The Rewards of a Qualitative Approach to Life-Course Research. The Example of the Effects of Social Protection Policies on Career Paths
This article highlights the benefits of incorporating the qualitative perspective, and in particular the use of life stories, in studies based on the life-course perspective. These benefits will be illustrated using as an example a study of the effects of social protection measures on career paths based on the theoretical underpinnings of SEN's (1987, 1992, 1993) capability approach.
The life-course perspective is a very good methodological option for evaluating the extent to which social protection systems are adapted to the present situation in labor markets, where many trajectories are non-linear and unstable. Studies adopting such a perspective use research designs in which secondary statistical data are central, whereas qualitative data are used little, if at all. This article will explain how these quantitative approaches can be improved by using semi-structured interviews and a formalized qualitative analysis to identify turning points, critical events, transitions and stages, in which social protection measures and resources play a significant role in redressing or channeling personal and career paths. Paying attention to the person and his or her agency—not only at a given time but in a broader perspective that embraces past episodes and projections into the future—is essential in order to consider how individuals use the resources at their disposal and to effectively evaluate the effects of social protection measures.