Research Seminar: ‘I don’t like telling you all my private business … I feel naked after I’ve spoken to you’.

Intimate narratives as expressions of the self in women’s post-war testimony.

This talk analyses women's oral history narratives from the 1960s and 2000s as contemporaneous and retrospective expressions of the self.

Women of the post-war generation have grown up alongside the emergence and acceptance of a confessional culture which legitimises and normalises personal accounts of experience.For their mothers’ generation, on the other hand, brought up in an era of self control and regulation of the self, the confessional encounter could be disconcerting.

As one woman put it when being interviewed by a sociologist in the 1960s: ‘I don’t like telling you all my private business … I feel naked after I’ve spoken to you’.  

And yet, tell she did along with many of her peers, narrating detailed accounts of grievances, dissatisfactions and frustrations, seemingly mirroring the increasing propensity amongst the younger generation to cast off conventional reserve and engage in a degree of self-revelation. Indeed, many referred to the interview’s ‘therapeutic value’ and compared it to time spent ‘on the psychiatrist’s couch’.

This paper offers some reflections on what Nikolas Rose has described as psychologization of experience’ in the post-war decades through the medium of personal narratives produced between the 1960s and the 2000s. 

About the speaker

Lynn Abrams is Professor of Modern History at the University of Glasgow. She has published widely on British and European gender history and oral history, including Oral History Theory (2016). Her latest book, Feminist Lives: Women, Feelings and the Self in Post-War Britain (Oxford, 2023) is an examination, primarily through personal testimony, of a generation of women who constructed a modern self built upon new ways of living, feeling and being.


Working Association of Mothers publicity material c.1970, by permission of The Women's Library