Research Method: Oral Histories and Futures


4th March 2021

This ‘how to’ guide outlines the Oral Histories and Futures method used by Dr Sarah Marie Hall (The University of Manchester). The animation was created in collaboration with Tom Young.

Social scientists within the Methods for Change project came together to discuss the research methods they use and how methods create change in society. Drawing from the expertise in the Aspect network, they collaborated on a series of ‘how to’ guides which are step-by-step instructions and top-tips for adopting these methods in a range of sectors. Visual and multisensory pieces, including comics, illustrations, posters, booklets, short films and animations, were then developed in collaboration with creatives to capture the key value of these research methods with a view to being able to convey them to a variety of audiences.

It is hoped that these resources will be useful for people in higher education, commercial, public sector, third sector and community organisations who are interested in experimenting with, and expanding professional skills in, the adoption of social science research methods.


Methods for Change, Project Output, The University of Manchester and Video

Research Method:
Oral Histories and Futures

Oral Histories and Futures involve the recording of people’s experiences and opinions about their pasts, present and futures. They adopt a detailed and comprehensive approach to thinking about an individual’s life, as situated within a particular economic, social and political context. Typically used to research, document and preserve the unique life trajectories of marginalised groups, they move beyond collecting and recollecting life-courses to consider the present and the prospective. Oral Histories and Futures are about accessing imaginaries – thoughts, hopes, dreams, desires, possibilities – and understanding how the person we are today is shaped by the person we might want to become at some other point in the future. Participants are encouraged to talk about what they wanted to happen that has not, as much as where they might like their lives to go, thereby providing narratives that are multidirectional and multitemporal. While interviewing is the primary means of gathering data, Oral Histories and Futures can also incorporate a participatory component. This might involve asking participants to map their biographies on a timeline or asking them to write a note to their future self, and to reflect on these activities as part of the interview.

You can find more research outputs from the Methods for Change series here

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