Some thoughts on personal morphogenesis…

If we intend to conduct biographical research, it raises the obvious question: what is a biography? Our answer to this should ideally involve both theoretical and methodological considerations I.e. it should be orientated towards thinking through the practical consequences for a researcher thinking in terms of a given concept of biography.

One tendency I find deeply problematic is to conflate biography with self narrative I.e. the truth of our biography can be found in the story of how we got from where we were to where we are now. However there is something important in the most engaging of such narratives. They involve a making sense of changes in ourselves and changes in our circumstances.

Subsuming these three distinguishable though interdependent aspects of a biographical process under the concept of narrative makes it difficult to understanding the unfolding interconnections between them. Yet it’s these interconnections which account for the form and content of the narrative and it is through the analysis of them that we can explain the unfolding of someone’s biography rather than just describing it.

This is where the concepts of personal morphogenesis and personal morphostasis are useful. The former refers to those events which lead to some transformation of personal characteristics and/or elaboration of self hood. The latter refers to those events which lead to the reproduction of personal characteristics.

These are the drivers of the biographical process – they are the generative mechanisms which underlie the observable shape and direction to an individual’s life (as well as the stories they tell about themselves and their lives as they attempt to make sense of their experience retrospectively).

I’m aware that when I talk/write about this stuff, it sounds very abstract, whereas in my mind it is not – this is an approach which I have been developing through the actual practice of doing qualitative longitudinal research. The BSA conference paper Im making these notes with reference to is intended to present this overall approach in a way which makes sense to people who aren’t critical realists. Expect some more posts on this topic over the next couple of weeks.

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About Mark