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Life Strategies of Workers in Poland’s New Capitalism (Adam Mrozowicki’s research from 2001–2004)

The presented data set includes 174 biographical interviews with manual workers, gathered in 2001–2004 by Adam Mrozowicki himself and as part of his students’ field practice at the Institute of Sociology, University of Wrocław. The main data collection method was a biographical narrative interview (modeller after Fritz Schütze). Each respondent was asked to tell the whole story of his/her life, from childhood until the moment of the interview. Subsequently, the respondents were asked to answer additional questions related to unclear or concise parts of the narratives. The last part focused on answers to questions related to the thematic sections analysed in the project in case the answers were not provided in the biographical sections. These questions were related to the social background, career, subjectively perceived living standard, leisure activities, involvement in non-governmental organisations (including trade unions), class identity, political orientations and perception of the transformations after 1989. The interviews are varied in quality: about 60 of them can be described as quality narrative interviews (high level of speech indexability, expanded part one of the interview), whereas others can be better described as in-depth interviews with a biographical component. 

The research was carried out in Lower Silesia (primarily in Wrocław), Upper Silesia (primarily in the Upper Silesian agglomeration), the Cieszyn Silesia region (mainly in Cieszyn) and the Opole Silesia region (the whole area of the Opole Province). Workers were defined as hired labourers performing physical or mental-and-physical work, with limited control over their work process. Moreover, narratives from a limited number of foremen and masters were also collected (22 cases). The sample had a prevalence of men (131 cases), skilled workers (95 cases), industrial workers (107 interviews), people employed in mining (16 interviews) and, to a lesser extent, in the services sector (35 interviews) and construction (15 interviews). The collected narratives represent three basic age cohorts of workers: (a) 35 years or less at the time of the interview – 57 cases; (b) 36–49 years – 94 cases; (c) 50 or more years – 23 cases.

So far, the data from the collection have been used for analysing life strategies, the workers’ ethos and resources, identities of trade union activists and the collective memory of workers. However, the presented data clearly have a considerable potential to be used for other types of social analysis. Among other things, the data could be used for research on the regional identity in Silesia, the class identity of workers, workers’ lifestyles and political awareness, as well as the analysis of the early stages of precarization of labour (interviews in the services sector) and research on selected occupational categories of workers (e.g. in mining, metallurgy or services).

All interviews were recorded entirely on tapes. The interviews lasted between 30 minutes (the shortest ones, representing about 20% of the total database), 1–1.5 hours (about 60%) and over 1.5 hours (maximum 4 hours), which makes up about 20% of the database. The audio recordings, however, have been preserved only for 50 interviews, primarily from the Wrocław part of the research (2001–2002) and research carried out in Upper Silesia, in the Dąbrowa Basin and Cieszyn Silesia region (2003). Transcripts of all those interviews are available in the electronic format. The student transcripts have been partially cleaned in terms of spelling. The transcripts also include: (1) the basic information about the respondents’ employers (legal form, employment); (2) information about the context of interviewing. For 85 cases, summaries of the most important life events were prepared in the form of ‘biographical portraits’. In addition to the interviews in Wrocław (2001–2002), interviews were not anonymised at the stage of transcription. Anonymisation of basic data was carried out in these cases at the time of archiving.