More than meets the eye: traditions, nucleus and peripheries of the biographical research field

Abstract

The long and established roots of biographical research have been well documented, over the last decades, in a rich body of reflections about the main trends, traditions and contexts of production of the field within social sciences, including the identification of milestones and turns. Most of these notable analyses mapping the field’s key approaches and methods tend to be exclusively qualitatively driven, cross-disciplinary, and focused on particular research practices, national contexts. In this article, our aim is to make an innovative yet complementary contribution to the mapping of biographical research. Our contribution has a broader analytical window of observation by acknowledging not only the field’s main traditions and nucleus, but also its periphery and margins. We carried out a bibliometric analysis based on 1270 sociological publications written in English (journal articles, books and book chapters) and, through multivariate statistical analyses, identified three profiles. The Precursors, the founders of the field, define the key theoretical parameters of a sociological analysis of the relation between biography and society, while testing them empirically. The Engineers are the developers of the biographical method, by creating, producing and implementing methodological tools. The Explorers have a distinctive empirical focus, with publications illustrating the implementation of the bases developed by the Precursors and the Engineers in the collection of biographical data to study specific life contexts. All profiles have a singular contribution to the definition of the field’s structure, contents and dynamics in analytical, methodological and conceptual terms; thus, showing the many faces of biographical research.

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Fig. 1

Source Echoes database (SPSS®)

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Source Echoes database (SPSS® and Excel®)

Fig. 3

Source Echoes database (SPSS® and Excel®)

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Source Echoes database (SPSS® and Excel®)

Fig. 5

Source Echoes database (SPSS® and Excel®)

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia [PTDC/SOC-SOC/29117/2017].

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Correspondence to Ana Caetano.

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Caetano, A., Nico, M., Baía, J. et al. More than meets the eye: traditions, nucleus and peripheries of the biographical research field. Scientometrics (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-021-04020-y

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Keywords

  • Biographical research
  • Biographical method
  • Bibliometric analysis
  • Narratives
  • Sociology