reflection and perception)”

(Todorov, 1984, p.96). And so it was, that in a

significant manner I discovered more of myself, and

others, in the clinical spaces of bleached academic

An experience of inscribed collectivity

meeting rooms. The unbearable lightness of being

in spaces that add little sense of a history – at least,

of a history that reaches as far into the past as the

stories that we shared. This in itself impacted on

the gelling of a collective who, though knowing each

other, knew nothing much of each other. Sue,

Sophie, Malcolm, Mike and Christine – I salute us all!

Gender-related stories I recognise from my own growing up experience – 2

…there was shame attached to being a ‘girl’ in a boys

world, or a ‘boy’ in a girls world. We have not yet had
time within the collective to tease out more about what it
meant to be ‘a boy’ or ‘a girl’ or multi-gendered.
Sue Dale (Collective Member), 2006

A short history of this Collective Biography

A ‘collective biography’ could simply be an

expression describing the normal method of

constructing meaning within societies: we tell each

other stories of our personal experiences, and

construct from this a shared understanding of the

world we inhabit. However, how we tell these

An experience of inscribed collectivity

stories is significant: they may be communicated

through spoken and non-verbal language in a direct

person-to-person experience, or they may be

recorded (and subsequently decoded by

reader/observer) through written text or other

recorded visual forms (e.g. cave painting,

photography etc.). What has now become known

amongst qualitative researchers as Collective

Biography uses both these forms of discourse in an

attempt to uncover lived experience and throw light

on unseen normative influences at work within


The very simplicity of the idea, in the sense that it

directly replicates a constructionist view of meaning

making, is perhaps its strength. However, the

concept has no definition as such, having developed

from the Memory-Work of socialist-feminist

researchers in Eastern Europe led by Frigga Haug

(Haug et al., 1987; Haug, 1992; Onyx & Small,

2001), who carried the concept to Australia and into

the hands of Bronwyn Davies and others (e.g.

An experience of inscribed collectivity

Davies & Gannon, 2006). It was here that post-

structuralism nurtured and re-shaped this process of

collective auto-ethnographic research whilst

retaining the centrality of gender as its primary

subject matter.

Gender-related stories I recognise from my own growing up experience - 3

‘You forgot to mention being able to write your name in the

snow ;-)’

Jack’s Shack, 2006

“The term, “collective biography” is useful because it

both describes the method of working with personal
stories and the oxymoronic implication of the phrase
foregrounds the tension between the individual and
the collective that is both the crux of the method and
the source of its dilemmas.”
Gannon, quoted in Onyx & Small, 2001

So it was that Jane Speedy (2006), in her work as a

narrative therapist and researcher, encountered the

Collective Biography of Australian academia and

brought home the concept to colleagues and

students in the Graduate School of Education in

Bristol. In this UK version of Collective Biography,

An experience of inscribed collectivity

members of the research group (or collective) share

personal stories of their own experiences around a

theme (in this case Explorations of Gender and

Power). These, or other, stories are then individually

written before being constructively critiqued by

other members of the collective in a protocol based

around the techniques of Definitional Ceremony and

Reflecting Teamwork (White, 1995). At least – that

was the theory3.

In Australia the intensity of the Collective Biography

process had been heightened by the practice of

holding residential workshops in the holiday

destination of Magnetic Island. These groups were

always single gender, continuing the feminist

tradition of Frigga Haug and her colleagues. The

academically validated Collective Biography unit,

from which this paper results, appears to be the first

attempt at work with a mixed-gender collective. It

also differed from previous Collective Biography

workshops in the length of time that the collective

(in my own case, Group C) was physically together.

An experience of inscribed collectivity

It was generally recognised by all participants that

ten hours or less was unlikely to be sufficient time to

produce research results: it was hoped that the

experience would engender some understanding of

the process, and offer the chance of follow-up work

should the collective choose.

Collective Biography is not only story telling.

Writing as a methodology for research has long

been recognised (e.g. Richardson, 1997, 2000;

Richardson & St. Pierre, 2005) and is central to the

Collective Biography process. However, although a

protocol for the development of individually and

collectively written work has crystallised out from

past experiences of collectives, for many

participants it seems that the simple presence of “…

our bodies together in a particular place and time” is

crucial to the process (Davies & Gannon, 2006,

p.118; see also Park, 2005). Susanne Gannon goes

on; “… our collective writing in cyberspace … has

been sustained by the deeply embodied experience

of these bodies together in that place” (ibid., p.118).

An experience of inscribed collectivity


This has been my personal experience of Collective

Biography so far – I find myself pondering as to how

long such a trauma (for that is a reasonable

description of my felt experience, despite its more

normal negative connotations) remains embodied.

Gender-related stories I recognise from my own growing up experience - 4

When I was a child, I spake like a child,

I understood as a child, I thought as a child:
but when I became a man, I put away childish

(The Bible, `1 Corinthians 11)

Shared experience in Collective Biography4

Journal Day 3 in the cupboard, the girl left behind

I’ve worked in many groups, crying ‘don’t go with(out) me’ ‘the
therapeutic, training, definitional boaters on elastic and the chest high
ceremony, supervisory, but this elbows reminding me that I don’t belong
group was different. The here anymore’ that small boy who was
experience so profound is difficult ‘too big’ and ‘who should have been a
to put into words. The difference girl’ that ‘invisible’ child ashamed.
between feeling ‘a connected There was for me a sense of becoming
individual’ within a group of other multi-gendered.
connected individuals with varying
group dynamics, to what went The brutal betrayal of ripping him/her
beyond this description towards apart, the bewilderment, the flatness.
collective experience. This The movement towards individual (ness)
‘something’ held between us within a group which hurts so much.
created a feeling deep within my
body as if these other stories Sharing these stories amongst a wider
became embodied within my audience needed for me to move back
experience. Hearing the stories into that same place of collective, but
again, becoming that giggling boy this time shift the stories into an older
An experience of inscribed collectivity


less vulnerable place. I had valued; I feel water (where is that

become ‘feeling invisible’ ‘not intervening image seeping from
belonging’ right now as I become aware of this
‘still unfair’ ‘in the cupboard’ ‘alone tingling sensation of real living
in the rain’. shooting through the physical body
of mine?) and a duck pool6 in the
courtyard square; and Josie’s
Oh, what a surge of excitement budding breasts and confusion; and
as I read this – that my own my own little self, peeing up the
body is not mistaken in its shed wall as high as I can, and then,
feelings (though how can a yes, how could I ever be what was
body be mistaken in what it demanded of me?7 To be a girl in
feels?). I’ve worked in many the body of a boy – to become multi-
groups, early encounter groups gendered.
in the 1970’s through to
facilitating therapeutic single As I sit for a moment, contemplating
gender groups and personal the ‘brutal betrayal’ I become aware
development groups for that my left hand is pulling my shirt
professional training in and fleece clear away from my
counselling and psychotherapy. throat. A constricted sense of being
I too found the experience of suffocated by this demand to …
Group C something beyond
words – so I’ve freed myself … belong? And this was an
from words and let myself experience of belonging – and of
create a picture to express this keeping each other safe. Of walking
‘something’ that we speak away together to a place of less
about deep in our bodies5. For confusion, a place of growing
now, as I write I can surely feel autonomy, where the haunting
that experience, and can touch memories of earlier childhood were
some part of you, Sue. And once more invisible. And yet, we (in
now I’m feeling Malcolm and so many ways an experienced group
the sun; now Christine, always of adult educators) did not have the
upright, always held in tension, immediate knowledge or experience
so perfectly book-learnt of which way to turn.
Chinese - and little girl so, so
An experience of inscribed collectivity


How I feel when I experience Group C

Figure 1. How do I feel when I experience Group ‘C’?

An experience of inscribed collectivity

A taste of ginger in Collective Biography8

Ginger helps on the boat -

A thin slice of fresh root held
between teeth and cheek
takes away a little of the rough passage

Twelve hours of tossing and turning

in my narrow cabin bunk -

such a precious time

together -
a delicious time –
discovering each other and ourselves
like lovers

late adolescence tales

of drug-induced gladness in Australia, York
and ourselves
taking away the pain of earlier-year stories
told but yesterday

Green Claw over tea and toast

(2)Revolution and then (3)
Revisionism – and the banner swirls red-blood high
for just a few more moments
before the wind dies

Sick with the swell

and the rising and the yawling
I crawl to my notepad
the rhizome calling
Gender-related stories I recognise from my own growing up experience - 5

It grew less to be like fucking,

and more like making love

Al Stewart, Love Chronicles, 19699

An experience of Collective Biography10

After I read it out to you, you gave your first impressions - and I jotted
down some of the words and phrases that resonated with my own
experience and added to it.

This is what I wrote:

Disappointment - feeling heavy

feeling sad
child in an adult world - not getting it
'Rain not as gentle' phrase v.poignant & sad

You were Too big - she was damaged - heavy/sad

- cars punctuate events
embodiment sense
raining running down a
window like tears streaming
Sense of responsibility down - lonely
for nothing I had control
over - like the rain trapped like a feral
Too big - too small - animal skin of leather smell

This material should perhaps be the starting point

for my contribution to the Group C collective should

we decide to pursue the issue of ‘gender and power’

through the method of Collective Biography.

I recall the joy of really writing something that hit

home in the pit of my stomach; the pain of re-writing

and the sense of validation as the collective, each

voice alone, agreed: my work was better for the

immediacy, the simplicity, the sheer uncluttered

emotive phenomena of the first version (see

Appendix 2).

To quote Davies, et al: the UK we can take the
(2000 :19) this process is strain and lap up the pain!
not the ‘warm fuzzy pursuit Well, that wasn’t to be the
of empathy’ and ‘The message the mad bolshies in
questioning and challenging one caucus would take heed
of each other’s stories can of. They thought they knew
take on a ruthless better! Three women and two
quality’11 men (whoever heard of
This was the way that mixing gender in Collective
tutors broke the news to Biography? – there’ll
the participants on the always be questions there
Collective Biography won’t there?) played away
workshop at Toffsville Uni and claim to have done the
last October – no, there whole thing painlessly.
would be no tree frogs in One member of the tear-away
Bristol – because here in gang, Mike Gallant, said
‘it’s all about involvement
and intimacy, caring and Collective Biography it’s
contentment, it’s about the gotta hurt – know what we
paradoxes of mean?
poststructuralist humanism Have your say – log on at
and a constructionist to
worldview.’ tell the softy lefties that
‘Bollocks!’, we say - if socialism just ain’t like
it’s going to be proper that! Ask Frigga Haug!

Themes in our Collective Biography

Gender and Power

Mortal, invisible

Invincible [I think of this

as Sue’s repeating theme]

In life inaccessible

hid from our eyes



Physical hurting, confusion and aloneness

Group Process

You tell yours and I want to tell mine (experience)

Inexplicable connection


Anger, defensiveness and xenophobia (other groups

don’t do it like us)

Gender-related stories I recognise from my own growing up experience - 6

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

Rudyard Kipling, If12

Plagiarism in Collective Biography13

Yes, let’s get back
> Back to the there! And the
collective. Plgiarism sooner the better …

(can't even spell it!) is

I know that I’m using
your ideas and even
always a
your words – and I
> problem to me in
know that I will sign a
that as I listen to other form saying that
peoples stories, they these are all my own
words except the
ones that aren’t –
> part
though God only
> of my own story and knows where my
it is very difficult to words come from if

separate me from them they don’t come from

you – and you – and
- does
you – and you
> that make any
And yet, of course I
sense? This unit is a know (connaissance
minefield of shared or savvy?) what

experience and plagiarism is – it’s not

> I'm
This is my story – and
> not sure that it would
this is your story –
be right to take out the this is the ‘riparian
collective stuff. zone’14 that is such a

> nutrient-rich area

close to the flowing
Sue Dale email
waters of the river of
27:11:06 8:34
my world.
Although the material products of Collective

Biography can be genuinely the work of one author

(for example, the writings of a member of the

collective who is collating their own experience of

the collective), an explanation of how the product

came to its fruition (a requirement of an academic

assignment such as this) necessarily benefits from

extensive quoting of the written work (or other

recorded communications – verbal, non-verbal,

electronically mediated or immediately experienced)

of other members of the collective. In this collective

method of writing it is the very process of savouring

(savoir) the text of others that creates, through the

distanciation, another hermeneutic cycle. This is not


Gender-related stories I recognise from my own growing up experience - 7

(Hanif) Kureishi made the interesting point that we

are no-longer shocked: It used to be – not that long ago –
that to shock was shocking, but that isn’t the case anymore.
Now to shock is to conform and there doesn’t seem to be
such a thing as normalcy – if there was it would be shocking.
According to Kureishi, we all desire to be shocked,
and art finds that harder and harder to do now –
that is why he wanted to get finished early enough to
get home in time to catch Big Brother’s action of the day.

Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear (2007)

Conclusion on this Collective Biography

Feelings are embodied; texts are inscribed. On

balance I believe that my experience of gender and

power has been both embodied (through primary

experience) and inscribed (through recontextualised

media). Inscribing is the more painful of the two

processes, though most of the time I can’t feel it.

‘George MacLeod described Iona as a "thin place" - only a tissue paper

separating the material from the spiritual. To spend some time in such a
historic and inspiring setting is to be open to challenge and the exploration
of new horizons.’ 15

I have found another “thin place” – it is a place I can

carry with me into any space – it is a place where I

own my understandings – a place where I thicken,

sprout, nurture and fertilize – a thin place where I

can touch you … through the tissue paper.


1. Group C was one third of the student and tutor participants of

the October 2006 Collective Biography Unit of the Bristol
University EdD (Narrative Strand) course. Meeting over two
and a half days, the ‘taught course’ contained substantial
input from tutors and students in addition to approximately
ten hours spent in the small group Collective Biography
workshop on Explorations in Gender and Power.

2. An essential feature of Collective Biography as a research

method is that, compared to other (qualitative and
quantitative) techniques there is more substantial creation of
knowledge (savvy?) though a tight (in terms of time and
space) hermeneutical cycle. An interesting observation here,
and one that aligns Collective Biography with Western
Scientific Knowledge (WSK) rather than Traditional Knowledge
(TK) (see, for example, Dods, 2004), is that in common with
modernist western society, written text is relied on as the
dominant producer of savoir (‘know how’ knowledge).
Although the distanciation that this produces may allow for a
hermeneutical cycle that thickens understanding within the
Collective, this understanding may be mistaken for
connaissance (‘know that’, true/false knowledge) by the
reader of the research product who necessarily experiences
‘decontextualisation’ and ‘recontextualisation’ within the
context of its reading (see, for example, Ricoeur 1998). This
is perhaps an unavoidable aspect of communicating any
‘research’ that uses the pathways and dissemination
techniques of WSK! It is a strength of Collective Biography as
part of the ‘Grand Narrative’ of WSK.

3. Our tutors, Jane Speedy, Tim Bond and Malcolm Reed, set the
‘rules’ for our Collective Biography workshop before we began
(see Appendix 1). In practice, Group C discovered such
delight in the story-telling aspects of the process, and such a
sense of immediacy in our first written work, that we ignored
rules and created an intimate group experience that perhaps
led more towards personal growth than a Collective
Biography. I was happy to take such a rare opportunity to
share intimate life experience, and to enjoy the feelings
engendered. For us, Collective Biography appeared to be
about the outcomes suggested by Bronwyn Davies and
colleagues (2004) though without the ruthless qualities of
questioning and without the fuzzy empathy. Empathy was
not what I, at least, felt – connection and intimacy describe
my feelings more accurately. The difference is certainly

4. The left hand column is the work of Sue Dale - shared with
the collective (by email) November 2006. I have written a
commentary of my reactions to her words in the right hand

5. In 2002 I kept a ‘Visual Diary’ (see, for example, Ganim &

Fox, 1999) that involved a daily meditation on a particular
aspect of my experience before translating the feeling of that
experience into a visual piece of ‘art’. Since that time I have
occasionally used the technique to clarify my experience
without the use of language and/or text. I began the process
on this occasion by writing the question “How do I feel when I
experience Group C?”. I meditated on this for five to ten
minutes and then created the image, first with an
extravagant pencil ‘doodle’ and then using this series of
shapes as a base for pastel colour.

6. I realised later that my embodied feeling of a pool in relation

to reading Sue’s words (which in turn related to Christine’s
story) might have been prompted by Christine’s own words
(interestingly, I had altered ‘pond’ to ‘pool’ in the text as I
came to the end of the phrase, as the word ‘pond’ didn’t feel
right): “Once we start telling, each story seems to lead to the
next, one person’s memories triggering another’s. There is
some laughter, but also distress and powerlessness in our
stories and we lean in towards each other as the telling and
responding goes round. I talk of my sense of a gathering
‘pool’ of stories in the middle which connect us. After about
an hour (by this time we’ve abandoned the bits of paper with
tasks and timings) we have a tea break and, slightly less
connected, get back together again to write a short piece
each. I move my chair out of the tight circle and turn away to
write – others do the same.” Christine Bell (Collective
Member), 2006.

7. Appendix 2 is the text of the story I wrote on the first day of

the Collective Biography Unit at Bristol on 16th October 2006.
It concerns my early experience of being aware of my gender,
and how I learnt that I was the ‘wrong’ gender.

8. This interlude celebrates what has been termed the

rhizomatic qualities of a research methodology that includes
‘writing on’ rather than ‘writing up’ the available data (see,
for example, Amorim & Ryan, 2005).

9. “The second album by Al Stewart received early notoriety for

including the word "fucking" in its title track, and reprinting
the word on its inner gatefold sleeve for all to see. Shocking.
The controversy thus gained was probably useful in garnering
sales of the record, but, truth to tell, it overshadowed the real
reason why 'Love Chronicles' was as vital to the student
population of 1969 as Heinz beans, matches and marijuana. It
was, and is, for the most part, a very fine record.” Accessed
at on 3rd
February 2007.

10.After an introduction to the theory and practice of Collective

Biography work the large group of the Collective Biography
unit was split into three working collectives. I found myself in
Group C. I was not aware of any particular choice in the
division of the large group. There was an initial period of
extensive story telling and conversation around the theme of
‘my earliest experience of gender’, before we spent twenty to
thirty minutes writing a story of an early experience of gender
(Appendix 2). We then read these stories to each other, one
at a time, giving limited feedback on our immediate cognitive
and visceral reactions to each others’ material. That evening
I re-wrote the contemporaneous notes I had made as the
other members of the collective gave me their feedback on
my own story. It is that which is reproduced here as the
starting point for this section.

11.This quote is from the Guidelines for Collective Biography

given out to participants as part of the pre-reading for the
module (see Appendix 1).

12. The final two lines of ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling accessed on

January 20th 2007 at

13.The question of plagiarism was raised in email

communications between members of the collective. There
was concern about matching the needs of the assessment
process of the University with the reality of the Collective
Biography process.

14.See Park, 2005.

15. I visited the island of Iona whilst travelling with my partner at

the age of seventeen and it made a lasting impression on me.
The Iona community, based at the Abbey church on the island
(though now comprising members worldwide) was founded in
1938 ‘… by the Rev George MacLeod, is an ecumenical
Christian community of men and women from different walks
of life and different traditions in the Christian church that is
committed to seeking new ways of living the gospel of Jesus
Christ in today's world’. Text is from accessed on January
27th 2007.

Amorim, Antonio Carlos & Ryan, Charly (2005) “Deleuze, Action

Research and Rhizomatic Growth” in Educational Action
Research, Vol.13, No.4, pp. 581-593.

Bell, Christine (2006) Hoping for Tree Frogs. Draft Assignment for
Bristol University EdD Collective Biography module, sent by email on
6th December 2006.

Dale, Sue (2006) Deconstruction or destruction: Exploring the

experience of a collective biography workshop from a personal
perspective. Draft Assignment for Bristol University EdD Collective
Biography module, sent by email on 27th November 2006.

Davies, Bronwyn, Browne, Jenny, Gannon, Susanne, Honan,

Eileen, Laws, Cath, Mueller-Rockstroh, Babette and Petersen, Eva
Bendix (2004) “The Ambivalent Practices of Reflexivity” in
Qualitative Inquiry, Vol. 10, pp. 360-389.

Davies, Bronwyn & Gannon, Susanne, Eds. (2006) Doing

Collective Biography. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Dods, Roberta Robin (2004) “Knowing ways / ways of knowing:

reconciling science and tradition in World Archaeology, Vol.36,
No.4, pp.547-5557.

Ganim, Barbara, & Fox, Susan (1999) Visual Journaling: Going

Deeper than Words. Wheaton (Illinois): Quest Books.

Haug, Frigga et al. (1987) Female sexualisation: a collective work

of memory [trans. Erica Carter]. London: Verso.

Haug, Frigga (1992) Beyond female masochism: memory-work

and politics. London: Verso.

Jack’s Shack (2006) “Teach Your Boy to Pee Like a Man” [posted
March 30 2006] from Jack’s Shack blog accessed at
man.html 19th January 2007.

Onyx, Jenny & Small, Jennie (2001) “Memory-Work: The Method”

in Qualitative Inquiry, Vol.7, No.6, pp.773-786.

Park, Jeff (2005) Writing at the edge: narrative and writing

process theory. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Richardson, Laurel (1997) Fields of Play: Constructing an
Academic Life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Richardson, Laurel (2000) “Writing: A Method of Inquiry” in

Denzin & Lincoln, Eds., Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd
Edition). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Richardson, Laurel & St. Pierre, Elizabeth (2005) “Writing: A

Method of Inquiry” in Denzin & Lincoln, Eds., The Sage Handbook
of Qualitative Research (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Ricoeur, Paul (1998) “The Hermeneutical Function of

Distanciation” in Dayton, Eric, Ed., Art and Interpretation: an
anthology of readings in aesthetics and the philosophy of art.
Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press.

Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear (2007) “Are you ‘in’
or ‘out’?” [posted January 19th 2007] from Simon Smith and the
Amazing Dancing Bear’s Blog accessed at 3rd February

Speedy, Jane (2006) Personal communication. Bristol 16th

October 2006.

Todorov, Tzvetan (1984) Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle

[trans. Wlad Godzich]. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

White, Michael (1995) Re-Authoring Lives: Interviews and Essays.

Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.
Appendix 1

Collective biography: Guidelines for producing collective biography

within a workshop context: (from Davies, et al, Qualitative Inquiry, June

A process of conjointly reading for meaning, underpinned by notions of

‘the self’ as verb, perpetually in process, shaped and shaping, rather
than the self as noun.
The idea is to make visible the discourses through which we make
meanings and make selves, including the discourses informing the
collective biography workshop itself, not just those informing
individuals in their daily/previous lives
1. generate stories on chosen theme…each one threading on to the
2. tell stories, others listening carefully…probing where necessary for
further images and details to support the imagined story in their
own mind’s eye
3. to take off, in new directions with new stories noting linkages and
4. repeat the process
5. after about an hour of this process, participants go off and write on
this theme by themselves for half an hour or so writing not only
autobiographically, but also with the aim of writing into the space
that makes discursive processes and practices transparent, ie:
noticing the histories in which they have been caught up (eg: as
Europeans, moral beings, music lovers, etc…etc…) and developing
an explicit awareness of the ‘constitutive’ process of writing

Questions for listeners to ask of a first draft:

1. Is it plausible/does it ring true?
2. Does it work for me?
3. Was it well remembered/clearly described?
4. Was there sufficient detail for listeners to imagine it?
5. Could listeners make sense/meaning of the story?
6. Were there clichés generalisations, value-laden pieces where
sharper clearer language might have been?
7. Have other details, memories, particularities come to mind during
this process that shed further/new/unexpected light on the story?

By removing the general, the vague, the unclear (as far as the
collective imagination goes) we are not trying to get closer to the ‘real’,
but rather, exposing more of the discursive processes and imperatives
that are at play

To quote Davies, et al: (2000:19) this process is not the ‘warm fuzzy
pursuit of empathy’ and ‘The questioning and challenging of each
other’s stories can take on a ruthless quality’
This perhaps seems a little stark but the purpose is not to tell the
original storyteller’s story to their own personal satisfaction, it is to tell
it in a way that can be vividly imagined by others (for which sharply
accurate and specific reflections and questions from others are

‘The writing thus becomes, itself, a self-conscious, reflexive, and

innovative act that seeks to avoid the repetition of well-practiced ways
of knowing and includes, instead, detailed, embodied memories’

Davies, B. (2000a). A body of writing 1989-1999. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta

Mira Press.
Bronwyn Davies, Jenny Browne, Susanne Gannon, Eileen Honan, Cath
Laws, Babette Mueller-Rockstroh, and Eva Bendix Petersen (2004) The
Ambivalent Practices of Reflexivity, in: Qualitative Inquiry, 10: 360 -
Appendix 2

I’ve lost control. I’m not who I thought I was. I was … I was me.
I was a child if I was anything at all, and now I’m not who I should
be – and there’s even worse. But I’ll come to that later – first
things first.

It slipped out. My father speaking, “you should’ve been a girl.

One boy, one girl.” Maybe I looked aghast. A dumb pause. He’s
speaking again, “after your brother, mum and I wanted one of
each.” He looks thoughtful for a moment, “and now she can’t.”

Blank silence. I’m not understanding. I look up to his matter-of-

fact face, curiosity written in my young child’s frown. “She got
so damaged having you, she can’t have anymore children - you
were too big.”

The shock, the momentary re-writing of a life so far. I am the

guilty one, The one who has taken away everything that my
father and my mother want. How can I put this right? I have to
please them. They don’t want me. I have to please them, “the
doctor said it would be fine – you were a month overdue.” But I
wasn’t listening now. I was wondering how to make amends.

The car pulls up outside the school gates and I pull open the
door. It’s a boy’s school. A boys preparatory school. Can I be
prepared anymore? How to please my parents, to be the girl
they want but somehow can’t have because of me?

My God! If I’m not going to be a boy, perhaps I can’t be part of

this. The noise of the slammed door.
The car pulls away, the engine gently moving things on. The
exhaust still steaming in the autumnal dampness. The leaves,
perfect symmetrical figures, intense orange and red, fallen on
the tarmac – now marked with the tracks of tyres.

I become aware that the rain is not so gentle as I thought. The

heavy drops are tumbling on my life. I put my satchel over my
head, the smell of comforting wet leather closer to my face. I
check in both directions and cross the road.

4,125 words (excluding References and Appendices)