Seeking points of articulation in a cross-case synthesis

By Lindsey Dodd / / @DrLindseyD

One of the core research activities of the Disrupted Histories, Recovered Pasts project is the ‘open-ended process of co-production, cross-case learning and synthesis’ envisaged by our initial proposal and outlined in further detail in our first Working Paper. In June 2017, the project team met in Paris to think through this ‘systematic cross-case engagement’, sharing the commonalities and differences across our case studies, and moving towards our goal of identifying the ‘themes, patterns and theoretical modifications’ that might arise through laying alongside each other case studies examining similarly disrupted historical experiences.

Prior to our meeting, we each performed two tasks. The first we called ‘Sharing what we know’. In order to get a stronger sense of how each of the five project team members approaches her work, we decided to share with each other 1) something we had written which relates to the current project (published or unpublished), and 2) something from inside our own disciplinary world which inspired us and which we thought would interest the others. The writing of our own which we shared was the following:

• Baussant, M., ‘Broken lives, silenced memories: reappropriations of the past among the Jews of Egypt and Islamic Countries [unpublished]
• Dodd, L. ‘Turning historian to tell your traumatic past; or, how oral history speaks both from below and from the inside out’ (seminar paper given at the University of Huddersfield, April 2017; will appear soon as Working Papers in the Disrupted Histories, Recovered Pasts series).
• Otele, O., ‘Mourning in reluctant sites of memory: from Afrophobia to cultural productivity’, NIOD Lecture Series, September 2016, Institute for War, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Amsterdam, Netherlands
• Dos Santos, I., ‘Migrer du Portugal en Angola: perception de la migration et rapport au passé colonial. Quelques pistes de reflexion’, Cahiers de l’URMIS (2017)
• Sullivan, S., ‘What’s ontology got to do with it? On nature and knowledge in a political ecology of the “green economy”’, Journal of Political Ecology, 24.1 (2017)

The items by others which we shared were:
• Bhambra, G. K., ‘What shadows? Representing Enoch Powell’, (28 October, 2016)
• Basso, K. H., Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache (University of New Mexico Press, 1996), Chapter 1, ‘Quoting the Ancestors’.
• Fassin, D, ‘Une vérité sans réconciliation. Mémoire et histoire du Sida dans le post-apartheid’, Sociétés & Répresentations, 2.22 (2006)
• Machaqueiro, M. A., ‘Spaces of memory: the construction of colonial and post-colonial spaces in the memories of former Portuguese colonizers’, CRIA-FCSH Working Paper 10 (2011)
• Roper, M., ‘The unconscious work of history’, Cultural and Social History, 11.2 (2014)

We called the second task ‘Finding points of articulation’. Here, we considered three focused questions, the answers we hoped would lead us towards finding the points at which various of our case studies shared hinges, flexing in different directions but articulating across the same joint. The questions were:

1. How might we describe our research method(s), e.g. our methods of collecting recorded interview material, or of listening to (already recorded) material?
2. In what ways might we ‘classify’ the type(s) of oral history information we are working with and/or generating in our research? (For example – childhood memories, intergenerational, on-site/in-place, etc.) – i.e. one point of articulation might be to be quite precise about

Visual cross-case analysis of types of memory

a ‘typology‘ or ‘taxonomy‘ of interview/recorded materials we are working with.
3. In what ways do our oral history materials disrupt, reflect, revise, refract or recover established historical ‘truths’ regarding the contexts of our case research?

I’ve written about some of my own reflections on these questions prior to the meeting.

During the course of our meeting in Paris in June 2017, we each shared what we had found useful, relevant and pertinent in the work of our fellow team members and in the writings which we had shared. We made use of a blackboard in the university room where we met

Visual cross-case analysis of altering, reflecting, refracting “truth”

to ‘cross’ our responses to the questions in the second task, creating a visual matrix of various of our points of articulation. I have used these to collect together this active thought process under a number of headings.

Listening and collecting
 – Reticence and prompting: Irène raised the point that collecting recorded oral histories could be complicated by reluctance and reticence to share experiences where are socially ‘risky’, such as in the ‘retournado’ case. Michèle pointed out the potential for using material props in interviews, and the benefit to the collecting process of reflecting with the interviewee through e.g. photographs and maps.
 – Public remembering: Irène emphasised the importance of differentiating between collecting the stories of those associated with memorial associations and those who have remained isolated from sharing their experiences previously. Michèle also commented on the different natures of privately expressed memories and publicly expressed memories.
 – Knowledge in time and space: Irène highlighted that the context (environment, place, country) in which the interview was conducted had a specific position in the temporality of the individuals’ life trajectories. Sian was also interested in the idea of telling stories ‘in place’ and ‘through space’, that is, the situatedness of storytelling. Sian also proposed a set of ideas linked to genealogies in storytelling (in a sense, the depth and verticality of knowledge organisation, acquisition and transmission), and rhizomatic principles in the same (in a sense, the breadth, horizontality and heterogeneity). Michèle noted the shifting between various layers within and across narratives. Such shifts can give rise to a paradoxical dissensus.
 – Voice and emotion: Michèle raised the issues of multivocality and emotions in interviews. Lindsey put forward ideas about the range of textures within oral narratives, with description, analysis and voice all contributing to creating a wide emotional range within interviews. Sian stated too that orality matters as a specific ‘register of information’, concretely noting the specific dimensions of music, song and storytelling. Olivette remarked upon the need to separate ‘voice’ from ‘content’ when listening to oral narratives.
 – Agency and imagination: Lindsey remarked upon the need to listen carefully to interviewees’ own analyses of events and of their consideration of their own agency in acting, thinking and feeling as they did in the past. On a similar question on the metaphysical dimension of interview material, she put forward the idea, drawn from Alessandro Portelli, of ‘shared possibilities’: that what ties individuals into collectivities is often what they imagine(d) to be their possible futures, rather than the realities of factual existence. Sian noted the importance of iteration, both in the telling process and in the listening process.

Metro, Paris

Types of memory
Our case studies work with and through a range of different ‘types’ of memory, which we identify below. However, it is noticeable that these remembering practices still conform to an understanding of individual versus collective; of public versus private; of ‘inside’ versus ‘outside’. I propose here that disrupting this too-evident dichotomy which still structures memory studies and separates too easily the sociological dimension of memory (the structures of memory) from the psychological (the personal experience of remembering) may have a generative role in this cross-case synthesis.
 – Forms of group, shared, collective memory
Family – intergenerational/elders – post-memory (Hirsch) – direct/indirect experience
Historical memory – official – institutional – archival – political – scholarly
Performative memory – shared memorial practices – bodies of memory created by e.g. interviewing practices
 – Forms of individual memory – which may also be shared
Generational (specificities of e.g. child memory/adult memory)
Bodily/embodied/experiential memory

What has been lost
– Establishing various perspectives on loss: the people who were interviewed; our perspective as interdisciplinary researchers; the perspective of History and/or the historian.
– Distinguishing between what may have actually been lost in concrete terms, and what is imagined to have been lost.
– Noting that one disruption may create a cascade of disruptions flowing from a singular event in the past.

Disrupting, reflecting, refracting and revising
Lindsey noted a double disruption when considering the ‘amateur histories’ articulated by ordinary people about the pasts they lived through: first, that ordinary people disrupt the content of history as written by historians, but putting forward information and interpretation hitherto unavailable and unconsidered; and second, that ordinary people therefore disrupt the ‘regimes of truth’ which govern the discipline of scholarly history by challenging dominant disciplinary norms and practices. Lindsey also proposed a certain kind of refraction of historical knowledge which takes place because of the multivocal nature of the oral narratives collected; the narratives act as a kaleidoscope which creates multiple variations of the same story, flowing from the same initial set of past events. Michèle noted that this heterogeneity of storying the past should be integrated into the analytical framework as a common feature, and put forward an idea of refraction based the relationship between consensual and discordant voices, which she viewed not simply as opposites but as intimately linked. Olivette stated the importance of considering the function and motivation of telling one’s story when such stories have no ‘official’ place in society: these are therefore narratives of recovery.

Research ethics in practice
Across our discussions it was evident that the ethical dimensions of our research occupy us not only as requirements of our work, but because we are highly attuned to the power relations we are constantly negotiating in a number of ways:
– The case studies dealing with memories of childhood raise a series of ethical questions around working ‘with’ children in the past; while these past children are now adults, there are set of specific risks and problems associated with doing research on children in the past, particularly when memory stories are brought into dialogue with other forms of historical data, such as archival sources (see Dodd, 2015).
– There are certain issues around anonymity and naming which are also paramount; there is a delicate balance between the desire to be named as a participant in one’s own past, to exist on the historical record, and the need to be careful around issues of e.g. disclosures of injustices or of past secrets.
– We found ourselves also bound into a set of ethical problems around contradictions in our desires to please our interviewees and to transmit, share and develop information to them in ways that are meaningful, and our requirements to the regulations of our funding bodies, our institutions and our disciplinary norms and expectations.

As a result of our discussions, we established a loose matrix to help guide our thinking as we proceed across the project. This matrix provides a way of drawing into focus specific elements of content along a number of axes so that we can also assure the comparative aspect of our research. We have expressed this as a table, recognising, nonetheless, that this may be too schematic a methodology for several heterogeneous sets of data. In spite of this problem, the table acts as a prompt and an easily consultable tool.

For whom? What (when) is the disruption? What is disrupted? What is lost and how? What is recovered and how
For our interviewees
For us
For ‘history’, for public narratives
For geographies/territories/places

So while our discussions around these points of articulation did not establish a concrete framework within which the cross-synthesis of the cases could proceed in a methodical way, our meeting not only enriched our understanding of each other’s’ work, practice and perspectives, it also dug into a set of productive analytical seams, building outward from these seams to explore the shared preoccupations of our research and of our project’s aims and objectives. Yet what may prove to be most valuable from this cross-case synthesis may be its rhizomatic nature. O’Sullivan states that

The rhizome is anti-hierarchical and a-centred. No single organising principle predetermines the consistencies and compatibilities between the network of its elements. The rhizome precisely fosters transversal, even alogical, connections between heterogeneous events.

Although there are a number of organising principles which sit behind this project – the postcolonial/postconflict contexts and the use of oral narratives and ‘amateur histories’ – the networks between elements may be less well expressed in tabular form, which imposes a grid and asks the data to conform; we may need instead to consider these shards of knowledge rather as a mosaic, in which component parts tessellate with like-parts in irregular and multiple ways, and may refuse connection with others. The task of cross-case synthesis remains elusive as a result but generative as an intellectual process.


Dodd, L., ‘Children, history and archives’ (2015) available at

O’ Sullivan, S. D., Cultural studies as rhizomes – rhizomes in cultural studies’, paper given at Cultural Studies and Interdisciplinarity conference, (2000) available at

Sullivan, S., Baussant, M., Dodd, L., Otele, O, and/et Dos Santos, I., ‘Disrupted Histories, Recovered Pasts:  A Cross-Disciplinary Analysis and Cross-Case Synthesis of  Oral Histories and History in Post-Conflict and Postcolonial Contexts’/ ‘Histoires Perturbées, Passés Retrouvés : Analyse et Synthèse Croisée d’Histoires Orales et d’Histoire dans des Contextes Post-Conflit et Post-coloniaux’, Disrupted Histories, Recovered Pasts Working Paper Series, 1, December 2017.

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