Prosopographical study-collective biography

What is it?
A prosopographical study-collective biography is the investigation of the common background characteristics of a group of actors in history by means of a collective study of their lives.

The purpose of the prosopographical study-collective biography is to make sense of political action, to help explain ideological or cultural change, to identify social reality and to describe and analyze with precision the structure of the society and the degree and the nature of the movements within it.

The prosopographical study can help to resolve two of the most significant problems in political and social history. The first concerns the roots of the political action. The prosopographical study-collective biography help us to uncover the deeper interests that are thought to lie beneath the rhetoric of politics, to analyze the social and political affiliations of political groupings, to exposure of the workings of a political machine and to identificate of those who pull the levers. The second concerns social structure and social mobility. The prosopographical study-collective biography help us to analyze the roles in society and especially the changes in that role over time, of specific status groups, holders of titles, members of professional associations, officeholders, occupational groups or/and economic classes. At the same time, it helps us to analyzed the determination of the degree of social mobility at certain levels, by a study of the family origins, social and geographical, of recruits to a certain political status

What is needed?
First to identify the individuals of a concrete collective actor, political, economic, social. The identification of the individuals that compose a certain collective actor can be based on documentation obtained from archival review of that collective actor. The recruitment can be the result of a participant observation at the activities of the collective actor and subsequent chain referral.

Is an expert needed?
No, no expert needed

How to
The method employed is to establish a universe to be studied, a collective actor, for example the leaders and activists of a concrete political party or the deputies of a concrete political party. It can employ either to a restricted number of individuals or to a larger number of individuals. It will be more fruitful to incorporate participants that have a different role within the same collective actor in order to distinguish the heterogeneity in the actor.

Then through qualitative semi-structured interviews, let the interviewee to reconstruct its personal life by asking a set of uniform questions: age, birth and death, marriage and family, gender, social origins and inherited economic position, regional/national identity, place of residence, education, amount and source of personal wealth, occupation, religion, political beliefs/ideology and so on.

The various types of information about the individuals in the universe then will be juxtaposed and combined, and will be examined for important variables. They will be tested both for internal correlations and for correlations with other forms of behavior or action.

The classification of the data has to be meaningful and take under consideration that every individual plays many roles, some of which are in conflict with others.

A completely anonymity of the interviewees will safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of the data. The identity of the participants can be disclosure, only if they have given their full consent. In order to protect the anonymity of the interviewees all collected data have to be anonymized, stored, secured and managed to ensure privacy, confidentially, and to meet local laws and customs.

Good practice tips
The prosopographical study works best when it is applied to easily defined and fairly small groups/collective actors over a limited period, when the data is drawn from interviews but also combined from a variety of sources which complement and enrich each other and when the study is directed to solving a specific problem.

One danger is to fail to identify important subdivisions and lump together individuals that differ significantly from one another. The main objective is to capture the dynamics within the collective actor, but in the same time to reveal its heterogeneity. Good research depends on a constant interplay between the hypothesis and the evidence, the former undergoing repeated modification in the light of the latter.

Advantages: Prosopographical study is ideally fitted to reveal the web of sociopsychological ties that bind a group, a collective actor together. Social history which is concerned with groups rather than individuals, ideas or institutions is a field to which prosopographical study probably has most to contribute. Also, by considering the collective actors as dynamic constructions can give us more complex explanations about their nature.

Disadvantages: Generalizations based on statistical averages can become very shaky when it does not exist a substantial number of persons. In general, one has to avoid neglecting the relationship between the part and the whole. Its major contribution is to offer tendencies and not definite conclusions. A second deficient is that the most studies that have been already made are devoted to elites. The most popular subject of the prosopographical study is still political elites and not about lower classes and their collective forms. But major changes in class relationships, social mobility, moral attitudes may be occurring among the lower strata, changes to which the elites will eventually be obliged to respond. Another limitation of the prosopographical study is that sometimes neglects the stuff of politics, the institutional framework within which the system functions, and the narrative of how political actors shape public policy.

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To learn more
Stone L., “Prosopography”, Daedalus, Vol. 100, No 1, Historical Studies Today, 1971.
Bourdieu P., La représentation politique. Éléments pour une théorie de champ politique. Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, Paris 4, 1986.


Created on 28 Oct 2016 17:54 by magdalini
Updated on 28 Nov 2016 13:22 by Barron Orr

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