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Collaboratively Writing Academic Identities: Exploring the Methodological Value of Collective Biography

PhD Course on collective biography as a form of research methodology.

Info about event


Tuesday 29 May 2012, at 10:00 - Thursday 31 May 2012, at 12:00

Collective biography is a form of research methodology – and a method of collaborative writing - that encompasses collective data collection and analysis. Originally developed by Frida Haug in 1987, the practice of collective biography has been extended by several others, in particular, Bronwyn Davies and Suzanne Gannon. Collective biography can ‘make visible, palpable and hearable the constitutive effects of dominant discourses…and open both ourselves and discourse to the possibility of change’ (Davies & Gannon, 2006, 5).

The practice of collective biography involves participants meeting and talking, often over several days, about a chosen topic, telling their own remembered stories relevant to the topic, and writing them down. This writing is then shared with the group and each participant shares how individual pieces of writing resonate with their own story.

Further writing then takes place but this time, and on subsequent occasions, each story is developing into a collective story, rather than a series of individual stories. In collective biography workshops, participants develop the skills of listening and attending to the detail of others’ stories, including the language and images used, thus opening themselves and the ‘discourse to the possibility of change’.

Our chosen topic is ‘academic identities’ and the aim is to explore the extent to which the ‘global vista is translated via local experiences and assumptions’ (Saltmarsh & Swirski, 2010; 292) to higher education contexts through experimenting with collective biography as a methodological approach. It is hoped that a collaborative paper will emerge as an outcome of the writing workshops. Participants will be engaging not only with the process of collaborative biography but also with the ethical complexities of collaborative writing.


The course will consist of:

  1. Pre-reading – see list below (approx 6 hours).
  2. 1 seminar on narrative inquiry, as one form of collective biography – 12.30- 14.30 on 30 May 2012 in Room D320 (2 hours)
  3. 3 collective writing sessions –10.00-12.00 in Room D219 on Tuesday 29 May, Wednesday 30 May and Thursday 31 May 2012 (6 hours)
  4. 4 Continuing collective editing of the text with each other and with Sheila by email (max 12 hours).
    (If the participants agree, there is a possibility of presenting the result to the ECER Conference at Cadiz in September 2012 – the outcome of the submitted proposal is still pending).

Participation is limited to 8 people and participants need to commit to all 3 of the collective writing sessions.

Course teacher

The course will be led by Dr Sheila Trahar, Senior Lecturer in Education at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, UK.

Sheila’s doctoral research was a narrative inquiry into the learning experiences of postgraduate students in a culturally diverse environment in 2006. She has further developed narrative inquiry in subsequent research on improving interaction in the international classroom. She teaches on Bristol University’s Master’s in Education (MEd) in both Bristol and Hong Kong.


This course comes out of an EU PEOPLE IRSES ‘knowledge exchange’ project called University Reform, Globalisation and Europeanisation (URGE).

Download Sheila Trahar’s presentation to the last URGE workshop


The course earns 1 ECTS.


Applicants should send one paragraph on why they are interested and how this fits with their research interests.

Apply to Marianne Hoffmeister at E: mho@adm.au.dk

Person responsible for the course:

Prof. Sue Wright E: suwr@dpu.dk


Davies, B. & Gannon, S. (2006) Doing Collective Biography. Buckingham: Open University Press
Saltmarsh, S. & Swirski, T. (2010) ‘Pawns and prawns’: international academics’ observations on their transition to working in an Australian university. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 32 (3), 291-301

Reading List

Clough, P (2000) Comments on Setting Criteria for Experimental Writing, Qualitative Inquiry, 6(2) 278-291
Davies, B. & Gannon, S. (2006) Doing Collective Biography. Buckingham: Open University Press
Gale, K & Wyatt, K. (2008) Becoming Men, Becoming-Men? A Collective Biography International Review of Qualitative Research, 1 (2) 235 – 254
Linnell, S, Bansel, P, Ellwood, C, Gannon, S (2008) Precarious listening, Qualitative Inquiry 14(2) 285-305.
Richardson, L and St Pierre, E (2005) Writing: A method of inquiry, in Denzin, N and Lincoln, Y (eds) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (Third Edition) Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Sakellariadis, A., Chromy, S., Martin, V., Speedy, J. Trahar, S., Williams, S. & Wilson, S. (2008) Friend and Foe? Technology in a Collaborative Writing Group, Qualitative Inquiry, 14 (7) 1205 -1222

A list of more pre-reading on collective biography and 'academic identities' will be available at the end of April.