The life chart exercise was used as a component in the first, biographically oriented interview. The life chart, or timeline, can be seen as a visual display of a biography and in this study it typically consisted of three sections, one for personal and family life, one for school and work and one for leisure and friends (although participants were able to modify these). Drawing on the work of Rachel Thomson and colleagues in the UK on the concept of ‘critical moments’, participants were asked to mark events they viewed as ‘critical’ in their lives; i.e., events that have shaped where and who they are today. Participant were in charge of drawing the chart on a piece of paper and asked about the events they noted down and what they meant for them. This was typically divided into three spheres; family, school and friends.
The life chart generates information about upbringing, social relations and networks, but also gives access to subjective understandings of the past as well as the present; of not just ‘what happened’ but what has been important. It is not meant to be a full and chronological inventory of the participants’ life so far, but rather an insight into which events and people that are seen as particularly important at the time of the interview. Importantly, more than being a source in itself, it is the conversation that the life chart exercise generates that is especially insightful.