Practising family history : ' identity' as a category of social practice

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Research on family history argues it performs the task of anchoring a sense of 'self' through tracing ancestral connection and cultural belonging, seeing it as a form of storied 'identity-work'. This paper draws on a small-scale qualitative study to think further on the identity-work of family history. Using practice theory, and a disaggregated notion of 'identity', it explores how the storying of family histories relates to genealogy as a leisure hobby, a form of historical research, and an information-processing activity; and examines the social organization of that narrativity, where various practical engagements render certain kinds of genealogical information more, or less, 'storyable'. Key features of 'identity-work' in family history, such as the construction of genealogy as a personal journey of discovery and identification with particular ancestors, emerge as a consequence of the procedures of family history, organized as a set of practical tasks. The paper explores 'identity-work' as a consequence of people s engagement in specific social practices which provide an internal logic to their actions, with various components of 'identity' emerging as categories of practice shaped within, and for, use. Focusing on'identity' as something produced when we are engaged in doing other things, the paper examines how the practical organization of 'doing other things' helps produce 'identity' in particular ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)534-556
Number of pages22
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015


  • Identity; family history; genealogy; narrative; social practice; leisure hobbies


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