The “Institut des Mondes Anglophone, Germanique et Roman” (IMAGER – EA 3958) is holding an interdisciplinary international conference on the “biographical mode” in English-, German-, and romance language-speaking literatures and cultures.
Rather than biography, which can be defined as “a piece of writing which tells the story of an individual’s life”, we would like to focus on what we have chosen to call "the biographical mode".
In history and the social sciences, the first issue to be raised is that of biographical narratives as academic sources, and of biographies as a historiographical, or sociological genre. Historian François Dosse identifies biography as a halfway zone between, and a mixture of, fiction and reality, which raises the question of truthfulness. Dosse claims that biography has entered an age of hermeneutics: what then is biography’s capacity for highlighting processes of subjectivation whose reach by far exceeds the singular lives which are narrated, and for grasping life-courses which are, more often than not, piecemeal, if not chaotic? While the biographical approach is not necessarily an attempt to identify idealtypes, it nonetheless raises a second question—that of the link between objectivity and subjectivity in history and the social sciences. Just because biography consists in the narration of a singular life, is it bound to lead scholars away from their quest for collective realities—which are presumably more general and objective—or does it provide them with an entry into the realm of the general which makes for an alternative to univocal determinisms? Whereas Pierre Bourdieu in 1986 referred to the biographical approach as an “illusion” (“l’illusion biographique”), conference participants may choose to ask whether resorting to biography is tantamount to a complete disregard for historicity. Or do life stories on the contrary make it possible to piece together a more complex understanding of society or history—what Howard Becker calls a “mosaic”. What types of meaning may be disclosed through the diachronic reconstruction of “careers”, to borrow a term from Interactionism? May one actually go so far as to claim that the twists of reality which are unavoidable when resorting to biographical narratives, in fact enable authenticity to emerge?
Abstracts—approximately 250 words—should be submitted by May 15, 2008 to:
University Paris 12-Val de Marne, France
Send comments and questions to H-Net
Webstaff. H-Net reproduces announcements that have been submitted to us as a
free service to the academic community. If you are interested in an announcement
listed here, please contact the organizers or patrons directly. Though we strive
to provide accurate information, H-Net cannot accept responsibility for the text of
announcements appearing in this service. (Administration)