Visual Life-Stories on Facebook. A Methodological Approach to Old and New Ways of Constructing Biographies

breck2.pngWith the rapidly developing online-communication new practices of creating images breck2of the self, of biographies and identities occur. However, we also can observe continuation of socially established practices to produce ‘snapshot versions’ of our lives (Chalfen 1987).

In my project I explore the specific relation of textual and pictorial narratives in Facebook-communication as to understand how biographies are created visually, especially by organising photographs in albums. By analysing the visual performance of contrasting examples of Facebook-communication, I introduce a specific combination of visual and narration-based methodologies as in-depth case reconstruction. By the method of Segment Analyses (Breckner 2010, 2012), selected images will be interpreted as to reveal implicit configurations of visual self-presentation, complemented by hermeneutic text analyses of captions and comments with which the interactional contexts and the negotiation of the meanings of the images is reconstructed.

The following questions guide the analysis: What kinds of experiences are visually constructed? In what way did the manner of creating visual images of oneself change and which stylistic forms of portraying and photographing social situations prevail? To what extent are traditional ways and functions of creating photo albums (Chalfen 1987; Hirsch 1997/2002; Pauwels 2008; Rose 2010) continued by means of new technology, and in what way new patterns of ‘doing biography’ emerge?
With in-depth-case analyses I provide insights to how the concept of ‘biography’ that has developed as a relevant social practice in modern societies undergoes more or less deep changes in the ongoing media shift.

Visual Segment Analysis reconstructs how from the relationship and formal organisation of various pictorial elements an image emerges, thereby creating, at the moment of viewing, partly determinable and partly indeterminate meanings and connotations in discursive contexts.
In this case we can observe a rather more conventional staging of commonality which can be characterised as ‘Me and the Others’.

Breckner, Roswitha. 2010. Sozialtheorie des Bildes. Zur interpretativen Analyse von Bildern und Fotografien. Bielelfeld: transcript
Breckner, Roswitha. 2012. Bildwahrnehmung – Bildinterpretation. Segmentanalyse als methodischer Zugang zur Erschließung bildlichen Sinns. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie (ÖZS) 2/12 143-164
Chalfen, Richard. 1987. Snapshot Versions of Life. Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press
Hirsch, Marianne. 1997/2002. Family Frames. Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Cambridge/Mass: Harvard University Press
Pauwels, Luc. 2008. A private visual practice going public? Social functions and sociological research opportunities of Web-based family photography. Visual Studies 23 (1): 34-49
Rose, Gillian. 2010. Doing Family Photography. The Domestic, The Public and The Poliltics of Sentiment. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate

breckRoswitha Breckner is Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology of the University of Vienna, spokesperson of the Research Area Visual Studies in Social Sciences of the Faculty of Social Sciences (, and President of the Research Committee Biography and Society of the International Sociological Association ( Her current research interest focuses on visual communication in Social Networks from a biographical perspective.

Meet the LOC – Ulrike Zartler

In our series “Meet the LOC” we would like to introduce you to the members of our Local Organizing Committee. The previous entries in this series can be found here.

ZartlerWhat is your main sociological field of study and what sparked your interest in it?

My main fields of interest are family sociology and childhood sociology. Over the past years, I have been particularly engaged in research on post-divorce families and have asked why the nuclear family still serves as an ideological code. These research interests go along with a strong focus on the sociological analysis of legal frameworks that shape families’ and children’s lives.

What characterizes your scientific work?

In my research, I adopt a concept of families as broadly defined varieties of being related. In my empirical research, I try to capture as many perspectives as possible and to include different family members. This usually gives tremendously divergent pictures about the – apparently – same family. I especially like to conduct studies with children, because they are so unpredictable and demand a particular openness and flexibility.

What is the main professional activity you are engaged in?

Doing research, writing papers, teaching and supervising are the everyday basic features. Furthermore, I am Deputy Head of the Department of Sociology, a Board member of the ESA RN 13 (Sociology of Families and Intimate Lives) and of the Austrian Society on Interdisciplinary Family Research (ÖGIF).

What are your next projects or publications?

I am currently preparing journal manuscripts on the following issues: Children’s networks in post-divorce dual residence arrangements; Intergenerational relationships at the transition to parenthood; Multiple perspectives in qualitative longitudinal family research.

Ulrike Zartler is an assistant professor of family sociology at the University of Vienna, Department of Sociology. Her research interests cover family sociology, childhood sociology, divorce and post-divorce families, legal aspects of family and childhood, and qualitative research methods.

Meet the LOC – Roland Verwiebe

In our series “Meet the LOC” we would like to introduce you to the members of our Local Organizing Committee. The previous entries in this series can be found here.

VerwiebeWhat is your main sociological field of study and what sparked your interest in it?

All issues related to social stratification and social inequality. Research on migration and the labor market using quantitative as well as qualitative research methods has been my major focus during the last 10-15 years. I was living in Berlin when I started to work in this field. In the mid-1990’s the city changed dramatically. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, one driving force was a newly emerging migration to Berlin, mainly from European countries (e.g. UK, France, Sweden, Poland) and the US. Continue reading

Meet the LOC – Jörg Flecker

In our series “Meet the LOC” we would like to introduce you to the members of our Local Organizing Committee. The previous entries in this series can be found here.

Picture of Jörg FleckerWhat is your main sociological field of study and what sparked your interest in it?
My main field of research is sociology of work and employment. The research area attracted my interest in the 1980s because of the rapid technological change and the implementation of ICTs. This raised a number of questions from skills and management control to job security and the gender division of labor.

What characterizes your scientific work?
My focus is on theory-driven empirical work trying to promote the understanding of current social dynamics. This often also includes developing a critical perspective on social phenomena and giving those people a voice who are usually not present in the media or in politics.

What is the main professional activity you are engaged in?
The usual mixture, I suppose: Teaching, supervising theses, supervising research grant applications, directing and participating in research projects, writing papers, giving public lectures, talking to the media.

What are your next projects or publications?
I am currently finalizing an edited volume on ‘Space, Place and Global Digital Work’ that will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2016. This has been a publication project within the framework of the European COST Action IS 1202 ‘Dynamics of Virtual Work’. The next publication project is a German-language textbook on work and employment.

Jörg Flecker is a professor of sociology at the Department of Sociology at the University of Vienna. His research is mainly focused on critical labor studies, industrial relations, public service transformation and transnationalisation. He is currently a member of the management of the European COST Action Dynamics of Virtual Work.

“Parenthood” – The Making Of

Worldwide, every second 2,6 babies see the light of day. Some of these babies help to transform their producers into first-time parents, a transition which involves specific gendered imaginings and manifestations. As a group of family sociologists at the University of Vienna, we are currently looking behind the scenes of these gendered practices and processes at the transition to parenthood in order to shed more light on the (in)equalities between mothers(-to-be) and fathers(-to-be). Against the backdrop of sociological research revealing a (re-)traditionalization of family roles after the birth of the first child, we ask: How does this happen?

Within this project we explain the practices which women and men are part of during the transition to parenthood. We focus on particular circumstances that support or prevent gender inequality during this transition. Furthermore, we are interested in the involvement of mothers(-to-be) and fathers(-to-be) in all upcoming tasks and responsibilities concerning pregnancy- and child-related care work. Based on practice theory, we want to know more about the making of parenthood: How are parents made and figured within the transition to parenthood? How do they transform from being a couple to being (gendered) parents? What are becoming mothers and fathers doing at the transition to parenthood? Which participants are entangled within the process of becoming a parent?

Parents are produced through the manifold assemblages they are embedded in. At the transition to parenthood women and men are entangled with a variety of other participants in activities, as shown below:

Graphic showing the various factors influencing the gendered division of labor between men and women

Continue reading

Marie Jahoda Summer School of Sociology

I would like to begin my blog entry about the summer school with a tribute to the Marie Jahoda, one of the most influential and important sociologists from Austria.

Foto of Marie Jahoda
© Archiv für die Geschichte der Soziologie in Österreich

She was born 1907 in Vienna to a Jewish family. In her youth she experienced the economic crisis, mass-unemployment and poverty of the interwar years. As a young woman she became engaged in the socialist party and social-democratic youth organisations. In 1928 she got her teaching diploma and finished her doctor in philosophy. In 1931 she began to work for the groundbreaking Austrian Research Unit for Economic Psychology, founded by her husband Paul F. Lazarsfeld. It was at this time she did the research which made her famous: Marienthal. The Sociography of an Unemployed Community. With great effort and the courage for innovative research methods the study shows the effects of mass-unemployment on the population of a small town near Vienna. Continue reading

Separating Work From Life – Cross-Border Commuters in Central Europe

The research project “TRANSLAB – Cross-Border Labour Mobility, Transnational Labour Markets and Social Differentiation in the Central European Region” at the Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, aims to provide an in-depth look at commuters from Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic bordering on Austria. This transnational labor market is particularly interesting as a specific historical political context in which global societal processes and European transformations interact. The focus of the project is on commuters’

a) reasons for commuting,

b) labor market integration and occupational trajectory,

c) integration into social networks and dynamics of social inequality.

The TRANSLAB project builds on the established methods of ‘ethnosurvey’ data collection and associated, more recent applications for the European setting. Based on quota sampling the social research department GfK Austria and its Central European partner institutes carried out face-to-face interviews with a total of 1.345 commuters to Austria and a reference group consisting of 1.334 non-commuters. Additionally we interviewed 20 experts consisting of EURES employees, business owners as well as local mayors and trade union representatives. At the moment a survey of biographical interviews with commuters is conducted.

Vienna is not only the capital and largest city of Austria, it is also the cultural and economic center of the Central European Region (Centrope). Centrope is one of many Euroregions that encourage cooperation among the border regions of Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Austria. One of the starting points of the political project is that wage levels and unemployment rates still tend to diverge quite significantly. Therefore mobility of labor is a core aim of the Centrope Strategy 2013+.

Graphic 1: The Central European Region

Map of the Central European Region with Vienna at its center

Continue reading

Meet the LOC – Rudolf Richter

In our series “Meet the LOC” we would like to introduce you to the members of our Local Organizing Committee. This week we talk to Chair of the LOC Rudolf Richter about the similarities between society and the theater stage, and how these made him want to study sociology.

What is your main sociPhoto of Rudolf Richter in the arcaded courtyard of the University of Viennaological field of study and what sparked your interest in it?

Family sociology is my main area of interest. The reason why? Everybody seems to have something to say about it, but from a very personal point of view. I want to grasp it scientifically. Family sociology is double thrilling: you act as a scientist in a field full of personal opinions and prejudices. Great for a sociologist. Continue reading


Dear readers,

On this blog we would like to get warmed up for next year’s ISA Forum and invite you to have a look “behind the scenes”. We will introduce you to the members of the Local Organizing Committee and to the history and current state of sociology in Austria and its neighboring countries. As a central topic throughout the posts we will be exploring the theme of the third ISA Forum; “The Futures We Want: Global Sociology and the Struggles for a Better World”. There will be contributions from the Executive Committee and of course from the RCs/WGs/TGs. After all, the ISA Forum is their platform.

You will find all practical information for the Forum on the website in the navigation to the left.

Throughout the next year and a half we wish to get to know our guests better – comments, questions and discussions are welcomed and encouraged! To comment you may use your facebook account or simply sign in below.

2015 marks the 650th anniversary of the University of Vienna. For a first impression of this historical location of the Third ISA Forum of Sociology 2016, have a look at the video below.