Researching Family Secrets: Methodological Approach, Reflections and Recommendations

  • Christine Lohmeier Universität Salzburg
Keywords: researching family secrets, intimate family narratives, methodology, writing, writing prompts, qualitative interviews, methodological reflections


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.


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Author Biography

Christine Lohmeier, Universität Salzburg

Christine LOHMEIER is professor of media use and digital cultures in the communication studies department at the University of Salzburg, Austria. Her research interests are situated at the intersections of media, memory, identity and place. Recent projects focus on family memory, digital place making and navigation.

How to Cite
Lohmeier, C. (2020). Researching Family Secrets: Methodological Approach, Reflections and Recommendations. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 21(3).
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