Sedimenting past: Towards the sociology of oral history

Date: 11/03/2014

Time: 12:15-13:30

Location: Room LB-082

Speaker: Jakub Mlynar


Oral history – whether as a qualitative method or a discipline sui generis – is indeed receiving growing attention in the past decades, from scholars as well as NGO’s and also the wide public. Many different oral historical projects are being conducted, in varying contexts and regions, focusing on a variety of historical events, issues and research questions, with different budgets and technological backgrounds. From a sociological point of view, it is possible to interpret the universal practice of oral history as a social phenomenon of its own kind. Sociology can approach oral history from two different points of view, which are also shaping the basic structure of my talk: oral history (1) as a subject itself – the sociological interpretation of oral history as a social practice; (2) as a secondary data source – the sociological interpretation of existing oral historical data. First, I will present some approaches to oral history as a subject of sociological research, consisting of two distinctive but complementary dimensions: (1.1) micro-social, and (1.2) macro-social. The traditional (and tricky) antinomy of individual and society is also manifesting itself in oral history, but certainly with some specific features. I will elaborate on the possible facilitation of oral history in sociological research, and also on the limitations of it. The central argument is that sociological insight can generate new ideas and knowledge about the process of oral history, but also about the role and meaning of oral history in (post)modern society. Building upon this, the contemporary praxis of oral history (and its methodology and epistemology) could be enhanced in different ways, including the conscious reflection of contextual, situational, socio-historical and linguistic aspects of an oral historical interview.