• political biography;
  • British government;
  • interpretive turn;
  • situated agency;
  • storytelling

The British tradition of political life history has six conventions: ‘tombstone’ biography, separation of public and private lives, life without theory, objective evidence and facts, character and storytelling. I describe each in turn and review the main debates in the tradition before turning to the swingeing critique by ‘the interpretive turn’. Postmodernism deconstructed grand narratives by pronouncing the death of the subject and the death of the author. I outline an interpretive approach that reclaims life history by focusing on the idea of ‘situated agency’: that is, on the webs of significance that people spin for themselves against the backcloth of their inherited beliefs and practices. I explore, with examples, the implications of this approach for writing life history, stressing the different uses for biography open to political scientists. I end with some brief thoughts on why the British tradition of political life history has proved resistant to change.