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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

RKTS report

05.11.2017, by Sibylle Classen in grant report

Training for collecting and analysing life-history calendars in order to develop a research project on political careers and emotional climates in times of crisis
Xenia Chryssocchoou

In the context of crisis in Greece we wanted to develop a research project using the life-history calendar technique to record:

a) People's emotional states during the years of the crisis,
b) People's financial situation and vulnerabilities during the crisis
c) People's participation to acts of opposition to the austerity or acts of social change
e) Markers of the transition to adulthood (with whom they live, financial autonomy, entry into job market, etc.)

We aimed to document political participation and emotional climates during recession and unstable societal contexts which will increase our knowledge on these issues.

To be able to use this technique we would like to learn from our colleagues at the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES (University of Lausanne; www.lives-nccr.ch))who have successfully used this technique in former Yugoslavia and Switzerland (Spini, Elcheroth & Corkalo-Biruski, 2014; Morselli et al., 2016 ) and in research on life trajectories of 68ers in France (Morselli, 2016). In the project Traces, information on markers of transition to adulthood and experiences of victimization have been collected using life-history calendars with a representative sample of the ex-Yugoslavian population. This data collection has enabled the research team to validate this instrument as a way to document individual and collective experiences in violent historical periods with great success as papers, PhDs, and a book were published using this type of data. Life-history calendar methods have also been used at length in different survey settings in Switzerland, including an extensive population sample of 15000 individuals in collaboration with the Swiss Household Panel which includes subsamples of social-economically vulnerable households. Fillieule and Morselli recently also used these methods in the framework of a mixed-methods project combining LHC and life story interviews, in order to study the biographical consequences of activism and activists’ careers. LHC helped to build a typology of activists’ life-course via multiple-sequence analysis. Cross-treatments with organizations and activist families allowed to build some kinds of collective trajectories, revealing the autonomy of each organization, each movement family, or reversely the common fate of activists across organizations and families. Locating typical biographies within historical periods and along marking events did also provide indications about the contexts of involvement and generations of activists that emerge within (Fillieule and Blanchard 2012). Finally the Swiss team developed an innovative strategy to analyse the biographical consequences of commitment: we did search for the link between typical trajectories between and after the moment of personal disengagement (or the historical moment when the movement faded out), and between trajectories before disengagement and the work, family and political situation ten years later (or all experiences happening after disengagement in different life spheres).

The life-history method is a highly structured but flexible approach to interviewing that facilitates recall of past events by using the individual’s own past experiences as cues for remembering; these cues provide context for retrieval of autobiographical memory. Thus, the calendar tools facilitate respondents to place events into a temporal context by relating them to other synchronic (parallel) or diachronic (hierarchical) events and episodes. Past research on the life-history calendar has shown that this method can produce more consistent and complete reports than conventional questionnaire, when collecting retrospective life-course data (Becker & Sosa 1992; Belli, 1998; Belli, Shay & Stafford, 2001; Engel, Keifer & Zahm, 2001, Van der Vaart, 2004). Hence, the life-history calendar methods represent a relatively inexpensive and fast way to collect longitudinal data, which can be analyzed using state-of-the-art statistical techniques for life-course analysis, such as sequence analysis, latent growth models, mixture growth models, Markov chains models, survival analysis, and time-series regressions. Researchers at the NCCR LIVES have an extensive expertise in longitudinal analysis and have brought innovations in several analytical techniques (e.g., Berchtold & Sackett, 2004; Blanchard, Bόhlmann & Gauthier, 2014; Elcheroth et al., 2013; Gabadinho, Ritschard, Mueller, & Studer, 2011, Knopfli, Morselli & Perrig-Chiello, 2016). Moreover, when collected in a representative sample or in selected regions, life-history calendar data can document collective experiences and collective climates as we already showed in several publications (Elcheroth & Spini, 2007; Morselli, in press; Penic, Elcheroth & Spini, 2015; Spini, Elcheroth & Corkalo Biruski, 2014).

We invited our colleagues in two different occasions. The first time (22-25 Oct 2016) Dario Spini, Olivier Filieule and Davide Morselli gave lectures presenting the theory and method of LHC and we discussed and learned how to devise Life History Calendars. Then we applied this knowledge to construct calendars documenting several aspects of life between 2008 and 2016. These calendars were used to interview 494 people between 19-36 years old. The data collection took place between October and December 2016. Davide Morselli returned to Greece a second time (9-13 of December) and showed us how to prepare the data collection for analysis. We also did together some preliminary analyses. Preliminary findings of these projects have been presented to two conferences in Greece and the UK:

  • Χρυσοχόου, Ξ., Ντάνη, Σ. & Morselli, D., Spini, D. & Fieulaine, O. (2017). Αναλύοντας τον ακτιβισμό και την πολιτική συμμετοχή μέσα από τις διαδρομές ζωής στα χρόνια της κρίσης στην Ελλάδα. 16ο Conference of the Hellenic Psychological Society. Thessaloniki 10-14 Μαϊου 2017
  • Morselli, D., Chryssochoou, X. & Ntani, S. (2017) Facing the Crisis : a life-course approach to political activism in Greece. Annual Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology (ISPP), June 29-July 2 Edinburgh, Scotland


In the workshops participated 34 undergraduate students (who also were trained to perform the interviews), 6 post-graduate students, 2 PhD students, 2 Post Doc fellows and 5 colleagues from several Greek universities. Dr Ntani (a post-doctoral fellow in the department of Psychology at Panteion) was trained to the construction of the diaries. Moreover, the workshops were largely advertised and colleagues from the North of Greece showed interest about the method. Thus, given their inability to come to the workshops, the first presentation at the Greek conference in Thessaloniki aimed mostly at the presentation of the methods and its possibilities for research to a larger audience of colleagues and students.

We are indebted to EASP for helping this knowledge transfer and to our colleagues from Lausanne who happily came over. We hope to maintain this collaboration in order to learn now how to analyse this rich data corpus.

On behalf of the Greek team
Xenia Chryssochoou