Realist biography and European policy – workshop’s summary

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    Adam Mrozowicki

    Despite the volcanic eruption that prevented two of our keynote speakers from attending, the Realist Biography and European Policy workshop in Leuven, Belgium on 16-18 April 2010 proved a remarkable success.  In all, over thirty of the expected 42 participants, speakers and panellists managed to attend this landmark event sponsored by UACES, the Centre for Sociological Research at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and the Scientific Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts. The ambitious goals of the workshop were to combine the strands of (critical) realist philosophy of social science with the growing field of auto-biographical narrative methods for use in European Union policy studies, putting together a workable toolbox for practical research. We therefore discussed how to weave together the various threads for a pan-European project to explore the emerging area of European social dialogue, in which (for better or worse) the European institutions are coming to play a coordinating role in the industrial relations systems of the member states. The workshop was organised as the launch pad for a realist biography working group, which will pursue this type of research. We therefore have plans to publish a book based on the workshop, which is intended as a practical resource for promoting collaborative research in this area. Bob Carter (co-editor of Making Realism Work: Realist Social Theory and Empirical Research, Routledge, 2004) led the realist strand, while some of the key pioneers of biographical research, Fritz Schütze, Prue Chamberlayne and Tom Wengraf led the biography strand. We had a lengthy discussion of an interview transcript with a seconded national expert from an ongoing research project on the anthropology of European integration in order to demonstrate biographical approaches in practical research, as well as a panel discussion on a specific research proposal with additional external experts. The workshop was highly focused on an open dialogue between the various strands in a spirit of common purpose. We found an enormous amount of common ground and hope to work in close cooperation in well-grounded practical research on contemporary European issues. We will be presenting a panel from the workshop at the UACES annual conference in Brugge/Bruges in September. The programme, presentations and photos can be found on the workshop web page:


    Thanks for this Adam. It looks like it was a very interesting workshop and I look forward to the book. I used aspects of BNIM and critical realism in my PhD, finding them a useful combination, in my own idiosyncratic way! I look forward to reading about the practical common ground identified by the more experienced practitioners in your workshop.
    Mandy Nielsen

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