Documents of life: Analysing letters and other found data

  • Lizbeth Stanley (Creator)



Presents an analytical framework for analysing the pre-text, context, text and inter text, and post-text of documents


The exemplar is a document dated 8 February 1893 signed on behalf of ‘the Swazi Nation’, accompanied by some related materials. It is ‘found’ data: it does not result from any researcher-involvement or prompting, but was used by the people who produced it in furthering their particular concerns and plans. More precisely it is a ‘document of life’, one of the many everyday visual, oral, spatial as well as textual documents which form important constitutive elements in social life. These ‘documents of life’ can be almost anything that we encounter in everyday life: ranging from road signs, body tattoos and advertising hoardings to photographs, letters, tweeting and more. The exemplar is among data collected for the Whites Writing Whiteness (WWW) project, and is one of some thousands of documents forming the Forbes Family archive collection. WWW has particular analytical concerns and aims, with its interest in letters and other data related to the writing and exchange of letters (known as epistolary data). The methodological strategies used in analysing letters, and the conceptual and other issues arising, are common to research concerned with documents of all kinds. The data is provided by Professor Liz Stanley from Edinburgh University. The exemplar shows how documentary data can be analysed by attending to the content of individual documents, and also to the data as a whole and the wider social context this speaks to. The exemplar will be of most use to those interested in analysing letters and other documents of life.
Date made availableSept 2015
PublisherSAGE Research Methods
Temporal coverage1800 - 1970
Geographical coverageWhat is now South Africa and related territories in southern Africa

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