Quality & Quantity

, Volume 50, Issue 5, pp 2107–2120 | Cite as

Bringing life “back into life course research”: using the life grid as a research instrument for qualitative data collection and analysis

  • Magda Lalanda NicoEmail author


Life course research has been more or less dominated by quantitative methods of data analysis. The debate on life course methods has been vigorous but chiefly focused on two competing quantitative paradigms: complex descriptive analysis of sequences (in particular through sequence analysis and optimal matching) and statistical procedures that analyse the timing predictors of such events (in particular through event history analysis techniques). Recently, an important article argued that it was necessary to bring the “course” back into life course research, advocating the need to embrace complex descriptions of the order and sequence of events, which involves putting the event history analysis approach aside and focusing on social, family and work trajectories (Aisenbrey and Fasang in Sociol Methods Res 38(3):420–462, 2010). In this article, on the basis of empirical evidence and practice (Nico 2011, Nico and Van der Vaart 2012), we aim to take this argument further. Taking life, i.e. processes and stories (Becker in Sociol Quart 35(2):183–194, 1994), into consideration in the analysis of the life course unquestionably and inevitably involves the admission of qualitative data. While not dismissing but rather using the importance of chronological event data, this qualitative data includes the meanings and narratives of individuals on the matters of their own trajectories, the causal or emotional relationship between events, and the relevance and impact of certain events on the direction of their lives. For this purpose, we present and discuss the potential and procedures of the life grid—initially and primarily used to support the quantitative collection of longitudinal data—as an instrument for qualitative data collection and analysis.


Life course Qualitative interviews Life grid Reflexivity Transitions to adulthood 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia (CIES-IUL)LisbonPortugal

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