Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Methodological procedures for self-knowledge. This text intends to discuss methodological parameters and procedures for organization of biographies and for the historical study of the individual subjectivity through the hermeneutics, the general theory of interpretation. Generally, the hermeneutics are applied to explain and to understand other scientific theories, works of art, political discourses; here, we intended to use it also to understand not only the course of the human lives, but the significance of existence.


The biographical study in Social Sciences (or the Individual-Society relation) has a long history, having been used in different ways at different moments[1]. From the 80´s, the approach called “life history” - where there is a distinction between `life story ' (the verbal autobiography) and the ‘history of life' (the subjectivity objectified by documents and the external narrative of the researcher) - gained prominence in the anthropological research. And, recently, this technique started to be applied to specific social groups, many times in autobiographical form, as professors and pupils (BUENO, 2002).

The collective actors of the Social Sciences (classrooms, parties, states, organizations, etc) are, truly, formed by people. Here, however, it is not about using the biographical approach to reconstitute the historical memory, but actually to arrive at the cognitive vertex of the social action. In this perspective, the true historical praxis is the one that responds creatively to its structural conditionings, transforming the conditions that had formed it.
After all, “It is mankind that, without knowing it, makes its own history”. However, even so there are many social scientists conscientious about the weight of the collective structures and the role of the individual praxis as main factor of social transformation, the task of writing biographies always were left to journalists and writers that, due to the habit, generally exaggerate the power of the personality of the subject over its historical context. The same can be said about the biographies of psychoanalytic and literary inspiration. The focus of the biographical research cannot minimize nor super value the individual subjectivity in relation to the collective dimension.

This requirement of a realistic framing of the individual within society becomes yet greater and more complex when it is about an autobiography, in which the subjectivity of the researching subject is the same one of that of the researched object. When the research becomes the subject, the verb and the object of the speech, when the investigation about life is confused with life itself, it is necessary to define parameters to keep some objectivity. Thus, the first step of the biographical research is to set the context of the studied individual life in relation to the different scenes where he is inserted.

Geographic scene: Country, region, city, place of life.
Historical scene: Century, decades, important facts.
Familiar scene: Parents, brothers and close relatives.
Educational scene: Schools, professors, friends.
Economic scene: Form of production, social class.

However, it would be useless to approach the social and historical context of the individual life if one does not also observe the psychological dimension of the biographical study, concerning as much the upbringing, the conflicts and the transformation of the biographed personality as our proper subjectivity. We live lives already partially lived and transform it into paradigms and models. We involuntarily mimesize behaviors that were structuralized before us, by fellow creatures in a similar situation. In this direction, the study of the biographies of the historical personalities can reveal unconscious standards, allowing new options and different choices.
But, besides researching the biography of the personalities, the biographical study considered here implies still on discussing an autobiographical method directed toward the comprehensive study of the subjectivity. In order to do so, beyond an objective sociological contextualization, it is also necessary to understand the contribution of the psychoanalysis to the study of two other dimensions:

A) Subjectivity, standing out the idea that the traumatic events of a biography are suppressed in the unconscious, generating neuroses and compulsions in the Personality;

B) Inter Subjectivity, mainly to the dialogical device of analytical transference and counter-transference, that is, to the process of analogical projection of cultural similarities and differences between the Researcher and the Biographed.

That is: the analytical discourse about the Other is also a personal understanding of one Self. Thus the second step of the biographical research proposed here is to observe the relations between the subjectivity of the Researcher with the subjectivity of the Biographed. Among the several dialogical techniques and interviews schemes to think the analytical situation of transference and counter-transference, there is a simple diagram of organization of these relations.

Intersection: What motivates the research? For example, we are journalists and we are interested in searching the journalistic activity of John Doe because we identify with it. Here it is set the limits of the thematic universe of the research, the cultural intersection between the Researcher and the Biographed.

Contradiction: Inside of the thematic universe common to the Researcher and the Biographed there are ‘internal' differences and similarities, There is a question to be answered, a conflict to be mediated. In the example of the biography of the journalist John Doe it is necessary to make explicit which are his specific characteristics and which are the difficulties and the advantages resultant of this profile.

Contrast: But john doe had a life whose identity exceeds our initial projection: He was not only a novelist, dramaturge, a professor on the professional point of view, but also a friend, father, pupil, brother, husband, son, lover, citizen and many others facets. Here it is specified what it is going to be in the ‘background’ if related to a figure on a portrait.

Ambientation: Following the metaphor, in this point it is detailed the place that the picture occupies in our environment. Or what it is learned with the history of John Doe? What is the importance of this biography in our life (in the life of the researcher and in the life of its reader)?
In the case of autobiographic studies, where the researcher and the biographed are the same person, one can use the same scheme, but an interlocutor is necessary. This interlocutor must have some experience in analytical listening and somehow intervene or direct the autobiographical process, limiting himself to elaborate questions that facilitate the emergency of relations of identity (“you want to speak on behalf of your generation?” or “what does the Brazilian feel when gets to know abroad?”).

The well known tendency of wanting to show only the positive aspects of life, sweeping underneath the carpet of unconscious the hard times and the mistakes committed, either due to adulation of the biographer either by vanity of the biographed, must be exorcised by both from the beginning of the process and it is, considered that there is no technique or methodological procedure that guarantees ethics, a question of conscience.

Besides this inter subjective contextualization of the framing that the researcher makes out of his object, the psychological dimension of the subjectivity implies still in the biographical study of the personality development. To elaborate maps and procedures for tabbing this information, we here propose a different and heterodox theoretical approach: the biographical psychology.


The biographical psychology, structured in the system of progression based on seven years cycles in the development of the human being, is one of the branches of the Anthroposophy, elaborated by the German thinker Rudolf Steiner. His method was meticulously applied as much in the study of biographies as in pedagogical and therapeutical practices and has ample empirical evidence. For example, based on these principles of biographical development it was organized the Waldorf pedagogy (that has schools worldwide); a methodology of age strategies for human resources adopted by many companies and a medical approach that takes into account the persons’ period in life.

According to the Chinese, in a life “There are 20 years to grow/learn, 20 years to fight and 20 years to achieve wisdom”. The biographical psychology subscribes this affirmation and still it subdivides in seven year cycles each one of these three great phases. In the first phase, from birth to the age 21, one may observe the formation of the body and the personality in three stages: up to the age of 7, from 8 to the 14 and then maturity. Each one of these seven-year stages corresponds to one specific degree of development of the body and the personality and the passage to another level implies in crisis and adaptation. In the end of the age seven, the child lives a socialization crisis; when fourteen, the crisis of sexuality; and at twenty the crisis of identity. The same way, biographical psychology subdivides the adult phase (21-42) and mature phase (42-63) in three stages of 7 years each, with transition crisis.

0-7 - Crisis of Socialization
8-14 - Crisis of Sexuality
15-21 - Crisis of Identity

21-28- The soul of the sensation
29-35 - The soul of the intellect
36-42- The soul of the conscience

33-49 - Second crisis of sexuality
50-56 - Second crisis of Identity
57-63 - Second crisis of Socialization

While in first the three seven-year cycles of life the individual lives a predominance of the biological factors over the subjective ones, he will also have an equal period where it has a balance and a period of biological decay and spiritual opportunity from the age 42. In this last period, there is a predominance of the subjective factors over the biological ones and the crises (or cognitive changes) are symmetrical to the seven-year cycles from the youth. From the 43 to 49, we return to 14-21; from 50 to 56 we return to 7-14; and, finally, from 57 to 63, the period from zero to the age seven.

Let´s see now each one of the seven year cycles and the corresponding questions to each stage, developed by the Dr. Gudrun Burkhard, in the book “Tomar a vida nas próprias mãos/ Taking life with one owns hands”(2000), the great coder of the biographical theory.

From zero to the seven years, in 1º cycle, it is the phase of the biological structuring of the person. The relation with the parents and the family is fundamental in this phase. Therefore it is important to determine how was the house, the home, the environment and the people from the place where you lived at this time.

“How was your relation with father, mother, brothers, grandmothers, aunts? Had they lived all in the same house that you? Defined the human environment in general, also establish the routines of your life in these period. Which were your favorite toys? Which were your preferred activities” (BURKHARD, 2000, 73-74).

Generally the first memory that one has is close to the advent of the first words. The memories previous to speak are more difficult to access. By the way, the discursive capacity plays a basic role in the organization of the memory, and the image that one makes of itself (before its mother) before the appearance of the speech remains unconscious for the rest of your life, as a pattern of attachment in the relationships. In the Anthroposophy, this is the period of construction of the vital body or double ethereal.

From 7 to 14, in 2º cycle, the focus of the development is dislocated from family to school, from parents to friends. It is necessary to ask with what age one entered school, how was literacy, which were the preferred teachers and subjects.

“What were the concepts, norms and customs that you received at that time? How was your religious education? And what were your artistic activities?” (BURKHARD, 2000, 74).
It is also important to remember how school vacations were. If there was the chance to practice sport, to make excursions, to have contact with nature. The friends start to play a basic role, especially of the opposite sex, although in this phase the children apparently show disinterest and even aversion for the behaviors of the other sex. And when puberty arrived, how have you dealt with the corporal changes? How was the first kiss? And the first sexual experience, how you discovered sexuality. In 3º Cycle, from 14 to 21, we enter adolescence, period where we generally rebel against family and other institutions that regulate our life. Also it is important to define if you needed to work or could invest in your professional formation. By the way, how did it happen your professional choice?

“Which were your ideals? What people had influenced positively or negatively at the time? How was your relationship with your parents? How was your relationship with the opposite sex?” (BURKHARD, 2000, 74-75).

From 21 to 28, in the 4º cycle, starts the second part of our lives. It is no longer a matter of growing, of learning; it is now, a matter of fighting, of conquering space. In this period, at the same time where it has a continuity of the conditions of the previous cycle there is also a consideration about the excesses, as well as a maturation and a consolidation of the personality formed during adolescence, of the mind developed in the school period and the ego constructed at home.

Many insist (in vain) on the adolescence! The great majority of young workers question themselves if they chose the right profession, if they had the chance to know many work situations. And regarding personal life, there are also many doubts and insecurity. Many times, this is a period of new beginnings, not only in the professional life, but also in the personal and familiar life.

“How do I choose my partners? Is there a common pattern in the people who I choose to relate? What roles have I assumed? Which ones had been heavier? And more: Did I obtain a good relation with the world, with the work organization, with the family and myself? Did I manage to put my ideals into practice? Which talents and aptitudes did I left behind? Which are my real technical abilities” (BURKHARD, 2000, 100).

From 28 to 35, in 5º Cycle, `crisis of talents' potentialize even more the doubts about being a winner or a loser (an always precocious evaluation, clearly) in relation to the objectives traced during adolescence. One expects that the person has found the mission of its life. In this point, the person questions if have found and accepted life’s basic question, it’s strategical intention. “Can I have my individuality well developed? Can it be expressed? Did I feel oppressed or oppressed somebody? Had I find my place of performance? Had I feel valued? What made me feel my valuation?” (BURKHARD, 2000, 111).”

The 6º Cycle, from 35 to 42, is the apex of the biography. A moment of balance between the biological and psychological aspect, as well as greater physical and mental capacity. In this context, the person makes a balance of its performance and of its image with more property. “How do others see me? How do I see me exactly? What illusions about myself did I have to dismantle” (BURKHARD, 2000, 120).

With 7º cycle, from 42 to 48, starts the biological decline and the third phase of life. Now, the person must prepare herself for aging healthily and developing its subjectivity and its wisdom. The values of comparison change, and also the perspective and objectives of life. But not always this passage is conscientious and voluntary. The Andropause (and the menopause, for women) and the so called middle-age crisis, the age of the wolf, is resultant of an imaginary return to adolescence, the 3º cycle is symmetrical to the 7º - both deal with sexuality and its relation with the reproductive system.

“What have I left behind in aptitudes, potentials and talents that I now want to rescue? In my work, am I worried about successors? Have I had the chance to donate my mature fruits? To who? How is my marriage? My relationship? The relation with my children? Have I developed activities where I used conceptual abilities” (BURKHARD, 2000, 133).
The 8º cycle, from 48 to 56, in turn, consists on a return to the learning period. It is symmetrical to the 2º cycle and represents a chance to review values and concepts that guide life. “Did I find a new rhythm of life? How it is my annual, monthly, weekly and daily rhythm? Which are the dry twigs of my tree, which have to be cut so that new sprouts can appear? (BURKHARD, 2000, 143).

From 56 to 63, the 9º cycle, there is a period of a return to infancy, to the first cycle and to the mechanisms of shaping the ego. The family comes back to be the central focus of development and reflection. The health of the body and imminent death also start to be part of the person's day to day during this period. “How do I see my biography in its totality? What did I manage to carry through? Are there still tasks that I would like to complete, or others to accomplish? How do I deal with my physical uneasiness or illnesses? How do I take care of body, of the memory, of my sensitive organs? Are there relationships that had not been absorbed, where there are open questions? How is it the matter of my properties? How is it the matter of retirement? Do I have moments of grace, feelings of gratitude and joy? I am capable to pardon? (BURKHARD, 2000, 151).

We cannot detail here this whole system of biographical development, which has many practical applications and outspreads in Anthroposophy. For us, it is important as part of our strategy of constructing parameters for the elaboration of Biographical Maps of the Subjectivity, where one can visualize the crisis and the development of the biographed every seven years.

OBJECTIVITY - Map of the Social Context
SUBJECTIVITY - Seven-years Cycle Biographical maps
INTERSUBJECTIVITY - Map of Dialogical Relations
TRANSUBJECTIVITY - Interview-performance

Then, let us recapitulate: to avoid the (auto) biographical study of subjectivity to fall into subjectivism, we prescribe initially a map of the social context of the biography, subdivided in scenes (historical, familiar, geographic, educational, economic, etc) with its specific conditioning factors. This first proposal corresponds to an objective social framing, the first level of hermeneutic interpretation.

After that, to investigate the psychological dimension of the biographed subjectivity we consider the adoption of the models that derive from typologic and biographical psychologies, specially the chronological maps of seven-year cycles. The objective of this procedure is to establish common, universal biological parameters for all the biographies, thus leaving salient the subjective differences in the development of the personality. This procedure corresponds to second level of hermeneutic interpretation, the symbolic level.

And to study the inter-subjectivity, the third level of hermeneutic interpretation, we adopt the map of the dialogic relations of identity, and made some considerations on the role of interlocutor in the organization of biographies. Actually we inverted the order of 2nd and 3rd procedure in order to facilitate the presentation of the ideas, but, in the hermeneutics, `the order of the factors does not modify the result', once its procedures serve as much to understand as to explain and can be applied simultaneously.

And the 4th step, archetypical and hyper-textual, to which procedure corresponds in this methodology of study of the biographical subjectivity? The Interview-performance and its script organized from the previous maps. For Cremilda Medina (1986) to interview is more art than technique. The interview would be a dialogic text, literary genre of four-hand writing, because when interviewer and interviewed enters in creative synergy, they come to formularizations that they would be incapable to elaborate alone.

The journalistic interview specifically, opposing to the interviews made by sociologists and/or psychologists, would be a text written by three elements, including, besides the interviewer and of the interviewed, the category of 'public', the invisible presence of a great anonymous audience, distant and not territorialized.

This third element has many outspreads: inversely to the comprehensive character of the philosophical dialogic of Plato or the clinical dialogic of Freud, the discourse of the interview becomes performatic and spectacular; the appearance of the 'off' (or what is said away from the presence of the public) and even of a pre-interview (briefing) in which it is combined the limits of the interview.

Cremilda says that the journalistic interview oscillates between the comprehensive and the spectacular pole according to a greater or minor presence of the public inside the interview. I argue; however, that she has not considered the existence of the audience that stimulates and, in a certain way, guide the interlocutors of an interview-performance. I depend on the kind of public, different aspects or ways of exposing the same fact appear in the dialog between researcher and biographed, leading to different results. In our case one should initially make everything possible to set aside the idea of public in the biographical interviews. Even if the work aims publication or another form of exposition of the researched material, it is interesting, on a first moment, to have a research period in which divulgation does not exert any pressure on the production of data.

For such, we use the maps (of the social context of the biography; of the dialogic relations of identity; and the seven-year cycle biography) as script for the preliminary interview, without a recorder or video camera.

And, on a second moment, armed with these data, one can also make recorded interviews (more performatic and less comprehensive) in which the presence of the public is used to discover some dramatic moment or a fact less evident in the preliminary interviews.

In this model, the events are organized from the present in area (houses, works & studies and/or friends & loves), stages (periods) and events. Thus, having raised all biographical information in the preliminary interview, the researcher will be able to develop at least three performatic retrospective interviews referring to the residences, the occupations and the personal relations of the biographed. In the case of video recording, one can edit these three performatic interviews (the houses, the professional life, and the personal and academic relationships) in only one sequence. The same can be done with audio text.


And then, how to interpret life? It is obvious that each life unique, actually, life is a process of individual singularization and collective multiplicity. We traced here parameters and procedures constructed through self-observation and applied in many biographies, directly, with interviews, as well as indirectly, through the study of prominent historical personalities. However, it does not fit here to present these preliminary results, but only to launch the seeds for the future organization of many auto-biographical researches according to these parameters.

[1] For a critical approach of the different applications of biographies in the social sciences v. FERRAROTTI In: NÓVOA & FINGER; 1988. P. 17-34.


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