Methodology

The EUROIDENTITIES Project aims at a holistic understanding of people’s own perspective on ‘Europe’ and the process of identity formation and transformation over their life course. While the partners in Euroidentities are working from a number of biographical perspectives to do with the formation of identity as a lifetime process, particularly applications of the biographical-analytical approach are central to many partners’ endeavours to meet this goal.     

There is a deep relationship between identity development of an individual and his/her narrative rendering of life historical events. Autobiographical narrative interviews provide an ideal means of gaining insight into the formation of a European identity or multiple identities. They allow us to gain insights into how the individual actively constructs his/her current identity and how his/her identity evolves over time. Key to the method is the presumption that unsolicited material provides a purer insight into the interviewee’s own self-historical gestalt, or all-encompassing view of her/his life.

At the beginning of an autobiographical narrative interview there is a single eliciting question that is designed to encourage the interviewee to tell the story of his or her life. During this phase, the researcher does not intervene, but only provides non-committal, mostly non-verbal, responses. As the interview moves to a second stage, some additional questions concerning one’s biography can be asked, but only in relation to topics already introduced by the respondent. It is only in the third, more probing, stage that the researcher explicitly asks questions on issues relating to ‘Europe’ and ‘European identity’ if these have not been raised already by the interviewee.

The interviews are then carefully transcribed and analysed. During the analysis we focus on communicative schemes of presentation, cognitive figures and process structures, which are seen as centrally important ordering principles of personal experiences.     

After case analysis, we proceed to comparative analysis according to the principle of minimal and maximal contrast. The comparative analysis occurs at three levels: initially, between cases representative of the same ‘sensitized group’ within a given partner’s country; secondly comparison between cases of the same ‘sensitized group’ but drawn from different countries; finally, contrastive comparison across the whole project between cases of different ‘sensitized groups’.

We are interested in the ‘experiences of Europe’ people have, the way they choose to talk about them and the social setting they took place in. We make an attempt to understand the process of ‘European identity’ formation and to discover the mechanisms crucial for identity development.