___An Attempt to Network Analyse Life Story Interviews___Vissza
Fruzsina Albert, Beáta Dávid and Zsuzsanna Kőrösi:
(Sociological Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Oral History Archive, Hungary)

An Attempt to Network Analyse Life Story Interviews

As the title of the paper indicates this is an experiment. An attempt from the point that it tries to utilize network analysis in a rather new field. Our aim is to analyse life story interviews using network methods/analysis, to be able to reconstruct one’s egocentric and complete networks based on remembrances.

We selected the interviews to be analysed from the Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution Oral History Archive. More than 900 life story interviews can be found here, conducted with the witnesses of the previous decades of Hungarian history – primarily the participants of the Hungarian revolution of 1956, its victims, main characters and significant, interesting representatives of Hungarian culture, sciences, arts and public life.

These interviews are based on the methods of oral history, and the life story method of sociology, combining historical and sociological approaches. Thus these are complete life story interviews, in which possibly the most complete life story of the interviewee and his/her family is described. With the help of the taped and typed individual fates one can gain a complex view of the subjective experiences, memories and reflections of people playing a historic role and also the social forces that formed and surrounded them.

The basic feature of our research is that it does not gather new data but selects from an already existing “database”. As these interviews cannot be called statistically representative, our guideline for selection was to choose interviews of those who had the biggest chance to meet one another at one or more stages of their lives. This criterium was mostly satisfied in the case of the interviews made with the participants of the revolution of 1956. Our goal was a structural analysis of personal stories of the revolution.



Historical background


Before talking about the results of our research, we think it to be important to summarize briefly the social-historical background of the topic. In Hungary after the death of Josif Sztálin (1953) the Soviet and the Hungarian party leadership tried to handle the very tense situation with often contradictory correction attempts. In 1955 Nagy Imre the popular, first reform-communist prime minister of the region was dismissed. The opposition reform movement that formed around him and the growing social dissatisfaction resulted in the break-out of the first armed Eastern European revolution against the soviet oppression and communist dictatorship on the 23rd of October 1956.

The major claim of the revolution was to achieve the restoration of national independence and to secure basic human and civil rights. All social strata were represented in the revolution, so it was at the same time a revolution of workers, students and the intellectuals. Street fighters fought against the Soviet tanks at several points of Budapest with primitive weapons, but with such self-sacrifice that amazed the whole world. They had both the practical and the moral support of the population behind them. After news spread from the capital, demonstrations and protest marches took place in towns and villages in the countryside.

The ruling leadership became paralysed, local leaders either fled or adapted to the new circumstances. New, democratic institutions came to life in almost all settlements of the country. Local committees made up by respected people directed the lives of the settlements. In firms and factories workers’ committees were formed through direct election, which also took over the management. Nagy Imre who became the head of the government by public support, stabilized the situation for a short time by creating multi-party system and declaring neutrality.

On 31st of October 1956, the Soviet leadership rejected the possibility of political solution and on November 4th an overwhelming Soviet force attacked Budapest and the major towns. The Soviets put Kádár János into the government, who denied his previous revolutionary role and became the commander of the revenge. The Hungarian Army – apart from few attempts - did not even try to stop the second Soviet invasion, but the armed forces organized during the revolution did not surrender and for one week fought hopelessly against the Soviet army. After armed fights stopped, the most efficient ways for resistance were the self-organisations of workers, the workers’ committees, which led a national strike. In parallel, various groups of intellectuals published illegal newspapers, declarations, and tried to put pressure on the government and international political forces.

The end of the fight is known, the revolution was defeated. Afterwards officially it was labeled as a counter-revolution, and those, who participated in it were enemies of the democracy of people. The suppression of the revolution was followed by a retaliation that was beyond all retaliations experienced in the past. 229 people – among them Nagy Imre – were executed for their participation in the revolution, and more than 20000 people were imprisoned. The victorious Kádár government did not only want to silence the participants and their family members but also wanted to put all the events of the autumn of 1956 into oblivion. Due to terror and fear most people shortly “forgot” their experiences, feelings, opinions; they did not speak about it and –at least seemingly- accepted the official ideology and propaganda.

1956 and the following revenge was a taboo not only in the official, but also in the private circles. Of course there were few people who resisted the official pressure and stood by the ideals of the revolution. Those revolutionaries who were sentenced only to shorter imprisonment were released in 1959 and 1960 with partial amnesty, the majority were released after the amnesty in 1963, and there were more than a hundred armed revolutionaries who were kept in prison for years longer. After the change of the political system in 1989 the revolution and those sentenced were rehabilitated, but the Hungarian society could not come round the trauma yet.



Methodology used


Our present research is a pilot study, aiming to employ the methods of network analysis, thus we tried the method and ways to code information on a small sample. This sample consists of 21 interviews of persons who all participated in the revolution of 1956 in one way or another, in one of the major industrial cities called Miskolc. We know that such a small sample does not allow deep analysis. We only wanted to illustrate how the methods of network analysis can be used for the structural analysis of life story interviews. These interviews were prepared between 1987–1995 in the framework of a research that focused on the workers’ committees which played a very significant role in the events of the revolution in the city, thus more than half of the participants interviewed were members of such committees either in a factory or in the county.

Following the pilot study in the second phase of the research we will recode all the available life stories of those participants who took part in the revolution in Budapest, and due to his/her activities were sentenced to imprisonment. This sample of approximately 130 individuals can be considered homogenous from 3 aspects: everybody participated at the revolution, they were active in Budapest, and after the revolution they were all arrested and sentenced to stay in prison for shorter or longer periods of time.

We can thus hypothesize that subjects of both samples had a chance to know one another during the revolution and/or in prison (naturally it is true for both samples separately, and within each sample it is not true for everyone), and that they talk about these contacts in their memoirs.

These interviewees were primarily chosen for research due to their role in the revolutionary events, and in their reflections in most detail they describe the revolution and its personal consequences – including his contacts with other people. It is important to note, that besides the lack of representativeness, the comparison of data is made even more difficult by the fact that the interviews were made on different dates, they are varied in length and their narrative is also significantly different. Furthermore we cannot emphasize enough that in this case we talk about individual memories, so we can only refer to things that the interviewee talked about during the interview. The interview records the memories of the subject at the given point in time. We do not consider our task to supplement, check or correct these. We analyze the collective memories embodied in the interviews and reconstruct the network patterns of the individuals. Obviously no one can remember all his contacts. Apart from the distortive and selective nature of memory it depends on individual characteristics, who is mentioned by whom and in which context (whether someone is extrovert or introvert, speaks easily or not etc.). It also depends on his way of life, his intellectual status at the time of the interview, his speaking abilities, social status, the interviewer and several other factors.

Once the sample selected, considering the goal of our research and the available interviews we made a questionnaire consisting two parts.

1. One part included the different network data collected. From each interview all those recalled relations were coded that were definitely identifiable either by name or from the textual environment. The observed unit was always a minimal event, an interaction. From the nature of telling one’s life story the recalled persons are always embedded in or associated with a shorter or lengthier story. Out of the names mentioned we coded only those who were in someway connected to interviewee. We did not consider a name a relation if the respondent heard but personally not met that person, and if the named person appeared in a context where only secondary information or opinion was said about him/her. We are aware our limits and know that from a life story interview we can not summon up one’s total personal network system. At the same time because of the inital research objective we assume that the interviewees did talk about their most important political relations concerning the revolution and the period spent in prison.

In the first part of the questionnaire we coded all the nominees with full name, profession and/or place of work. The most exact identification possible is essential because when all relations of the interviews are combined into one dataset it would be impossible to decide if two people are the same but just have been recalled slightly differently or if a same name actually refers to two different people.

The date of each minimal event was also coded. At the beginning the coding was very specific but later a simplified terminology was used. We defined five timelaps corresponding to the historically important periods of the past 50 years of Hungarian history. The first timelap comprised the events from the interviewee’s birth to the beginning of the revolution (23rd of October 1956). The second refers to the period of the revolution (until the 4th of November 1956). The third timelap might be called the revenge period, from the end of the revolution until the so called great amnesty in 1963: this date is independent to the actual date of the interviewee’s release from prison. The fourth timelap ends on the 22nd of October 1989, when the Hungarian Republic was declared, and the last timelap refers to the time passed until the actual date of the interview. The usage of timelaps were necessary from several reasons. First, the interviewees rarely remember the exact date of each of their interactions (contacts), usually they recall one by comparing it to others or by placing it between longer time intervals. Second, it was necessary for statistical analysis.

We arranged the type of relation, connection between the interviewee and the nominee in the following groups: 1. school relation – schoolmate 2. school relation – teacher, 3, work relation – boss 4. – colleague 5. work relation – employee? 6. revolutionary relation – revolutionist (fellowfighter) 7. revolutionary relation – enemy 8. fellow prisoner 9. any relation connected to revenge (policeman, detective, prison guard, inquisitor) 10. fellowman in the trial 11. a revenge relation during the trial (lawyer, solicitor, judge, ..) 12. witness 13. positive ex- revolutionist 14. negative ex-revolutionist (enemy during the revolution and after) 15. friend 16. neighbour (in a large context) 17. politician 18. other. Only non-kin relations were recoded.

The opinion about the nominee was coded positive, negative or neutral depending on how she/he was mentioned by the interviewee.

The site of the minimal event was recorded under the name of the place (city, village).

The institution connected to the event, or the context of the relation was also coded. The following subgroups were specified: 1. family 2. living environment 3. school 4. workplace 5. political organisation (eg.party) 6. religious organisation (scouting) 7. other organisation (sports club, military) 8. revolutionary organisations 9. prison, police station etc. 10. jury, trial 11. other (e.g. a friend’s home)

Each meeting was coded separately. If the interviewee mentioned the same person in one situation in two different relations i.e. once as a friend, and once as a colleague, the nominee will be coded twice. Also if the interviewee mentioned the same person twice in one timelap both interactions were defined. For each interview there is a separate sheet in Excel format, which at the end are all combined into one data set.

2. The second part of our questionnaire consists the interviewee’s personal, sociological and demographical data: such as place and date of birth, educational attainment, profession of the parents too. Also place of living at the time of the revolution and at the time of interview, membership of any party, political activity, and motivation, family status etc.





As I mentioned in the introduction what we had done so far is a pilot study, therefore there are no final results. There are a few encouraging bits of our output. In our pilot study the 21 life story interviews analysed yielded two network data sets.

One data set is a complete, closed network data containing all relations that were recalled by the interviewees about one another. The other can be regarded as an egocentric network data set where different indices, such as multiplexity can be calculated. These two datasets can be analysed separately but in certain cases it can be compared. For example in the two network systems the distribution of the nominees by timelaps are different.

From the complete network data because different aspects of the interactions were coded, several matrices can be obtained and analysed. For example we could analyse the matrices of each timelap, or of the institutions, or relational types. We mostly deal with directed graphs.

We can see the matrix in which all coded interactions are indicated and then the network graph of the 21 revolutionists. The method used is multidimensional scaling (MDS).

The results of our pilot study convinced us that it is worthwhile and possible to use network analysis to study life story interviews. Instead of a conclusion I would like to show you some questions and points that are to be answered and studied in our further research. Of course any question or idea is welcome and appreciated.

1. What kind of network structures characterise the different subgroups having a role in the revolution? Are they similar or different?

2. Did the egocentric network characteristics influence the interviewee’s role in the revolution? If yes, how?

3. What type of interaction revived in the relations of 1956, and could they survive the persecution and the period after?


The Power of Oralhistory. XIIth International Oralhistory Conference, Petermaritzburg, South Africa, 24-27 June 2002. CD-rom Volume 2.




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