Journal of Social Policy


Using Life Histories in Social Policy Research: The Case of Third Sector/Public Sector Boundary Crossing


a1 Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics, London email:


The life-history method is a valuable tool for social policy research. Taking an anthropological approach to studying policy, the article analyses the usefulness of the method using data drawn from a set of recently collected life-work histories from the UK. These life-work histories document the experiences of individuals who have crossed over between the public sector and the ‘third sector’ during their careers. The article first briefly reviews the strengths and weaknesses of the life-history method, then goes on to analyse selected issues and themes that emerge from the data at both the contextual and the individual levels. The article concludes that life-history work adds to our knowledge of the relationship between these two sectors, and of the processes through which ideas about ‘sector’ and policy are constructed and enacted.