Professor Janet Hart
Anthropology 658
Spring Half-Term 1996
Lane Hall Commons

Office Address: 2040G LSA Building
Office Hours: Wednesday, 10-12
Phone: 764-5371


This course is designed in connection with the CREES Ford Foundation Project, "Identity Formation and Social Issues in Estonia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan." Its purpose is to help prepare participants to study emergent social identities in collaboration with colleagues from the three former Soviet republics; however, the broader aim is to use these approaches (narrative analysis, oral histories and focus groups) as tools for research on questions of identity and social issues that is both comparative an d context-sensitive.

Both the class and the project as a whole are based on a philosophy of interaction, mutual learning, and cooperation with team members from the three regions of the former Soviet Union (FSU). Thus, we hope to avoid the kinds of traps that often plagu e collaborative relationships when funds from advanced industrial economies are used to support research in so-called "less developed" sites. We do not seek to impart information in a self-styled mission of civic modernization cum intellectual guidance. Nor are we inclined to exploit local assistants to yield what one scholar has recently called "the research equivalent of fast food,"* that involves native researchers in a semi-colonial arrangement based on financial need, allowing p rivileged academics to skim the surface for cultural insights and force indigenous information into imported molds. We recognize that our partners will have much to tell us, not only about regional histories, values and standpoints, but also about the ex perience and practice of conducting oral historical research in their countries. Similarly, we will all benefit from the expertise that CREES participants have developed in pursuing projects on other topics and in some cases using other methodologies.

(*See Salim Tamari, "Tourists with Agendas" Middle East Report, September/October 1995, p. 24.)

We will explore issues of data-gathering and analysis in readings, class discussion, and practical exercises designed to help members envision how interviews might actually play out on the ground. The course is divided into three interrelated parts. We will begin with the topic of oral histories, then proceed to narrative analysis, and end with focus groups. Hart will teach the oral history and narrative sections; specialists John Knodel, Chanpen Saengtienchai, and David Morgan will lead the sessions on focus group methodology. Class meetings will combine: a) discussion of theoretical/empirical aspects of the assigned readings; b) collective consideration of research designs for further on-si te investigations; c) mock interviews and other activities. We will also be joined at various points by visitors with special expertise in relevant areas.

Course requirements:

The course will involve a range of participants, including U-M graduate students, staff and faculty members, scholars and researchers from Uzbekistan, Estonia, and Ukraine, and, at various points, outside visitors. These differences notwithstanding, a common expectation is that all participants will come to class prepared to discuss each week's readings. Occasional lectures will help introduce basic concepts and points of information. Otherwise, the course will follow a seminar format, whose succe ss as a collective enterprise will depend on the dynamic, constructive, and critical engagement of all members.

Two books have been ordered for the course and will be available at Shaman Drum Bookshop, 313 South State Street (Tel: 662-7407): Daphne Patai, Brazilian Women Speak and Sharon Vaughn, Focus Group Interviews in Education and Psycho logy. Copies of these books will also be on reserve at the CREES Reading Room in Lane Hall. A coursepack with the remaining readings can be purchased at Michigan Document Service, 603 Church Street, Tel. 662-4530.

For those students taking the course for credit, written assignments will consist of three short book reviews (5-8 pgs.), due at the end of each section (oral history-May 17; narrative analysis-May 31; focus groups-June 17) in which you consider one of the assigned readings or a relevant piece of your own choosing, in light of issues raised in class discussion and your own past, present and/or future scholarship. Final grades will be based on the essays (75%) and also on class parti cipation (25%).


May 7-17

Oral histories are spoken memories about the past. In the most basic view, researchers question their subjects to elicit observations about what informants believe happened to them in the course of their lives, and seek explanations about why these events may have occurred. Further evaluations are made based on how subjects describe and characterize various individual and collective experiences which they now find relevant from a c ontemporary standpoint. Methodologically, oral histories can stand alone, to be read and analyzed on their own terms, or they can supplement other types of information to be found in archives, quantitative data bases, written records and memoirs.

During the term, we will want to tackle such fundamental issues as: What is distinctive and important about the oral history method? What can oral histories contribute to our "ways of knowing" about cultures, historical events, individual psychologi es, motivations, social interactions and collective understandings? How do oral histories, sociological interviews, testimonials, novels, autobiographies, and life stories differ from and/or complement one another? What is an ethnography? What are some problems and challenges associated with conducting oral histories and assembling oral historical data? What kinds of intellectual, cognitive, ethical, and political dilemmas emerge in the course of oral history research?

Such questions have inspired lively debate in academic circles over the past ten years. Part of the interactive learning process in this class will be to think about where we would position ourselves in these conversations. {Also see pp. 8-9}

Week 1
May 7-9


Daniel Bertaux, "From the Life-History Approach to the Transformation of Sociological Practice" (pp. 29-45) in Biography and Society: The Life History Approach in the Social Sciences, Daniel Bertaux (ed.), Sage, 1981.

L.L. Langness and Geyla Frank, (Ch. IV) "Biography and the Structure of Lives" (87-116) and (Ch. V) "Ethical and Moral Concerns" (117-155) in Lives: An Anthropological Approach to Biography, Chandler & Sharp, 1981.

James P. Spradley, "Ethnography and Culture," "Language and Fieldwork," and "Informants" in The Ethnographic Interview, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1979, pp. 3-39.

Kathryn Anderson and Dana C. Jack, "Learning to Listen: Interview Techniques and Analyses" (11-26); Katherine Borland, "'That's Not What I Said': Interpretive Conflict in Oral Narrative Research" (63-75) in Women's Words: The Feminist Practice of Or al History, Sherna B. Gluck and Daphne Patai (eds.) Routledge, 1991.

Eva Huseby-Darvas, "Migrating Inward and Out: Validating Life-Course Transitions through Oral Autobiography" (379-403) in Life History As Cultural Construction/Performance, Tamas Hofer and Peter Niedermuller (eds.), Proceedings of the IIIrd A merican-Hungarian Folklore Conference, Budapest, 1988.

Mary Gergen, "The Social Construction of Personal Histories: Gendered Lives in Popular Autobiographies," (Public Documents as Sources of Social Constructions) in Constructing the Social, Theodore R. Sarbin and John I. Kitsuse (eds.), Sage, 19 94, pp. 19-44.

Daniel Bertaux, "Oral History Approaches to an International Social Movement" (151-171) in Comparative Methodology: Theory and Practice in International Social Research, Else Oyen (ed.), Sage, 1990.


Alice Kessler Harris, "Introduction" (1-9); Ron Grele, "Riffs and Improvisations: An Interview with Studs Terkel" (10-49); Panel discussion: Studs Terkel, Jan Vansina, Alice Kessler Harris, Dennis Tedlock, Saul Benison, Ron Grele, "It's Not the Song, It's the Singing" (50-105) in Envelopes of Sound: Six Practitioners Discuss the Method, Theory and Practice of Oral History and Oral Testimony, Ronald J. Grele (ed.) Precedent Publishing, 1975.

Week 2
May 14-16

Katherine Verdery, "Notes toward an Ethnography of a Transforming State: Romania, 1991," in Articulating Hidden Histories: Exploring the Influence of Eric R. Wolf, Jane Schneider and Rayna Rapp (eds.) University of California Press, 1995, pp. 228-242.

Daniel Bertaux, "From Families' Case Histories to the Understanding of Social-Historical Processes: Analysis in the Inductive Mode," Paper presented at the International Workshop "Methodology and Methods of Oral History and Life Stories in Sociological an d Historical Research, Lviv, Ukraine, 5-7 September 1994.

Daphne Patai, Brazilian Women Speak: Contemporary Life Stories, Rutgers University Press, 1988, "Introduction: Constructing a Self" (pp. 1-35).

[You should try to read as much of the book as possible. The class will be divided into 5 groups, with each responsible for analyzing a set of texts for insights into identity, social issues, and the oral history approach and making a short prese ntation based on findings to the entire group.]

Sondra Hale, "Feminist Method, Process, and Self-Criticism: Interviewing Sudanese Women" (121-136) in Women's Words.


May 20-31

Narrative analysis examines how individuals and communities conceptualize social processes in the form of stories, with leading characters, plot structures and time boundaries. From this standpoint, embedded in oral and life histori es are narratives that speakers use to help them make sense of various occurrences in their lives.

At a broader level of analysis, local and national cultures also create and foster narratives that represent composite understandings, shared by larger groups of people at particular points in history. In the case of social movements, these "grander ," collective interpretations may offer powerful rationales that help initiate collective protest and the possibility of sweeping social change. In so-called critical legal studies (CLS), legal systems have also been "read" for the crucial narratives the y contain, through the examination of trial records, judicial decisions, media portrayals of key incidents, and popular opinion on notable crimes.

Closely related to the narrative method is theme analysis. Here, the researcher scans the texts of interviews for themes which subjects identify as particularly significant in narrating episodes in their lives and attempting to accou nt for past and present circumstances. A wide range of topics or themes may be salient in eyewitness testimony, including: nationalism, race and racism, folkloric traditions, regionalism, standards of femininity and masculinity, sexuality, individual per sonality traits, family myths and history, legal and political transactions with governmental structures, colonial relations of power and domination, honor/shame/reputational politics, social networks, colonial power relations, popular cultural preference s, opinions about pivotal historical and political events, psychological coping mechanisms, material/financial concerns and strategies, thoughts on ageing, participation in radical/revolutionary causes, mentorship, intergenerational relations, life trauma s. Note that how thoughts related to themes are expressed -- evidence of emotion, tone, choice of language -- can be as important as pinpointing particular themes. Theme analysis is a useful prior step in the process of isolating and identifying operative narratives.

Week 3
May 21-23


Catherine Kohler Riessman, "Introduction: Locating Narratives" and "Theoretical Contexts" (1-24) in Narrative Analysis: Qualitative Research Methods Series, Sage, 1993.

Natalie Zemon Davis, "Introduction," Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France, Stanford University Press, 1987, pp. 1-6.

Luisa Passerini, "Introduction: Oral sources and the historical study of culture" (1-16) and "Memories of self: autobiography and self-representation" (19-63) in Fascism in Popular Memory: The Cultural Experience of the Turin Working Class, C ambridge University Press, 1988.

Janet Hart, "Cracking the Code: Narrative and Political Mobilization in the Greek Resistance," Social Science History (16), No. 4, Winter 1992, pp. 631-668.

Zuzana Kusa (Institute for Sociology/Slovak Academy of Sciences), "To Be of Bourgeois Origin--An Insurmountable Stigma? (On erosive power of social networks in the period of communism), Paper presented at XIII World Congress of Sociology, 18-23 July 1994, Bielefeld, Germany.

Week 4
May 28-30

Erving Goffman, "Introduction" (1-16), The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, Doubleday Anchor, 1959.

Kristin M. Langellier and Eric E. Peterson, "Family Storytelling as a Strategy of Social Control" (pp. 49-76) in Narrative and Social Control: Critical Perspectives, edited by Dennis K. Mumby, Sage Annual Reviews of Communication Research, Vo l. 21, Sage Publications, 1993.

Marjorie Mbilinyi, "'I'd Have Been A Man': Politics and the Labor Process in Producing Personal Narratives" (204-227) in Interpreting Women's Lives: Feminist Theory and Personal Narratives, Personal Narratives Group, Indiana University Press, 1989.

Mira Marody, "Antinomies of Collective Subconsciousness," Social Research 55 (1-2), Spring/Summer 1988, pp. 97-110.

Alberto Melucci,"The New Social Movements Revisited: Reflections on a Sociological Misunderstanding" (107-119) and Alain Touraine, "Democracy: From a Politics of Citizenship to a Politics of Recognition" (258-275) in Social Movements and Social Cla sses: The Future of Collective Action, Louis Maheu (ed.), Sage, 1995.

Susan Gal, "Bartok's funeral: representations of Europe in Hungarian political rhetoric," American Ethnologist, Vol. 18, No. 3, August 1991, pp. 440-458.


June 3-14

In the last section of the course, we turn to focus group methodology. David L. Morgan states that "(a)s a form of qualitative research, focus groups are basically group interviews, although not in the sense of an alternation betwe en the researcher's questions and the research participants' responses. Instead, the reliance is on interaction within the group, based on topics that are supplied by the researcher, who typically takes the role of a moderator...From a social science poi nt of view, focus groups are useful either as a self-contained means of collecting data or as a supplement to both quantitative and other qualitative methods...The hallmark of focus groups is 'the explicit use of the group interact ion to produce data and insights that would be less accessible without the interaction found in a group.'" According to John Knodel, "(a) focus group consists of a small number of participants (typically six to ten) recruited from a specifie d target population who are called together to discuss topics of importance to a particular research study. The discussions are tape-recorded and transcribed. The transcripts serve as the data for analysis."

The topics and issues to be considered include: a general orientation to focus groups as a method; when to use focus groups; options in research designs incorporating focus groups; writing discussion guides; moderating and other mechanics of conducting f ocus groups; how focus groups might be combined with surveys; problems and prospects of cross-cultural applications of the method; strategies of analysis; and use of the Ethnograph program as an aid to analysis. Examples of the use of focus groups will d raw on experiences in the U.S. and Asia.

Week 5
June 4-6


David Morgan, Focus Groups as Qualitative Research (2nd ed.), Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA (forthcoming 1996).

Sharon Vaughn, Focus Group Interviews in Education and Psychology, Sage, 1996.

Judith S. Kullberg, "The Ideological Roots of Elite Political Conflict in Post-Soviet Russia," EUROPE/ASIA STUDIES, Vol. 46, No. 6, 1994, pp. 929-953.

Week 6
June 11-13

David Morgan, "Using Qualitative Methods in the Development of Surveys" Social Psychology (Newsletter) 19(1): 1-4.

Brent Wolff, John Knodel and Werasit Sittitrai. "Analysis of Concurrent Focus Groups and Surveys: A Case Study" in David Morgan (ed), Successful Focus Groups: Advancing the State of the Art, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1993, pp. 118-136.

John Knodel, "The Closing of the Gender Gap in Schooling: The Case of Thailand" Research Report No. 96-362, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan, March 1996.

John Knodel, "Focus Groups as a Qualitative Method for Cross-Cultural Research in Social Gerontology" Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology 10: 7-20 (April 1995).

John Knodel, "Conducting Comparative Focus Group Research: Cautionary Comments from a Coordinator," Health Transition Review 4(1): 99-104, (Winter 1993).

John Knodel "The Design and Analysis of Focus Group Studies in Social Science Research," in David Morgan (ed), Successful Focus Groups: Advancing the State of the Art, pp. 35-50.

Jane Bertrand, Judith Brown, and Victoria Ward. "Techniques for Analyzing Focus Group Data" Evaluation Review 16(2): 198-209 (April 1992).

Qualis Research Associates. The Ethnograph v4.0: Demo Version Documentation. 1995/1996.


June 17-21

During the final wrap-up sessions, among the issues we will consider regarding focus groups in the general context of the course are: What are possible links between focus groups, oral histories and narrative analysis? How do focus groups and group oral histories differ? How can focus groups help us identify themes and stories present in the accounts of individual subjects and groups? What do focus groups help us learn about individuals, communities, societies, and nation-states?

Discussion Questions


Topics to be considered include:


Issues which may arise as we uncover themes and identify stories: