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Cicourel's study explored in detail how a criminal career was constructed through police interrogation, individual and distorted interpretations, and institutional documents.Since the 1980s, biographical research gained momentum in the wake of a growing interest for qualitative social research.The emergence of Sociology influenced an approach to biography that extended this notion beyond the individual dimension, such as the works of Alphons Silbermann on the life of the composer Jacques Offenbach and Norbert Elias on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
In this situation, the self-discovered biographical identity with its endangered transitions, breaks, and status changes becomes a conflict between institutional control and individual strategy.
The reconstructive approach in biographical research, which is connected to the phenomenological and Gestalt approaches, was methodologically developed by the German sociologist Gabriele Rosenthal.
The material for analysis consists of interview protocols (memorandums), video recordings, photographs, and a diversity of sources.
These documents are evaluated and interpreted according to specific rules and criteria.
The biographical approach influence was felt mainly in the study of deviance.
In 1978, Aaron Victor Cicourel published a case study on the life history of a boy named Mark, that received special attention in the discipline of social work.
The actor became an intersection of different and sometimes divergent determinants, logics, expectations, normative models, and institutionalized mechanisms of control (see Georg Simmel's chapter "The Intersection of Social Circles").
The "normal biography" broke up and prompted the individual to manage his life course on his own and to find solutions amongst different and contradictory influencing factors and figurations.
After their work, the biographical approach was considered amongst the dominant research approaches in empirical social research.
The study The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918–1920) by Znaniecki and Thomas used an extensive collection of diaries, letters, memoirs, autobiographies, and other personal and archival documents as main source for a sociological investigation.