A Collective Biography: Women Macro Social Work Academics

Mary Katherine O'Connor, Karen Hopkins, Jenny L. Jones, Youngmi Kim, Elizabeth A. Mulroy, F. Ellen Netting, Karen Smith Rotabi, Marie O. Weil

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In 2012, we tested a qualitative research method, collective biography, which was new to us. In the case that follows, we begin by making distinctions between prosopography, biography, autobiography, auto/biography, and collective biography in order to clarify our research focus. We then delineate our original intent following the collective biography method described by Bronwyn Davies and Susanne Gannon. We follow this with a discussion of our actual implementation giving attention to what was hoped for and finally enacted by 12 women macro social work academics. Strengths and challenges of the design and our process are examined along with ideas for future use of collective biography as a method of knowledge building. We expand upon eight practical lessons learned: (1) recognize the importance of group composition; (2) acknowledge the perceived risks in writing memories; (3) expect participants to view boundaries in various ways; (4) trust the process; (5) be sensitive to power dynamics, no matter how the stage is set; (6) acknowledge the paradox between the subjective process and objective product; (7) consider alternative research products that do not necessarily conform to standard expectations; and (8) remember that this is a research process, not intended to be therapy.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationSAGE Research Methods Cases
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Social Work
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Sociology

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