Diverging Biographies: Two Portuguese Peasant Woman


Life-histories and biographical portraits frequently fall into the trap of “the typical” – the narrator is presumed to represent a key element supposedly common to most or all other members of a culture. Avoiding this path, we focus on the lifecourses of two women in a Portuguese hamlet pertaining to the upper and lower extremes of a manifold social hierarchy. These two villagers’ individual life-cycles, their marital and familial universes, and their total socialworlds are indeed so divergent that we are led inexorably to the question – despite their common place of residence, do they have anything in common at all?
Three major phases of the two women’s life paths are sketched – childhood and adolescence, adulthood and marriage, oldage and death – highlighting the Central European features of this community in Trás-os-Montesprovince, and stressing its profound dissimilarity from the Mediterranean culture area. A number of theoretical stances within the field of biographical studies hover in the background: classic anthropological texts recited by one ego, more sociological angles on social mobility and group trajectories, philosophical oriented hermeneutical portraits, and recent forays into post-modernist schemes focused in the dialogic relation between the observer and the observed. This paper falls clearly into the second of these trends. Might there not be at least two or even three “typical” life courses within the European villages of this kind?

How to Cite

O'Neill, B. J., (1995) “Diverging Biographies: Two Portuguese Peasant Woman”, Ethnologia Europaea 25(2), 97-118. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/ee.839

Publisher Notes

  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Brian Juan O'Neill (ISCTE)



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