Researching Family Secrets: Methodological Approach, Reflections and Recommendations

Christine Lohmeier


In this article, I consider writing by research participants as a method of gathering data on sensitive, difficult or shameful topics. In doing so, I draw on the example of a research project on family narratives and family secrets. Gathering data on hidden, uncomfortable or even painful aspects of a family's past and present poses several challenges in a research project: Most people are reluctant to volunteer intimate insights into their family lives and dynamics. Moreover, in an interview situation, it is challenging to create the kind of rapport that allows a deeper conversation. Writing has been used by a number of scholars from different disciplines to gather data. In the first section, I review these approaches, as well as their benefits and disadvantages. I then describe and reflect upon the methodological approach taken for a project on memories of family members' actions and involvement during the Nazi era in Germany. Finally, I offer recommendations and reflections when using writing as a data gathering method.


researching family secrets; intimate family narratives; methodology; writing; writing prompts; qualitative interviews; methodological reflections

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Copyright (c) 2020 Christine Lohmeier

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