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Life diagrams

Life diagrams

a methodological and analytical tool for accessing life histories


The article argues for the utility of life diagrams as a methodological and analytical tool across various life history projects. Using research on post-war political mobilization among former combatants (in Colombia, Namibia and the United States), the article demonstrates how a life diagram can modify the interview and become a useful analytical tool. During the interview the diagram helps both the research participant and the interviewer to compare different events, weigh various experiences, and ensure that all periods of the life are covered even if the interview is not done chronologically. During the analysis, the diagram offers a contrast with the transcript of the interview, and the shape of the life diagram can be compared across interviews in search of similar types. This visual turn can help address issues of empowerment, through promoting the research participants’ own interpretation of their lives.

About the author

Johanna Söderström is Associate Professor/Senior Lecturer in political science at Uppsala University, Sweden. Her research concerns challenges facing new democracies, especially as seen from below among regular citizens (and less regular citizens, like ex-combatants). Her work primarily focuses on the dynamics of post-war citizenry participation, especially in the intersection between peacebuilding and democratization.