Life writing as Historical Social Science - putting people back in? Some exploratory thoughts

Life writing as Historical Social Science - putting people back in? Some exploratory thoughts
Life writing as Historical Social Science - putting people back in? Some exploratory thoughts

Principal speaker

Adjunct Professor Peter Ackers

Abstract: Life-writing, as Biography, Memoir, Autobiography and Auto-ethnography is a growing trend across the humanities and social sciences, including Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour. This emphasis on subjectivity returns us to an age-old social science debate about human agency versus constricting social structure. In an important recent contribution, Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences Paperback (Cambridge University Press 2013), the Social Psychologist, Michael Billig, has criticised the reliance on abstract nouns rather than active verbs - or doing words - in social science explanation. Positivist social science has fought hard to take-out identifiable human beings, whether as subjects or researchers, in order to be as objective and impersonal as possible. Two older academic traditions have stressed social action by identifiable human beings. In the Humanities, this is true of History and particularly Biography. But Weberian Sociology with its emphasis on "actors social meanings' also opens the door for real people thinking and doing things, as in Weber's own, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This exploratory talk uses examples from my own research to make a case for bringing personal experience and family life stories back into the social sciences and concludes with a plea for a methodological individualism that privileges human action and choice over determination by abstract structures, institutions and discourses.

Speaker: Peter Ackers is Visiting Professor in the History of Industrial Relations within the School of Business and Economics and the School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences. He is also Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, Griffith University, Brisbane; and a Visiting Scholar at the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing, Wolfson College. Peter first joined Loughborough Business School in October 1991 and was Professor of Industrial Relations and Labour History from 2005 to 2015. His research bridges Historical and contemporary Social Science approaches to work and employment relations. Two recent co-edited collections are: Johnstone & Ackers, Finding a Voice at Work? New Perspectives on Employment Relations (Oxford University Press, 2015) and Ackers & Reid, Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century, London: Palgrave, 2016.
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