Theory, Method and British Political Life History

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W Rhodes, R.
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2012
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Abstract

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. I describe each in turn and review the main debates in the tradition before turning to the swingeing critique by 'the interpretive turn'. Postmodernism deconstructed grand narratives by pronouncing the death of the subject and the death of the author. I outline an interpretive approach that reclaims life history by focusing on the idea of 'situated agency': that is, on the webs of significance that people spin for themselves against the backcloth of their inherited beliefs and practices. I explore, with examples, the implications of this approach for writing life history, stressing the different uses for biography open to political scientists. I end with some brief thoughts on why the British tradition of political life history has proved resistant to change.

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Political Studies Review

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10

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2

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© 2012 The American Society for Public Administration. Published by Blackwell Publishing. This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article: Theory, Method and British Political Life History, Public Administration Review, Vol. 10(2), 2012, pp. 161-176, which has been published in final form at dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1478-9302.2011.00236.x.

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Public Administration

Political Science

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