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"The, book will have- an immediate amlwery

wide audience. It is a marvelous statement,


very synthetic, very accessible, and so nicely
interpretive.
Norman K. Denzin, University-ofIllinois,
Urbana-Champaign
Interviewing is an essential tool in the
repertoire of the qualitative researcher, and
yet the intricate relationship between the
hows and the whys of the interview
process is not always easily understood.
Steinar Kvales Interviews provides both
theoretical underpinnings and practical
aspects of the interview process. After
examining the role of the interview in the
research process, Kvale considers some of
the key philosophical issues relating to
interviewing: the interview as conversation,
hermeneutics, phenomenology, concerns
about ethics as well as validity, and post
modernism. Having laid out the framework,
the author takes the reader through the
seven stages of the interviewing process,
from designing a study to writing it up.
Fundamental and essential, Interviews is
written for students and professionals in
qualitative and research methods,
psychology, education research, nursing,
social work, counseling, family studies,
gerontology, evaluation, sociology, and
anthropology.
ISBN 0-8039-5819-6 hardcover
ISBN 0-8039-5820-X paperback

Visit our website at www.sagepub.oom

Steinar Kvale

Interviews
f
[L if'-

!
'mT 1

SteinarKvale

InteiViews
I

Ail Introduction
to Qualitative
Research
Interviewing

/ \ S A G E Publications
I jL I International Educational and Professional Publisher
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C o p y rig h t 1996 by Sage Publications, Inc.


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Contents

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P rinted in the U nited States o f A m erica
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List of Boxes, Figures, and Tables


Kvale, Stcinar, 1938InterViews: An in tro d u c tio n to q ualitative research interv iew ing /
a u tho r, Steinar Kvale.
p. cm.
O rig in ally published by Stu d en tlitte ratu r. Steinar Kvale and
S tudentlitteratur, L u nd , Sweden, 19 94 Verso t.p.
Includes bib lio g rap hical references and index.
ISBN 0-8039-5819-6 (cloth: acid-free paper).
ISBN 0-8039-5820-X (pbk.: acid-free papr).
1.
Interview ing in sociology. 2. Interview ing. 3. So cio lo gy
Research M e th od o lo g y . I. Title.

H M 4 8 .K 9

1996

3 0 1 '.0 1 dc2

95-50205

T his b o o k is printed on acid-free paper.

xi

Acknowledgments

x jjj

Preface

PART I:

xv

Introduction

1. Interviewing as Research

The Interviewer as a M iner or as a Traveler

Conversation as Research

Interview Research in the Social Sciences

]()

M ethodological Issues

\2

Overview of the Book


01

10 9

Sage P ro d u ctio n Editor: A strid V ird in g


Sage Typesetter: Janelle LeM aster

Theoretical Issues

13
I

PART II:

Conceptualizing the Research Interview

2. The Interview as a Conversation


Knowledge as Conversation

17
19
19

Socrates Philosophical Dialogue on Love

21

A Therapeutic Interview on I late

24

The Temporal Dimension

A Research Interview on Learning

27

Interview Forms

The Mode of Understanding in llu: Qualitative


Research Interview
Interviews in Three Conversations

29
36

3. Postmodern Thought, Hermeneutics,


Phenomenology, and Dialectics

38

Postmodern Construction

41

Hermeneutical Interpretation

46

Phenomenological Description

52

Dialectical Situating

55

Philosophy and Interviews

57

4. Qualitative Research in Science and in Practice

Designing

98
99
101

H ow Many Interview Subjects D o I Need?

101

Resources Available

103

W hen N ot to Interview

104

From M ethod to Craftsmanship

105

6 . Ethical Issues in Interview Inquiries

109

Ethical Issues at Seven Research Stages

110

Ethical Guidelines

110

Ethical Codes

110

Informed Consent

112

Confidentiality

114

59

Consequences

116

The Scientific Status of the Interview

59

The Role of the Researcher

1 17

Positivism

61

Objectivity in Qualitative Research

64

Qualitative and Quantitative Research

66

Qualitative Market Research

70

Feminism and Qualitative Research

72

Psychoanalytical Knowledge Production

74

Psychoanalysis as a Research M ethod

74

Therapeutic Research Between Scylla and Charybdis

79

P A RT III:

5. Thematizing and Designing an Interview Study

7. The Interview Situation

118
120
124

T he Interview Conversation

124

Framing the Interview

127

The Interview Guide

129

Interview Questions

131

An Interview About Grades

136

8. The Q uality of the Interview

The Seven Stages of an Interview


Investigation

Ethical Issues at the Start of a Study


Ethical Theories

144

81

Interview Q uality

83

The Interview Subject

146

Interviewer Qualifications

147

H am lets Interview

151

Openness and Emotions in Interview Studies

83

The Seven Stages of Interview Research

87

Interviews About Grades

89

144

The Ethics of Interviewing

153
157

94

Leading Questions

Content

95

9. From Speech to Text

160

Purpose

97

Recording Interviews

160

Thematizing

Transcription Reliability and Validity

163

Production of an Invalid Understanding

221

166

The Consequences of an Invalid Understanding

222

Transcribing Interviews

168

Questions Put to Texts

223

Com puter Tools for Interview Analysis !

173

The Quest for The Real M eaning

225

176

13. The Social Construction of Validity

229

Oral and W ritten Language

10. The 1,000-Page Question


Dismiss or Interpret the 1,000-Page Question?

176

The Trinity of Generalizability, Reliability, and Validity

229

W hat Does the 1,000-Page Question M ean?

177

Generalizability

231

Have Too Late!

177

Reliability and Validity of Interviews

235

1,000 Pages Too M uch!

178

Validity in Modern and Postmodern Contexts

236

H o w Ask W h a t and W h y First

179

Validity as Quality of Craftsmanship

241

M e thod Versus Knowledge

180

Com municative Validity

244

Transcripts Beware!

182

Pragmatic Validity

248

Collected Versus Coauthored

183

Validity of the Validity Question

251

Analyze Versus Narrate

184

M ethod of Analysis

14. Im proving Interview Reports

253

Boring Interview Reports

253

11. Methods of Analysis

187

Investigating W ith the Final Report in M ind

256

Steps o f Analysis

187

W riting for the Readers

2.58

Approaches to Interview Analysis

188

Ethics of Reporting

259

Im proving Standard Modes of Reporting

M eaning Condensation

193

M eaning Categorization

l ^6

Standard Structure of a Report

262

M eaning Structuring Through Narratives

199

M ethod

262

M eaning Interpretation

201

Results

262

Ad H oc M eaning Generation

203

W riting as Social Construction

268

Issues of Analysis

204

Enriching Interview Reports

271

Control of Analysis

207

Journalistic Interviews

271

210

Dialogues

272

210

Therapeutic Case Histories

273

213

Narratives

274

213

Metaphors

274

217

Visualizing

275

218

Modes of Presentation in the Present Book

276

12. The Plurality of Interpretations


The Primacy of the Question
Questions Posed to an Interview Text
T hree

Contexts of Interpretation

Three Com m unities of Validation


Interpretation of Content or of Person

185

262

P A RT IV :

Conclusion

15. Conversations A bout Interviews


Reception of Interview Studies

277
279
279

Ten Standard Objections to Interview Research

28 1

Internal Critiques of Interview Research

291

Conversations About Conversations

295

References

299

Author Index

307

Subject Index

311

About the Author

326

List of Boxes,
Figures, and Tables

Boxes
Box 2.1.

Aspects o f Qualitative Research Interviews

Box 3.1.

Literature on Philosophies Pertaining to

30

Interview Research

39

Box 3.2.

Hermeneutical Canons of Interpretation

48

Box 4.1.

The Psychoanalytical Research Interview

75

Box 5.1.

Emotional Dynamics o f an Interview Study

85

Box 5.2.

Seven Stages o f an Interview Investigation

88

Box 5.3.

Literature on Qualitative Research

90

Box 6.1.

Ethical Issues of the Seven Research Stages

Box 6.2.

Ethical Questions at the Start of an Interview Study

119

Box 7.1.

Types of Interview Questions

133

Box 8.1.

Q uality Criteria for an Interview

145

Box 8.2.

Q ualification Criteria for the Interviewer

148

1 11

XI

xii

In te r v ie w s

Box 11.1. Six Steps of Analysis

189

Box 13.1. Validation at Seven Stages

237

Box 14.1. Investigating W ith the Final Report in M in d

257

Box 14.2. Structuring an Interview Report

263

Box 14.3. Reader Questions About Methods

264

Box 14.4. Guidelines for Reporting Interview Quotes

266

Box 15.1.

282

Sex, Violence, Religion, Feminism, and Interviews

Box 15.2.

Ten Standard Reactions to Qualitative Interviews

284

Box 15.3.

'Ten Internal Critiques of Interview Research

292

Acknowledgments
Figures
Figure

1.1.

The Research Interview Seen as Interviews

Figure 11.1.

Five Approaches to Interview Analysis

Figure 11.2.

Dimensions and Categories of the Grading

15
191
197

Perspective
Figure 11.3.. Influence of Grades on Pupils Relationship to

198

Teacher
Figure 15.1 . Knowledge Construction Through the
Interview and the Research Conversation

280

Kvale, S. (1983a). The qualitative research interview A phenomenological and a

T ables
Table

5.1.

hermeneutical mode o f understanding. Journal o f Phenomenological Psychology,


14, 171-196. [Reprinted from: Kvale, S. (1979). Dct kvalitative forskningsinter-

From Interview Statements to Questionnaire


Items

Table

7.1.

Research Questions and Interview Questions

Table

9.1.

Two Transcriptions of the Same Interview

Table

9.2.

Two Transcriptions of Leonas Story of

Passage

Earlier versions of parts of the present book have been published in


the follow ing journals and books:

94
131
164

view Ansatser til en f.-cnomcnologisk-hcrmeneutisk forstSelsesform. In T. Broch,


K. Krarup, P. K. I.arsen, &: (). Rieper (lids.), Kvalitative metoder i dansk saw fundsforskning (pp. 160-185). Kobenhavn: Nyt fra Samfundsvidenskaberne.I
Kvale, S. (1983b). The quantification of knowledge in education: O n resistance toward
qualitative evaluation and research. In B. Bain (Ed.), The sociogenesis of language
and human conduct (pp. 433-447). New York: Plenum.
Kvale, S. (1986). Psychoanalytic therapy as qualitative research. In P. Ashworth,

165

A. G iorgi, & A. de Koning (Eds.), Qualitative research in psychology (pp. 155184). Pittsburgh: Duqucsne University Press.

Thetnes

195

Kvale, S. (1987). Interpretation of the qualitative research interview. In B. M ook,

Table 11.2.

Essential Description of Style o f 1 earning

196

Table 12.1.

Contexts of Interpretation and Com m unities

Her Puppy
Table 11.1.

The Natural M eaning Units and Their Central

of Validation

F. Wertz, & F. van Zuurcn (Kds.), Advances in qualitative psychology (pp. 25-40).
I.issc, The Netherlands: Swets 6c Zeitlinger.
Kvale, S. (1988). The 1000 page question. Phenomenology 4- Pedagogy, 6, 90-106.

214

I ntervi ews

XIV

Kvale, S. (1 9 89 ). T he prim acy o f the interview . Methods, N o . 1, pp . 3-37.


Kvale, S. (19 89 ). T o validate is to question. In S. Kvale (Lid.), Issues of validity in

qualitative research (p p. 73-92). L u n d , Sw eden: S tndentlitteratnr.


Kvale, S. (1 994). T en standard objections to qualitative research interview s. Journal of

Phenomenological Psychology* 25, 147-173.


Kvale, S. (1 995). T he social construction of validity. Qualitative hnjitiry, /, 19-40.

The topics of these articles and chapters arc, with the exception of
those from 1986 and 1995, treated more extensively in this book.

Preface

This hook has two purposes. First, it provides new interview re


searchers with practical guidelines for how to do research inter
views. Second, it suggests for novice and experienced interview
researchers alike conceptual frames of reference for how to think
about interview research.
l'lte book arose from my own use of interviews in a study on the
educational effects o f grading in Denmark in 1978. The experiences
with what was then a new form of research instigated reflection on
methodical and theoretical issues. At that time, there was an awaken
ing interest in qualitative research, which led to lectures and courses
on qualitative methods, which led again to a Center o f Qualitative
Research at the Institute o f Psychology in Aarhus as well as courses
elsewhere, in particular at the University o f Oslo and the Saybrook
Institute in San Francisco.
There was little literature on interview research in the early 1y80s,
and a demand for writings on the topic resulted in several articles and
book chapters (see the Acknowledgments). They originated as prepa
rations for research qourses and were further developed in dialogues

Intervi ews

xvi

Preface

xvi i

with the participating students. The students insightful comments,

the journal articles and the book; and to Kristin Bergstad w ho has

and their often difficult questions, stimulated and contributed signifi

worked to transform my Norwegian-Danish English into readable


English.

cantly to the present work. These earlier articles and chapters have
now been rewritten and extended as the present book.

Interviews arc conversations where the outcome is a coproduction

I am indebted to Scandinavian co-teachers and organizers in the .

of the interviewer and the subject. This book is the result of the variety

qualitative research courses, such as Erie Bryn, Jette Fog, and Tove

o f conversations about interview conversations with the persons men

Arendt Rasmussen; colleagues in the Danish network of qualitative

tioned above. They do not, however, share all of the views presented

research Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Grethe Skylv, and Jan Helge Larsen, and

here. I am thankful for their significant contributions to the present


book.

Biorn Hasselgren at the N ordic courses. By teaching together with


quantitative researchers such as Finn Tschudi, Bo Som m erlund, and
Ole Steen Kristensen-the first two arc mathematicians I learned
that quantitative research need not be understood in a positivist frame
and to regard the qualitative versus quantitative controversy as a
pseudo-issue.
In the mid-1980s there was a marked increase in public investment
in Ph.D. education in Denmark. This included the financing of courses
on qualitative methods by the Danish Research Council for the Social
Sciences, the

Danish

Research Academy, and N ordic

Research

Courses. The financial support made it possible to invite foreign


scholars to promote and inspire qualitative research in Denmark,
including the present work. These guests include H ubert Dreyfus,
Stuart Dreyfus, Elliot Eisner, Regi Enerstvedt, K. Anders Ericson,
Amedeo Giorgi, Ken Gcrgcn, M ary Gergen, David Goode, Hanne
Haavind, Patti Lather, Jean Lave, Lasse L 0 vlie, Ference M arton, Elliot
Mishler, M artin Packer, Bryan Pfaffenberger, Donald Polkinghorne,
Marcia Salner, Renata Tcsch, Finn Tschudi, and John Van M aanen.
For critical readings of the manuscript I am indebted to lllln
B0 wadt, H enrik Brogaard, Marsha Flam mond, M ary Ann M cG uire,
Klaus Nielsen, Tone Saugstad, and Carsten 0sterlund. Knud-Erik
Sabroe has kindly provided the example o f the ethical com plaint re
ported in Chapter 6. M itch Allen at Sage has encouraged the book
project and given valuable comments, and Peter Labella has helpfully
kept the manuscript on track during final editing. I am further in
debted to David M organ, Lynn Schlesinger, and an anonym ous re
viewer for their suggestions for improving the manuscript.
I am grateful to Birgit W enzel, w ho assisted by com piling the
literature used in the book; to Annie Dolmer Kristensen and Lone
Hansen, who have patiently written and edited the many versions of

Steinar Kvale

PART

Introducti on

If you want to know how people understand their world and their life,
why not talk with them? In an interview conversation, the researcher
listens to what people themselves tell about their lived world, hears
them express their views and opinions in their own words, learns
about their views on their work situation and family life, their dreams
and hopes. The qualitative research interview attempts to understand
the w orld from the subjects points o f view, to unfold the meaning of
peoples experiences, toluncover their lived world prior to scientific
explanations.

In te r v ie w s

*
The qualitative research interview is a construction site of know l
edge. An interview is literally an interview, an inter change o f views
between two persons conversing about a theme of mutual: interest.
This book attempts to lay o u t the richness and the scope o f qualitative
interviews in social science research. It tries to link methods of and
ideas about interviews, continually drawing attention to the inter
play of practical and theoretical issues of interview research.

Interviewing as Research
In this chapter I first present two alternative metaphors for the
research interviewers role as a miner or as a traveler. I then turn to
the interview as a conversation and give a few examples before
addressing the position o f qualitative interviews in social science
research. Thereafter some theoretical and methodological issues
raised by employing interviews as a research method are introduced.
The chapter concludes with a model of interviews as literally inter

views, followed by an overview of the books chapters.

T he Interview er as a M in e r or as a T raveler
T w o contrasting metaphors of the interviewer as a miner or as a
traveler can illustrate the implications of different theoretical under
standings of interview research.
In the miner metaphor, knowledge is understood as buried metal
and the interviewer is a miner who unearths the valuable metal. Some
miners seek objective facts to be quantified, others seek nuggets of
essential meaning. In both conceptions the knowledge is waiting in
the subjects interior to be uncovered, uncontaminated by the miner.
The interviewer digs nuggets of data or meanings out of a subjects
pure experiences, unpolluted by any leading questions. The interview
researcher strips the surface of conscious experiences, the therapeutic
interviewer mines the deeper unconscious layers. The precious facts
and meanings are purified by transcribing them from the oral to the

I nterViews

written mode. The knowledge nuggets remain constant through the

Interviewing as Research

pertains to a transformative conversation that is the result of an

transformations of appearances on the conveyor belt from the oral

encounter with an author, character, plot, stanza, line, or archaic torso

stage to the written storage. By analysis, the objective facts and the

which has made a difference to the critics conception of who she is,

essential meanings are drawn out by various techniques and molded

what she is good for, what she wants to do with herself; an encounter

into their definitive form. Finally the value of the end product, its

which has re-arranged her priorities and purposes (p. 107).


The two metaphors of the interviewer as a miner or as a traveler

degree of purity, is determined by correlating it with an objective,


external, real world or to a realm of subjective, inner, authentic

represent different concepts of knowledge form ation. Each metaphor

experiences.

stands for alternative genres and has different rules of the game. In a

The alternative traveler metaphor understands the interviewer as a

broad sense, the miner metaphor pictures a com m on understanding

traveler on a journey that leads to a tale to be told upon returning

in modern social sciences of knowledge as given. The traveler

home. The interviewer-traveler wanders through the landscape and

metaphor refers to a postmodern constructive understanding that

enters into conversations with the people encountered. The traveler

involves a conversational approach to social research. The miner

explores the many domains of the country, as unknow n territory or

metaphor brings interviews into the vicinity of hum an engineering;

w ith maps, roaming freely around the territory. The traveler may also

the traveler metaphor into the vicinity of the humanities and art.

deliberately seek specific sites or topics by following a method, with


the original Greek meaning of a route that leads to the goal. The
C o n v e rs a tio n as Research

interviewer wanders along with the local inhabitants, asks questions


that lead the subjects to tell their own stories of their lived world, and
converses with them in the original Latin meaning of conversation as
wandering together w ith.

Conversation is a basic mode of human interaction. H um an beings


talk with each other they interact, pose questions, and answer ques

W hat the traveling reporter hears and sees is described qualitatively

tions. Through conversations we get to know other people, get to

and is reconstructed as stories to be told to the people of the inter

learn about their experiences, feelings, and hopes and the w orld they

viewers own country, and possibly also to those with w hom the

live in.

interviewer wandered. The potentialities of meanings in the original

There are m ultiple forms of conversations in everyday life, in

stories are differentiated and unfolded through the travelers interpre

literature, and in the professions. Everyday conversations may range

tations; the tales are remolded into new narratives, which are convinc

from chat and small talk, through exchanges of news, disputes, or

ing in their aesthetic form and are validated through their impact upon

formal negotiations, to deep personal interchanges. W ithin litera

the listeners.

ture, the varieties of conversation span drama to novels to short

The journey may not only lead to new knowledge; the traveler

stories, which may contain longer or shorter passages o f conversa

might change as well. The journey might instigate a process of reflec

tions. Professional conversations include journalistic interviews, legal

tion that leads the interviewer to new ways of self-understanding, as

interrogations, academic oral examinations, religious confessions,

well as uncovering previously taken-for-granted values and customs

therapeutic dialogues, and to be discussed here qualitative research

in the travelers home country. The transformative effects of traveling

interviews. Each of these conversational genres uses different rules

are expressed in the German term Bildungsreise a scholarly, form a

and techniques.

tive journey. Through conversations, the traveler can also lead others

The research interview is based on the conversations of daily life

to new understanding and insight as they, through their own story

and is a professional conversation. One form of research interview a

telling, may come to reflect on previously natural-seeming matters of

semistructured life w orld interview w ill be treated in this book. It is

course in their culture. Rortys (19.92) picture of inspired criticism

defined as an interview whose purpose is to obtain descriptions of the

Interviews

life world of the interviewee with respect to interpreting the meaning


of the described phenomena.
The use of the interview as a research method is nothing mysteri

Interviewing as Research

Interview inquiries may include multiple actors in a social scene.


Two further views on the fairness of grades from a fellow pupil and
from a teacher follow:

ous: An interview is a conversation that has a structure and a purpose.


It goes beyond the spontaneous exchange of views as in everyday

Pupil: I find that the teachers actually evaluate in a rather fair way.

conversation, and becomes a careful questioning and listening ap

It is not possible to cheat them either, which many believe they

proach w ith the purpose of obtaining thoroughly tested knowledge.

can. If you sit there and as soon as someone has raised his hand,

The research interview is not a conversatidn between equal partners,

and the teacher has asked him and then (raises his hand). W ell,

because the researcher defines and controls the situation. The topic of

I do n t think it will work. I do nt think they are that stupid.

the interview is introduced by the researcher, w ho also critically fol

* * * * *

lows up on the subjects answers to his or her questions.


Examples o f interviews will be given throughout this book (particu
larly in Chapters 2 & 7). To illustrate this form o f inquiry, I will
present interview passages taken from a study of the effects o f grading

Interviewer: D o you think that there arc some pupils who want to
bluff by raising their hands?
Teacher: W ell, I do nt think so, I dont think they are particularly sly

in Danish high schools (Kvale, 1980):

in that respect in some way or another to give the impression

In te rv ie w e r: Y o u

g rad e s,

that they know more than they do. That is not my impression at
least not in my classes.

Pupil: Grades are often unjust, because very often very often they

These later statements contradict the first pupil; the second pupil finds

are only a measure of how much you talk, and how much you

the grading fair and believes that teachers see through other pupils

agree with the teachers opinion. For instance, I may state an

attempts to raise their grades by bluffing, and this view is confirmed

opinion on the basis of a tested ideology, and which is against

by the teacher interviewed. W ith such contradictory inform ation

the teachers ideology. The teacher will then, because it is his

obtained from these three actors in the classroom scene, one m ight be

ideology, which he finds to be the best one, of course say that

tempted to discard the qualitative interview as a research method the

what he is saying is right and what I am saying is wrong.

knowledge obtained is not objective, but subjective in the sense that

m e n t io n e d

p re v io u s ly

s o m e t h in g

about

w o u ld y o u please try a n d say m o r e a b o u t th a t?

Interviewer: H ow should that influence the grade?


Pupil: W ell, because he w ould then think that I was an idiot who
comes up with the wrong answers.

it depends too much on the subjects interviewed. T hroughout this


book I will argue that, on the contrary, it is in fact a strength of the
interview conversation to capture the multitude of subjects views of
a theme and to picture a m anifold and controversial human world. A

Interviewer: Is this not only your postulate?

main issue will be how to obtain reliable and valid knowledge of the

Pupil: N o, there are lots of concrete examples.

social world through the various views of the interacting subjects. In


later chapters (Chapter 12, Questions Posed to an Interview Text, and

In response to an open question from the interviewer, the pupil

Chapter 13, Validity as Quality of Craftsmanship) I will return to the

himself introduces a dimension of his experience of grades-they arc-

interpretation and validation of the statements above and also discuss

unfair and he spontaneously gives his reasons for why they are

their representativity (Chapter 5, Interviews About Grades).

unfair. The interviewer critically follows up the answers, asks for


specifics, and tests the strength of the pu p ils belief by doubting it.

I nterViews

Interview Research in the Social Sciences

Interviewing as Research

essential for obtaining knowledge of the social world, including


scientific knowledge.

If conversations did not exist, there would hardly he any shared

Until recently, the field of qualitative inquiry was fragmented into

knowledge about the social scene. As a thought experiment we might

different disciplines with com m unication gaps across interpretative

imagine that human conversation did not exist, and therefore that the

communities. W ith an absence of com m on literature, procedures, and

knowledge acquired through conversations as personal knowledge

criteria, interviewers have to a large extent had to rely on their

for the reader and as general knowledge for hum ankind was nonex

individual creativity. One consequence is that isolated researchers

istent. Yet in the social sciences, conversation as a method of obtaining

have invented small qualitative wheels over and over again.

knowledge has until recently rarely been mentioned in method


textbooks.

This state o f affairs is now changing with the increasing number of


books, journals, and conferences in the field of qualitative research.

Conversation is an ancient form of obtaining knowledge. Thucydides

Cross-disciplinary works have been published, such as Handbook of

interviewed participants from the Peloponnesian Wars to write the

Qualitative Research edited by Denzin and Lincoln (1994) and Handbuch Qualitative Sozialforschung edited by Flick, Kardoff, Keupp,

history of the wars, and Socrates used dialogue to obtain philosophical


knowledge. W ithin the modern social sciences, which originated in

Rosenstiel, and W o lff (199 1). Several journals dedicated to qualitative

the 19th century, systematic interview research is, however, a new

research have appeared in the past decades: Qualitative Sociology

phenomenon of the past decades. Conversations have belonged to the

(first published in 1978), Qualitative Studies in Education (first pub

realm of the humanities and philosophy, whereas social science m eth

lished in 1988), Qualitative Health Research (first published in 1991),

odology has long been modeled on the natural sciences. The present

and the cross-disciplinary Qualitative Inquiry (first published in

emphasis on the interview as conversation and on the interpretation

1995). W ith the new literature, a com m on knowledge base is available

of its meanings brings interview research closer to the dom ain o f the

for methodological and theoretical development of qualitative re

humanities.

search.

Interviews have, however, been previously employed in the social

Sophistication in qualitative research is today rather unevenly

sciences. Anthropologists and sociologists have long used inform al

distributed in the social sciences. Although much of what is said here

interviews to obtain knowledge from their informants. Sociologists

may be old news within anthropology and sociology, it can be rela

and psychologists have talked with their human subjects in order to

tively new, and perhaps shockingly unscientific, within some depart

obtain necessary background knowledge for conducting questionnaire

ments of psychology. O ne might have assumed that the production of

studies and laboratory experiments. W hat is new in recent decades is

knowledge through the hum an interaction o f the interview might be

that qualitative interviews are increasingly employed as a research

a central concern in psychology. In the psychological profession, the

method in their own right, with an expanding methodological litera

interview is an essential too! for example, in personnel selection, in

ture on how to carry out interview research systematically.

counseling, and in therapy. A scientific psychology leaning heavily on

Technical as well as theoretical reasons might be suggested for

natural sciences has, however, generally neglected the hum an aspects

todays growing research use of qualitative interviews. The develop

of knowledge production, including the knowledge potentials of the

ment in the 1950s of small portable tape recorders made the exact

hum an conversation. T hroughout this book I will draw on insights

recording of interviews easy. In the 1980s, computer programs facili

from the use of interviews in psychological practice, in particular the

tated the qualitative analyses of transcribed interviews. Broad changes

psychoanalytic interview (Chapter 4, Psychoanalytical Knowledge

in current thought, reflected in philosophy, emphasize themes such as

Production).

the everyday lived world and its common language, meaning, and

T hat there has been little systematic reflection on the practical and

interrelations. Narratives and conversations are today regarded as

conceptual issues o f us^ng interviews as a research m ethod may also

Interviews

10

be due to the closeness o f the research interview to the conversations


of daily life. This may have im plied that it was superfluous to reflect
on the interview methodologically. To contemplate the nearness of
the research interview to everyday conversations may also have been
threatening to the scientific legitimacy o f the young social sciences.
A further reason for the lack o f conceptualization and of com m on
frames for understanding qualitative research may be that its proxim
ity to the hum an sciences has been at odds with dom inating concep
tions of social science as a natural science. The somewhat controversial
position of interview research in the social sciences w ill be taken up
again in Chapter 4.

Interviewing as Research

11

existing hard-core quantitative arsenal o f the social sciences. Rather,


the mode o f understanding implied by qualitative research involves .
alternative conceptions o f social knowledge, o f meaning, reality, and [
truth in social science research. The basic subject matter is no longer
objective data to be quantified, but meaningful relations to be inter
preted. The transition from the miner metaphor of interviewing as
digging up nuggets of meaningful data to the traveler metaphor of
interviewing as the construction of stories was discussed in this
chapters introduction.
There is a move away from obtaining knowledge primarily through
external observation and experimental m anipulation o f hum an sub
jects, toward an understanding by means o f conversations with the

T h e o re tic a l Issues
Developing the interview as a research m ethod involves a challenge
to renew, broaden, and enrich the conceptions of knowledge and
research in the social sciences. The research interview is not merely a
new m ethod, yielding qualitative texts rather than quantitative data,
but reflects alternative conceptions of the subject matter of the social
sciences. M any apparently methodological problems do not stem from
the relative newness of the interview method or from insufficiently
developed techniques, but are the consequences of unclarified theo
retical assumptions.
Some authors have pointed out a neglect of theory in current
qualitative research. Strauss (1995) thus criticizes the absence of
theoretical discussions in the large majority of the chapters in Denzin
and Lincolns Handbook of Qualitative Research (1994), mentioned
above. Giorgi (1994) concludes a review of recent literature on
qualitative methods in this way: Thus, greater theoretical clarity and
consistency as well as deeper reflection or better utilization of im agi
native possibilities still seem to be called for in order to bring better
theoretical conceptualization and more consistent practices to quali
tative research (p. 190).
Addressing the methodological questions of conducting an inter
view leads to theoretical issues conceptions of the specific themes
investigated, as well as of the nature of the social world. Qualitative
methods are not merely some new, soft technology added to the

hum an beings to be understood. The subjects not only answer ques


tions prepared by an expert, but themselves formulate in a dialogue
their ow n conceptions o f their lived world. The sensitivity of the
interview and its closeness to the subjects lived world can lead to
knowledge that can be used to enhance the hum an condition. The
interview as such is, however, neither a progressive nor an oppressive
m ethod. As will be discussed later, the knowledge produced can be
used cither to enhance the investigated subjects condition or to
m anipulate their behavior more efficiently (sec Chapter 4).
W ith in philosophy in the past half century the positivist philoso
phy o f science has declined. Positivism conceived o f the social sciences
as natural sciences, to be based on objective quantifiable data, with
the prediction and control o f the behavior o f others as a goal. Today
there is a shift toward philosophical lines of thought closer to the
humanities. These include a postmodern social construction of reality,
hermeneutical interpretations of the meanings o f texts, phenom eno
logical descriptions of consciousness, and the dialectical situating of
hum an activity in social and historical contexts. That the qualitative
interview is being focused on today, may in part be due to the
correspondence o f themes central to current philosophy and to the
qualitative interview, such as experience, meaning, life world, conver
sation, dialogue, narrative, and language (sec Chapters 2 Sc 3). Thus
a postmodern approach w ill, in line witl? the traveler metaphor of the
interviewer, emphasize the constructive nature of the knowledge
created through the interaction of the partners in the interview
conversation.

12

I nt crVi ews

Interviewing as Research

13

Throughout this book I will attempt to spell out the implications

levels of significance for acceptable evidence, and so forth. Standard

of these philosophical analyses for the understanding of interview

forms of tables and figures are also available for presenting the

research. 1 am not offering a comprehensive theory of the research

quantitative data.

interview. Rather, different philosophical conceptions of conversation

The situation is quite the contrary for qualitative research in two

and its use as a research method w ill be presented. They will provide

senses: First, there are few standard rules or com m on methodological

theoretical contexts for conceptualizing the methodological and theo

conventions in qualitative research communities; and second, hardly

retical issues that arise when using interview conversations as a

any general texts have existed in which questions of m ethod, such as

research method and they will be addressed in Part II o f this book,

those raised above, were discussed. This second problem is being

Conceptualizing the Research Interview.

quickly resolved, and the task today is rather to find ones way in the
expanding literature on qualitative research. An overview of literature
pertaining to interviewing is given later, in Box 5.3 in Chapter 5.

M e th o d o lo g ic a l Issues

The first issue standard rules for qualitative interviewing is


more complex. There is no com m on procedure for interview research.

Research using interviews involves a deceptive simplicity; it is easy

Interview research is a craft that, if well carried out, can become an

to start interviewing w ithout any advance preparation or reflection.

art. The varieties of research interviews approach the spectrum of

The novice researcher may have a good idea, grab a tape recorder, go

human conversations. The forms of interview analysis can differ as

out and find some subjects, and start questioning them. The recorded

widely as there are ways of reading a text. The qualitative interview

interviews are transcribed and then during analysis of the many

is sometimes called an unstructured or a nonstandardized interview.

pages of transcripts questions about the purpose and content of the

Because there are few prestructured or standardized procedures for

study start to come up. This kind of theoretical navet and m ethodo

conducting these forms of interview, many analyses of the methodical

logical spontaneity may in part be counterreactions to the abstract

decisions have to be made on the spot, during the interview. This

theories and formalized methodology taught in some social science

requires a high level of skill in the interviewer, w ho needs to be

departments.

knowledgeable about the interview topic and to be familiar w ith the

A novice researcher w ho is more methodologically oriented may


have a host of questions about the methodological and practical issues

methodological options available, as well as having a grasp o f the


conceptual issues of producing knowledge through conversation.

in an interview project. For example: H ow do I begin an interview

In this book I w ill attempt to steer between the free spontaneity of

project? H ow many subjects will I need? Could the interviews harm

a no-method approach and the rigid structures of an all-method

the subjects? H ow can Fiavoid influencing the subjects with leading

approach by focusing on the expertise, skills, and craftsmanship of the

questions? Can I be sure that 1 get to know what the subjects really

interview researcher. Some of the decisions that will have to be made

mean? Is transcription of the interviews necessary? H ow do I analyze

on the way through the stages o f an interview inquiry, and the

the interviews? W ill the interpretations be subjective? H ow do I report

methodological options available, are outlined in Part III: The Seven

my extensive interviews?

Stages of an Interview Investigation.

If corresponding questions were raised about, for example, ques


tionnaire surveys, they would be fairly easy to answer. Standard
techniques exist for conducting surveys, and there are a m ultitude of

O v e rv ie w o f the B o o k

textbooks that provide generally accepted rules and guidelines for


necessary sample sizes, formulation of questions and o f response

M y aim in this book is to provide an overview and some guidelines

alternatives, coding of answers, statistical methods of analysis with

for doing interview research, and to present philosophical perspec-

! n t (I t V i c w s

14

Interviewing as Research

15

fives that w ill be helpful for thinking about interviews. O n a horizontal

methodological level, the chapters in Part III take the reader through
the methodological stages of an investigation with an emphasis on
interviewing as a craft and on the techniques that that involves,
providing practical guidelines for conducting research interviews. An
interview investigation will be outlined in seven method stages, from
the original idea to the final report: (1) thematizing, with a conceptu
alization of the research topic and form ulation o f the research ques
tions; through (2) designing the study so it addresses the research
questions, treating both knowledge construction and moral im plica
tions; to (3) the interview ing itself; (4) transcribing; (5) analyzing;
(6) verification; and (7) reporting. The chapters take issue w ith the
apparently mystical skills of interviewing, breaking them down in
discrete steps, giving examples, and pointing out the practical and
conceptual complexities involved.
O n a vertical epistemological level, the chapters in Part II suggest
theoretical frames of reference for conceptual clarification o f the
methodological issues, providing contexts for how to think about
interview research. Epistemology here refers to theories of knowledge.
O ne of the books main themes is the interconnectedness of the
practical issues o f the interview m ethod and the theoretical issues of
the nature of interview knowledge.
Because the use of qualitative interviews as a systematic research

Figure 1.1.

The Research Interview Seen as Interviews

method is not only relatively new but controversial as well, I first treat
the epistemological themes in Part II, Conceptualizing the Research
Interview, and then turn to the methodological issues in Part III, The

The ambiguous drawing in Figure 1.1 was introduced by the Danish

Seven Stages of an Interview Investigation. Novice readers w ho are

psychologist Rubin as an example of the figure/ground phenomenon

primarily interested in the practice of interviewing can turn directly

in visual Gestalt perception it can be seen alternatively as two faces

to Chapter 7, The Interview Situation, to get a sense o f the trade

or as a vase, but not as both at the same time. I use the figure to

and then continue through the concrete methodological steps in an

illustrate the present perspective on the interview conversation as inter

interview investigation. They can then return to the conceptual dis

views. W e can focus on the two faces of the ambiguous figure, see

cussions in Part II and the overall m ethod design in the first two

them as the interviewer and the interviewee, and conceive of the

chapters o f Part III.


The qualitative research interview is a construction site for know l
edge. An interview is literally an inter view, an inter-change of views

interview as the interaction between the two persons. O r we can focus


on the vase between the two faces, see it as containing the knowledge
constructed inter the views of the interviewer and the interviewee.

between two persons conversing about a theme o f m utual interest. The

There is an alternation between the knowers and the known, between

interdependence of human interaction and knowledge production is

the constructors of knowledge and the knowledge constructed. This

a main theme throughout this book.

dual aspect of the interview the personal interrelation and the

Interviews

16

inter-view knowledge that it leads to will run through the chapters


of this book, which alternate between focusing on the personal inter
action and on the knowledge constructed through the interaction.
I emphasize the human inter action of the inter view as producing

PART

scientific knowledge. The interrelation of the interviewer and his or


her subjects is treated in Chapter 2, The Interview as Conversation,

II

and the moral implications o f this human interaction are taken up in


Chapter 6, on ethics. The situational interaction of interviewer and
interviewee is the main emphasis of Chapters 7 and 8, on the interviewsituation. The conversation between the reader and the texts produced
from the interviews goes through the chapters on analysis (Chapters
10, 11, C 12). In the last three chapters (Chapters 13, 14, & 15), the
focus on the inter views of researcher and subject is extended to
encompass the inter views of the interview researcher and his or her
audience. This extension of the interviews is illustrated in Figure 15.1,
which extends Figure 1.1. Chapter 15, the final chapter, addresses
different conversations about the value and validity of the knowledge
produced by research interviews, concluding with their potentials for
increasing our understanding of the human conversation.
The nature of the knowledge constructed inter the views of subject
and researcher is discussed in relation to conversations in Chapter 2
and to philosophical conceptions of knowledge in Chapter 3, and
followed up in Chapter 4 with different views on science and research.

C o n c e p tu a liz in g
the Research In te rv iew

Chapter 13, on validation, focuses on the truth value of the knowledge


produced and the constitution of true knowledge in a dialogue, and
Chapter 15 pictures the conversation as a privileged access to a hum an
world understood as a conversational reality.

The m eaning of the three key terms o f the subtitle interviewing, re

search, and qualitative are addressed in this epistemological second


part of the book. The mode of understanding in a qualitative research
interview is outlined, discussed in relevant philosophical contexts, and
related to conceptions o f scientific research in the social sciences. The
conceptual understanding o f the interview that is developed will serve
as a frampwork for clarifying the methodological and theoretical issues
arising during the stagei of an interview investigation.

17

Interviews

18

In Chapter 2, the qualitative research interview is regarded as a one


form of conversation and related to other forms of conversation, such
as a philosophical discourse or a therapeutic interview. The chapter
concludes w ith an outline of the mode of understanding of the
qualitative research interview and a discussion of the interview in

relation to different conversational contexts.


Philosophical traditions congenial to the nature of qualitative re
search interviewing are presented in Chapt.er 3. They involve post
modern linguistic constructions of reality, hermeneutical interpreta
tions of the meaning of texts, phenomenological descriptions of
consciousness, and dialectical development through contradictions.
The meaning of research is discussed in Chapter 4 with regard to

The Interview as a Conversation

conceptions of science, including a positivist conception of science


The meaning of

I he research interview is a specific form of conversation. In order to

qualitative is treated in relation to a com m on quantitative versus

hardly compatible with qualitative interviewing.

clarify the nature of the research interview I w ill comparc it to other

qualitative controversy. The issue of objectivity and subjectivity in

forms of conversation. Excerpts from three different conversations are

qualitative interviews is also addressed and, finally, examples of

presented here: first, Socrates teaching Agathon the conceptual nature

qualitative research in practice are included: market research, feminist

o f love; then, a patient learning about her own feelings of hate in a

research, and psychoanalysis.


Readers w ho are unfamiliar with social science methodology and

therapeutic session as presented by Rogers; and finally, a research

philosophy may, as suggested in the first chapter, go directly to the

reported by Giorgi. These different interviews invoke different forms

depiction of the interview situation in Chapter 7 and subsequent

of interaction that produce different kinds of knowledge. The chapter

chapters on the interview stages and then return to the follow ing

concludes with an outline of the mode of understanding of the

conceptual discussions.

qualitative research interview, followed by a discussion of the inter

interview on the experience of learning about interior architecture as

view in relation to different conversational contexts.

K n o w le d g e as C o n v e rsa tio n
In Chapter 1 a traveler metaphor of interview research was intro
duced, emphasizing conversation. I will distinguish among the use of
conversation as part of everyday interactions, as a professional inter
change, and as a philosophical dialogue. These three uses may be seen
as specific forms of a common language understanding of conversation
as an oral exchange of sentiments, observations, ideas, opinions

(Websters, 1967); they involve different forms of interaction and


levels of reflection on the form and the content of the conversation.

19

20

Interviews

21

The Interview as a Conversation

In the spontaneous conversations of daily life attention w ill tend to

The intentions o f the conversing partners give way to what Gadamer

be on the conversation topic, whereas the purpose and the structure

calls the law o f the subject matter. W hen one enters into a dialogue

of the conversation remain unproblematized. If, however, some kind

with another person and is then carried further by the dialogue, it is

of break occurs, there may be a change from a spontaneous level to a

no longer the will o f the individual person that is determinative.

meta-level where the aim and form o f the talk is reflected. This may

Rather, the law of the subject matter is at issue, and it elicits statement

be the case if, for example, one of the participants asks, W hy are you
asking me about this?

and counterstatement and in the end plays these into each other.
This ideal description of a conversation pertains to a philosophical

Professional interviews take a variety of forms, such as a legal

discourse, and may in some cases also apply to the interactions of daily

interrogation, a job interview, a therapeutic interview, or a research

life. In professional conversations, however, there is usually an asym

interview. They each have their different purposes and structures, with

metry of power with specific, and sometimes contradictory, underly

less or more systematic questioning techniques, as well as a reflection


upon the aim and mode of questioning. In relation to conversations

ing purposes.
1 now give an example of a philosophical conversation and exam

in everyday life, the research interview is characterized by a m ethodo

ples of two professional conversations, a therapeutic interview and a

logical awareness of question forms, a focus on the dynamics of

research

interaction between interviewer and interviewee, and a critical atten

through an argumentative discourse; the therapeutic interview aims

tion to what is said. In professional interviews there is usually an

to instigate changes in the patients personality and self-understanding

asymmetry of power: The professional is in charge of the questioning

through interpretations in an emotional interaction; and the research

of a more or less voluntary and naive subject. In contrast to the

interview seeks through questioning to obtain knowledge of the

reciprocal interchanges of everyday and philosophical conversations,

subjects world. The nature of the knowledge constituted through the

there tends to be a one-sided questioning of the subject by the


professional.

interactions o f the three conversations differs: logical conceptual

In a philosophical discourse the partners arc on an equal level and

interview. The

philosophical

conversation

seeks truth

knowledge, em otional personal knowledge, and empirical knowledge


of the everyday world.

there is a reciprocal questioning of the logic of the participants


questions and answers, as well as of the true nature of the knowledge
being debated. The discourse rests on a joint commitm ent o f the

S ocrates P h ilo s o p h ic a l D ia lo g u e o n Love

participants to seek truth it is an attempt to get beyond mere opinion


to true knowledge. It is guided by a questioning of the conversations

Platos Symposion is a philosophical dialogue in a dramatic form.

subject matter, with the partners in the dialogue follow ing mutually

A party has been cast in honor o f the poet Agathon, w ho in the year

binding rules for argumentation (see Bernstein, 1983).

416 B.C. had received a prize for one of his plays. The guests, each in

The hermeneutical philosopher Gadamer (1975) describes a genu


ine conversation on the basis of Platos dialogues:

their turn, give speeches in honor of Eros, the god of love. I'heir talks
are accom panied by plenty o f wine: Aristophanes has to miss his
turn because o f severe hiccups, but does give his speech; a drunken

A conversation is a process o f two people understanding each other.

Alcibiadcs crashes into the party w ith a speech o f love to Socrates,

Thus it is characteristic o f every true conversation that each opens

w ho as dawn arrives is the only one still seated at the table.

him self to the other person, truly accepts his point of view as w orthy of
consideration and gets inside the other to such an extent that he

The Symposion consists of monologues and dialogues, alternat

understands not a particular individual, but w hat he says. The thing that

ing am ong rhetorical speeches, rigorous argumentation, and humor.

has to be grasped is the objective rightness or otherwise o f his o p in io n ,

Platos form of com munication is indirect: Socrates assumed igno

so that they can agree w ith each other on the subject, (p. 347)

rance and his ironical styje neither confirm nor disconfirm the many

22

l i i t crVi cws

knowledge claims put forth. His uncovering of contradictions in his


opponents arguments offers indications to those w ho will listen.
In his own speech, Socratcs dcpicts Eros as desire for beaiity, good,
and truth. He starts by questioning the preceding speaker, Agathon,
w ho has given a rather pompous talk in the rhetorical tradition o f the
Sophists. The introduction and the conclusion o f this passage of the
dialogue follow:

The interview as a Conversation

23

So can you still allow Love to be beautiful, if this is the case?


W hereupon Agathon said, I greatly fear, Socrates, I know nothing
o f w hat I was talking about. (Plato, 1953, pp. 167-173)

In this passage, Socrates takes Agathons speech on love as his point


of departure. He repeats it in a condensed form and interprets what
Agathon has said and then asks for his opponents confirmations or
disconfirmations of the interpretations. Socrates starts out by appear
ing naive and innocent, he praises Agathons views on Eros, then

I m ust say, my dear A gathon, you gave your speech an excellent


introd u ction , by stating that your duty was first to display the character

follows up by uncovering one contradiction after another in Agathons

o f Love, and then to treat of his acts. Those opening words I thoroughly

position. Several of the arguments end with a question leading to a

adm ire. So com e now , complete your beautiful and m agnificent descrip

given answer, which Agathon then accepts. In the end Agathon is led

tio n o f Love, and tell me this: Are we so to view his character as to take

to retract his views completely and to agree with Socrates position.

Love to be love o f some object, or o f none? M y question is not whether

This dialogue on the nature of love is open to several readings. In one

he is love o f a m other or a father how absurd it w o u ld be to ask whether

interpretation, the dialogue is a genuine conversation in Gadam ers

Love is love o f mother or father- but as though I were asking about our
n o tio n o f father, whether ones father is a father o f somebody or not.

(1975) sense, here as an open philosophical inquiry seeking true

Surely you w o u ld say, if you wished to give the proper answer, that the

knowledge about the nature o f love through a discursive argumenta

father is father o f son or o f daughter, w o u ld you no t?

tion. It is not the understanding of a particular individual, but of the

Yes, o f course, said Agathon.

objective rightness of what he says, so that the two of them can agree
*

on the subject matter. In another reading, Socratcs already has a true


knowledge of the nature of love, and the purpose of the conversation

N o w the n, said Socrates, let us agree to w hat we have so far


concluded. First, is not Love directed to certain things; o f w hich, in the
second place, he has a w ant?
Yes, he said.

is educational, through a critical questioning of Agathon to lead him


and the other participants in the symposium toward an insight into
the nature of love that Socratcs already possesses. At the basis o f his

T hen, granting this, recollect w hat things you nam ed in our

questioning there is a fundamental belief that Agathon already pos

discussion as the objects o f Love: if you like, I w ill rem ind you. W h a t

sesses true knowledge of the nature of love but needs help to uncover

you said, I believe, was to the effect that the gods contrived the w orld

this truth, and Socrates takes the role of midwife, delivering the truth.

from a love o f beautiful things, for o f ugly there was no love. D id you
no t say som ething o f the sort?
Yes, I d id , said Agathon.
A nd quite properly, my friend, said Socrates; then, such being the
case, must not Love be only love o f beauty, and no t o f ugliness? He
assented.
W ell then, we have agreed that he loves w hat he lacks and has n o t?
Yes, he replied.
A nd w hat Love lacks and has no t is beauty?

His questioning is not open, nor is it neutral on the content of the


dispute, but presupposes a specific theory of knowledge the belief
in man as an immortal and reborn soul, where learning is recognition
of what the soul has already known.
The philosophical discourse is a harsh form of interaction
Socrates likens himself to a legal interrogator that aims at gaining
theoretical knowledge through the unrelenting rigor of a discursive

T hat needs must be, he said.

argumentation. Research interviews generally have a milder form; the

W ell now , w ill you say that w hat lacks beauty, and in no wise

interviewee is an informant, not a philosophical opponent. The inter

possesses it, is beautiful?


Surely no t.

viewer asks questions of the interview subject in order to obtain


knowledge about his or her life situation, and rarely enters into

24

Interviews

tenacious arguments with the subject about the logic and truth of his
or her statements. It is beyond the scope of the research interview for
the interviewer to argue the strength of his or her own conception of
the topic investigated or to try to change the subjects convictions. In
contrast, the therapeutic interview aims at changes through personal
interaction rather than through logical argumentation and the
changes sought are not primarily conceptual, but emotional and
personal.

25

The Interview as a Conversation

com ing any more. It doesnt do any good. I dont like you. I hate
you! I wish you never were born.
C (Counselor): You just hate me very bitterly.
S: I think Ill throw you in the lake. Ill cut you up! You think people
like you, but they dont. . . . You think you can attract women,
but you can't.. . . I wish you were dead.
C: You detest me and youd really like to get rid o f me.
S: You think my father did bad things with me, but he d id n t! You
think he wasnt a good man, but he was. You think I want

A T h e ra p e u tic Inte rv iew on H ate

intercourse, but I dont.


C: You feel I absolutely misrepresent all your thoughts.

Since Freuds invention of psychoanalysis at the turn of the century,

S: . . You think you can get people to come in and tell you everything,

a large body of experience has been gathered about the use of

and theyll think theyre being helped, but theyre not! You just

therapeutic interviews. The presentation below of a passage from a

like to make em suffer. You think you can hypnotize them, but

therapeutic interview has a twofold purpose: to indicate the possibili

you cant! You think youre good, but you aint. I hate you, I

ties for research interviewers to learn from the techniques developed

hate you, I hate you!

w ithin the therapeutic profession, and to demonstrate some of the

C: You feel 1 really like to make em suffer, but that 1dont help them.

differences between therapeutic and research interviews.

S: You think I havent been straight, but I have. I hate you. All Ive

Rogers was a pioneer in developing an open, client-centered inter


view form, originally termed non-directive and later changed to client-

centered, with the insight that all interviewing implies a sense of


direction. Rogers also pioneered the use of tape recorders and the
transcription of entire therapy sessions, making the therapeutic in
teraction and questioning techniques available for public scrutiny.
Rogerss writings on therapeutic interviews have been a source of
inspiration for the development of qualitative interviews for research
purposes.
The following sequence is taken from Client-Centered Therapy

had is pain, pain, pain. You think I cant dircct my own life, but
I can. You think I cant get well, but I can. You think I had
hallucinations, but I didn t. I hate you. (Long pause. Leans on
desk in strained, exhausted pose.) You think Im crazy, but Im
not.
C: Y o u re sure 1 think youre crazy.
S: (Pause.) Im tied, and I just cant get loose! (Despairing tone of

voice, and tears. Pause.) I had a hallucination and Vvcgot to get


it out!
* *

(Rogers, 1965). It was conducted by a counselor applying Rogerss


approach, and in this case it is reproduced from notes the therapist
took during the interview.
S (Subject): (Silent for two minutes. Then begins to talk in a hard flat

voice, quite unlike her usual tone. Does not look at counselor.
There was much repetition, but the following excerpts give the
major thoughts.) You feel I want to come, but I dont! Im not

S: I knew at the office I had to get rid of this somewhere. I felt I could
come dow n and tell you. I knew youd understand. I couldnt
say I hated myself. Thats true but I couldnt say it. So I just
thought o f all the ugly things I could say to you instead.
C: The things you felt about yourself you couldnt say, but you could
say them about me.
S: I know were getting to rock bottom . . . (pp. 211-213)

Interviews

The Interview as a Conversation

27

*
The emotional tone of this counseling sdssion was described as

A Research Interview on L earn in g

follows:
The purpose of the qualitative research interview discussed here is
Just as it is impossible to convey on paper the venom and hatred in the

to understand themes of the lived daily world from the subjects own

clients voice, so it is utterly impossible to convey the depth o f empathy

perspectives. The structure of the research interview comes close to

in the counselors responses. The counselor states, I tried to enter into


and to express in my voice the full degree o f the soul-consuming anger
which she was pouring out. The written words look incredibly pale, but
in the situation they were full o f the same feeling she was so coldly and
deeply expressing. (p. 212)

an everyday conversation, but as a professional interview it involves


a specific approach anil technique of questioning. Technically, the
qualitative research interview is semistructured: It is neither an open
conversation nor a highly structured questionnaire. It is conducted
according to an interview guide that focuses on certain themes and

In this therapeutic session the subject takes the lead right from the

that may include suggested questions. The interview is usually tran

start, introduces the focal topic the detestable counselor and tells

scribed, and the written text together with the tape recording are the

how much she hates him. He responds by reflecting and rephrasing

material for the subsequent interpretation of meaning.

her statements, emphasizing their emotional aspects. He does not, as

The following interview passage is taken from the article An

w ould be likely in a normal conversation, take issue with the many

Application of Phenomenological M ethod in Psychology by Giorgi

accusations against him. In this specific sequence the counselor neither

(1975). The research question guiding the interview was: W hat con

asks questions for clarification, nor does he offer interpretations. At

stitutes learning in the everyday world? The first half of the interview,

the end, after she has gotten it all o u t, the subject acknowledges the

conducted by a student, is reproduced here.

counselors ability to understand her, and she herself offers an inter


pretation: I couldnt say I hated myself, so I just thought of all the ugly
things I could say to you instead.

R (Researcher): Could you describe in as much detail as possible a


situation in which learning occurred for you?

The purpose of the counseling interview was to help the patient

S (Subject: K. W ., 24 year-old female, housewife and educational

with her emotional problems, and the counselor consistently reflected

researcher): The first thing that comes to m ind is what I learned

the emotional aspects of the patients statements about his relationship

about interior decorating from Myrtis. She was telling me about

to her, which in this case led to the subject interpreting her own

the way you see things. Her view of looking at different rooms

behavior. In psychoanalytical terminology, the topic o f this session

has been altered. She told me that when you come into a room

was transference, the patients intense emotional relationship with the

you do n t usually notice how many vertical and horizontal lines

therapist. It is difficult to draw any strong line of demarcation between

there are, at least consciously, you dont notice. And yet, if you

a therapeutic and a research interview. Both may lead to increased

were to take someone who knows w hats going on in the field

understanding and change, but with the emphasis on personal change

of interior decorating, they would intuitively feel if there were

in a therapeutic interview and on intellectual understanding in a

the right number of vertical and horizontal lines. So, I went

research interview. Although the main purpose of therapeutic inter

home, and I started looking at the lines in our living room, and

views is to assist patients to overcome their suffering, a side effect is

I counted the number of horizontal and vertical lines, many of

general knowledge about the human situation. This will be discussed

which I had never realized were lines before. A beam . . . I had

later in relation to psychoanalysis as a research method (see Chapter

never really thought of that as vertical before, just as a protrusion

4, Psychoanalytical Knowledge Production).

from the wall. (Laughs) I found out what was wrong with our
living room design: many, too many, horizontal lines and not

28

Interviews

The Interview as a Conversation

enough vertical. So I started trying to move things around and

was to investigate the subjects experience of learning, and the inter

change the way it looked. I did this by moving several pieces of

viewers questions aimed at a cognitive clarification of the subjects

furniture and taking out several knick-knacks, de-emphasizing

story of learning. The mode of interviewing was inspired by a phc

certain lines, and . . .

it really looked differently to me. Its

nomenological philosophy, which is based on a descriptive study of

interesting because my husband came home several hours later

consciousness to be discussed in the next chapter (Chapter 3, Pheno

and I said, Look at the living room; its all different. N ot

menological Description); the analysis of this interview will be treated

knowing this, that I had picked up, he didnt look at it in the

later (Chapter 11, M eaning Condensation).

same way I did. He saw things were different, he saw things were
moved, but he wasnt able to verbalize that there was a deT he M o d e o f U n d e r s ta n d in g in

emphasis on the horizontal lines and more of an emphasis on the


vertical. So I felt I had learned something.

the Q u a lita tiv e Research In te rv ie w

R: W hat part of that experience w ould you consider learning?


S: The knowledge part that a room is made up of horizontal and
vertical lines. The application of that to another room; applying
it to something that had been bothering me for quite a long time
and I could never put my finger on it. I think the actual learning
was what was horizontal and vertical about a room. The learning
that was left with me was a way of looking at rooms.
R: Are you saying then that the learning was what you learned from
Myrtis, what you learned when you tried to apply . . . ?

I now outline the mode of understanding in the qualitative research


interview, of which the above interview on learning is one example.
In Box 2.1, 12 aspects of the mode of understanding in the
qualitative research interview are depicted in a condensed form. They
may be found more or less explicitly formulated in descriptions of
research interviews. As brought together here, they represent an
attempt to describe the main structures of the qualitative research
interview. They will now be discussed in greater detail, with examples
from the interview on learning reported by Giorgi and from my own

S: Since I did apply it, I feel that 1 learned when 1 did apply it. I would

interviews on grading in high schools (see Chapter 1, Conversation as

have thought that I learned it only by having that knowledge,

Research; Chapter 5, Interviews About Grades; & Chapter 7, An

but having gone through the act of application, I really do n t feel

Interview About Grades).

I w ould have learned it. I could honestly say, 1 had learned it at


that time. (pp. 84-86)

I.

Life World. The topic of the qualitative research interview is the

lived world of the subjects and their relation to it. The purpose is to
This interview investigated what constitutes learning for a w om an in

describe and understand the central themes the subjects experience

her everyday world. It began with an open request to describe a

and live toward. In thej interview reported by Giorgi, the topic of

situation where learning occurred. The woman chose the learning

learning was introduced by the interviewer, whereas the subject

situation she would talk about interior decorating; she described this

herself chose the specific instance of learning from her everyday world

freely and extensively in her own words. The answer spontaneously

to talk about. In my own investigation, grades were a central theme

took the form o f a story, a narrative of one learning episode. The

in the life world of the high school pupils, and the interviews sought

interviewers first question introduced learning as the theme of the

to describe and reflect the meanings that grades had for the pupils.

interview; her remaining questions depart from the subjects answers

The qualitative research interview is theme oriented. Two persons

in order to keep learning in focus and to ask for clarification o f the

talk together about a theme that is of interest to both. The resulting

different aspects of the subjects learning story.

interview can then be analyzed primarily with respect to the life world

This interview gives a good picture of a semistructured research


interview focusing on the subjects experience of a theme. The purpose

that is described by the person, or the subject describing his or her life

30

Interviews

world. The interviews about grades were analysed with regard to the

The Interview as a Conversation

2.

31

Meaning. The qualitative research interview seeks to describe

com m on social situation constituted by the grades, such as submissive

and understand the meanings o f central themes in the life w orld o f the

ness to teachers, com petition with peers, and instrumentalization of

subjects. The main task in interviewing is to understand the meaning

learning. The interviews could also have been analyzed with respect

of what the interviewees say. Recall the several questions in the

to the personality structures o f the individual pupils in relation to

interview reported by Giorgi (1975), which sought to clarify the

grading. In this study, however, it was the com mon structures of the

precise meanings of the subjects descriptions.

school situation constituted by the grades that were of interest and not
individual differences among the pupils.

it is said; he or she must be observant of and able to interpret

The interviewer registers and interprets what is said as well as how

Box 2.1 Continued


Box 2 . 1
Aspects o f Q u a lita tiv e Research Interview s

Deliberate Navet. The interviewer exhibits an openness


to new and unexpected phenomena, rather than having
ready-made categories and schemes o f interpretation.

The purpose of the qualitative research interview treated

Focused. The interview is focused on particular themes; it

here is to obtain descriptions of the lived world of the

is neither strictly structured with standardized questions,

interviewees with respect to interpretations of the meaning


of the described phenomena.

nor entirely non-directive.

Ambiguity. Interviewee statements can sometimes be am

Life World. The topic o f qualitative interviews is the every

biguous, reflecting contradictions in the world the subject

day lived world of the interviewee and his or her relation


to it.

lives in.

C.bangc. The process of being interviewed may produce

Meaning. The interview seeks to interpret the meaning of

new insights and awareness, and the subject may in the

central themes in the life world of the subject. The inter

course of the interview come to change his or her descrip

viewer registers and interprets the meaning o f what is said

tions and meanings about a theme.

as well as how it is said.

Sensitivity. Different interviewers can produce different

Qualitative. The interview seeks qualitative knowledge ex

statements on the same themes, depending on their sensi

pressed in normal language, it docs not aim at quantification.

tivity to and knowledge of the interview topic.

Descriptive. The interview attempts to obtain open nu-

Interpersonal Situation. The knowledge obtained is produced

anced descriptions o f different aspects of the subjects life


worlds.

through the interpersonal interaction in the interview.

Specificity. Descriptions o f specific situations and action

can be a rare and enriching experience for the interviewee,

sequences are elicited, not general opinions.

w ho may obtain new insights into his or her life situation.

Positive Experience. A well carried out research interview

32

Interviews

The Interview as a Conversation

33

vocalization, facial expressions, and other bodily gestures. An every

patient why he is sick, but rather asks the patient what is wrong, what

day conversation often takes place on a factual level. A pupil may state:

he is feeling, and what the symptoms are. O n the basis of the

I am not as stupid as my grades at the examinations showed, but I

information obtained, the doctor may then formulate a hypothesis of

have bad study habits. Com m on reactions could then be on a factual

which illness may be likely, Further questioning proceeds from this

level: W hat grades did you get? or W hat are your study habits?
questions that also may yield important inform ation. A meaningoriented reply would, in contrast, be something like, You feel that

hypothesis, and on the basis of the patients answers and results from
other methods o f investigation, the doctor then makes the diagnosis.
For both the doctor and the researcher there are cases where it is

the grades are not an adequate measure of your competence? Recall

im portant to know the subjects own explanations of his or her

the consistent rephrasings of the emotional messages in the' clients

condition and to ask questions about why. The primary task for both

statements by the counselor in the interview reported by Rogers


(1965).

the doctor and the researcher, however, remains that of obtaining

A qualitative research interview seeks to cover both a factual and a

descriptions so they will have relevant and precise material from which
to draw their interpretations.

meaning level, though it is usually more difficult to interview on a


meaning level. It is necessary to listen to the explicit descriptions and

5. Specificity. The qualitative research interview seeks to describe

meanings as well as to what is said between the lines. The inter

specific situations and action sequences from the subjects world. It is

viewer may seek to formulate the im plicit message, send it back

not general opinions that are asked for. Knowing the opinions, for

to the subject, and obtain an immediate confirmation or disconfirma-

example, of a pupil about the grading system, is subordinated in a

tion of the interviewers interpretation of what the interviewee is


saying.

research interview to obtaining concrete descriptions from the pupils


how they experience the grading, how they and the other pupils
react to it. O n the basis of extensive and rich descriptions o f specific

.3. Qualitative. 1 he qualitative research interview aims at obtain

grading situations, the interviewer will be able to arrive at meanings

ing nuanced descriptions from the different qualitative aspects of

on another level, instead of posing such questions as W hat is your

the interviewees life world; it works with words and not with num

opinion of grading? Still, it should be recognized that this type of

bers. Precision in description and stringency in meaning interpreta

general opinion question may be relevant, yielding inform ation that

tion correspond in qualitative interviews to exactness in quantitative


measurements.

4.

Descriptive. The qualitative research interview aims at obtaining

is o f interest in itself and that may also be compared with the


understanding of grades expressed in the spontaneous descriptions of
grading situations.

uninterpreted descriptions. The subjects describe as precisely as pos

6. Deliberate Navet. The qualitative interview attempts to gather

sible what they experience and feel, and how they act. Recall the

descriptions of the relevaijt themes of the interviewees life world that

interview reported by Giorgi (1975) in which the introductory ques

are as rich and presuppositionless as possible. Rather than the inter

tion asked the subject for a detailed description of a situation in which

viewer having preformulated questions and ready-made categories for

learning occurred. The focus is on nuanced descriptions that depict

analysis, the deliberate navet and absence of presuppositions advo

the qualitative diversity, the many differences and varieties of a phe

cated here implies an openness to new and unexpected phenomena.

nom enon, rather than on ending up with fixed categorizations.

The interviewer should be curious, sensitive to what is said as well as

The question of why the subjects experience and act as they do is

to what is not said and critical of his or her own presuppositions and

primarily a task for the researcher to evaluate. An analogy to a doctors

hypotheses during the interview. Presuppositionlessness thus also im

diagnosis may be clarifying. The doctor does not start by asking the

plies a critical consciousness of the interviewers own presuppositions.

34

Interviews

7. Focus. The qualitative research interview is focused on certain

The Interview as a Conversation

10.

35

Sensitivity. Interviews obtained by different interviewers, us

themes in the interviewees life world. It is neither strictly structured

ing the same interview guide, may be different due to varying levels

with standardized questions, nor entirely nondirective, but is fo

o f sensitivity toward, and knowledge about, the topic of the interview.

cused on certain themes. The task o f the interviewers in the grading

Thus an interviewer who has no ear for music may have difficulties

study was to keep the grades at the focus of the interview, but within

obtaining nuanccd descriptions of musical experiences from his or her

different perspectives or contexts such as social milieu in school,


examinations, and the pupils plans for the future. It is then up to the

interviewees, in particular with probing more intensively into the


meaning of the music. If a common scientific requirement of obtaining

subjects to bring forth the dimensions they find im portant within the

intersubjectively reproducible data were to be followed here, the

focus area. The interviewer leads the subjecit toward certain themes,

interview form might have to be standardized in a way that would

but not to certain opinions about these themes.

restrict the understanding of musical experiences to more superficial


aspects understandable to the average person. A qualitative research

8. Ambiguity. A subjects statements are sometimes ambiguous. An

interview w ould instead seek to employ the varying abilities of the

expression can imply several possibilities of interpretation, and the

interviewers to obtain different nuances and depths of the themes of

subject may also give apparently contradictory statements during an


interview. It becomes the task of the interviewer to clarify, as far as

the interview.
The requirement of sensitivity to, and a foreknowledge about, the

possible, whether the ambiguities and contradictory statements are

topic of the interview contrasts with the presuppositionless attitude advo

due to a failure of com m unication in the interview situation, or

cated above. The tension between these two aspects may be expressed

whether they reflect real inconsistencies, ambivalences, and contradic

in the requirement for a deliberate conscious navet on the part of the

tions in the interviewee. The aim o f the qualitative research interview

interviewer, which is demonstrated in Socrates interview of Agathon.

is not to end up with unequivocal and quantifiable meanings on the


themes in focus. W hat matters is rather to describe precisely the

11.

Interpersonal Situation. The research interview is an inter

possibly ambiguous and contradictory meanings expressed by the

view, an interaction between two people. The interviewer and the

interviewee. The contradictions of interviewees may not merely be

subject act in relation to each other and reciprocally influence each

due to faulty com m unication in the interview situation, nor to their

other. A strong case of emotional interaction took place in the

personality structures, but may in fact be adequate reflections of

counseling session reported by Rogers (1965). Sullivan (1954) ana

objective contradictions in the w orld in which they live.

lyzed the psychiatric interview as an interpersonal situation where the


relevant data are constituted by the interaction itself, in the specific

9. Change. It may happen in the course of an interview that subjects

situation created between interviewer and interviewee. He empha

change their descriptions of, and meanings about, a theme. The

sized the subjective moment in obtaining knowledge in an interview

subjects may themselves have discovered new aspects of the themes

situation in participant observation it is the interviewer as a person

they are describing, and suddenly see relations that they had not been
conscious of earlier. Thus, in the therapeutic interview reported by

w ho is the method, the instrument.


The interview situation may, for both parties, be characterized by

Rogers (1965), the patient started, through her talking and the coun

positive feelings of a common intellectual curiosity and a reciprocal

selors rephrasings of her statements, to obtain insight about her

respect. The interview may also be anxiety provoking and evoke

critique of the counselor as actually being directed at herself. O n less

defense mechanisms in the interviewee as well as in the interviewer.

dramatic levels the questioning in research interviews may instigate

The interviewer should be conscious of the interpersonal dynamics

processes of reflection where the meanings of themes described by the

w ithin the interaction and take them into account in the interview

subjects are no longer the same after the interview.

situation and in the later analysis of the finished interview. I he

36

Interviews

The Interview as a Conversation

37

an emotional level is, however, not necessarily a source o f error, but

Second, the conversation may be conceived of as a basic mode of


knowing. Rorty (1979), a neopragmatist philosopher close to post

can be a strong point of qualitative research interviewing. Rather than

m odern thought, has emphasized the constitution o f knowledge

seeking to reduce the importance of this interaction, what matters in

through the conversation. W hen we understand knowledge as the

the research interview is to recognize and apply the knowledge gained

social justification of belief rather than as accuracy of representation,

from the interpersonal interaction.

conversation replaces confrontation with nature. The notion of mind

reciprocal influence of interviewer and interviewee on a cognitive and

as re-presenting an objective w orld can be discarded, If we see

12.

Positive Experience. A qualitative research interview can be a

knowledge as a matter of conversation and social practice, rather than

favorable experience for the interviewee. An interview is a conversa

as an attempt to mirror nature (Rorty, 1979, p. 171). The certainty

tion in which two people talk about a theme of mutual interest. A

o f our knowledge is a matter of conversation between persons, rather

well-conducted qualitative interview can be a rare and enriching

than a matter o f interaction with a nonhum an reality. If we regard

experience for the interviewee. It is probably not a very com m on

know ing not as having an essence but as a right to believe, we may see

experience in everyday life that another person for an hour or

conversation as the ultimate context within which knowledge is

more is interested only in, sensitive toward, and seeks to understand


as well as possible anothers experiences and views on a subject. In

understood (p. 389).


T hird, human reality may be understood as persons in conversa

practice, it is often difficult to terminate a qualitative interview:

tion. To the hermeneutic philosopher Gadamer, we are conversational

Subjects may wish to continue the dialogue and explore further the

beings for w hom language is a reality (see Bernstein, 1983). In a

themes and the insights of the interview interaction.

postmodern conversational version of social constructivism, Shotter

(1993) attempts to describe the conversational worlds within which


we have our being: For conversation is not just one of our many

The 12 aspects outlined above illustrate the mode of understand

activities in the world. O n the contrary, we constitute both ourselves

ing in the qualitative research interview treated in this book. In C h a p

and our worlds in our conversational activity. For us they are founda

ter 3, philosophical positions congenial with this understanding o f the

tional. They constitute the usually ignored background within which

research interview will be presented, and in Chapter 4 this mode of

our lives are rooted (p. vi).

understanding is contrasted with established conceptions of social


science research.

The conversation in the present approach is not only a specific


empirical method: It also involves a basic mode of constituting know l
edge; and the hum an world is a conversational reality. These three

Interviews in Three Conversations


This chapter on the interview as a conversation concludes by show
ing the interviewer-traveler in three conversational contexts. First, the
research interview is treated as a specific professional form o f conver
sational technique in which knowledge is constructed through the
interaction o f interviewer and interviewee as outlined in the above
description of the mode of understanding in the qualitative research
interview. In contrast to the reciprocal interchanges o f everyday life,
as well as of philosophical conversations, it is the interviewer w ho, as
a professional, asks and the interviewee who answers.

understandings of conversation m ethodological, epistemological,


and ontological will be applied throughout this book, but with a
m ethodological emphasis on the interview as a specific form of
conversational technique.
In Chapter 3, philosophical positions compatible with a conversa
tional approach to interview research are outlined. The emphasis on
conversation as a mode o f know ing is particularly strong within
postm odern and hermeneutical philosophy, and the social, power, and
material aspects of the conversational interaction are prom inent in
postmodern and dialectical understandings of conversations.

39

Interviews and Philosophy

invariant essential meanings in the descriptions. A dialectical access


focuses on the contradictions of a statement and their relations to the
contradictions of the social and material world. There is an emphasis
on the new, rather than on the status quo, and on the intrinsic relation
of knowledge and action.
These four philosophies highlight different aspects of knowledge
relevant to the qualitative interview. T hey differ in fundamental ways
and some of their intricate relations and differences w ill be pointed
out at the end of this chapter. The complex philosophical positions are
presented here in a brief and dense form with an emphasis on their

Postmodern Thought,
Hermeneutics, Phenomenology,
and Dialectics

epistemological aspects as relevant to qualitative research interviewing.


The presentations serve as contexts for reflection in later chapters
on the theoretical and methodological issues raised by the use of
interviewing as a research method.
Box 3.1 depicts some literature on the philosophical positions to
be presented, pertaining in particular to their implications for research

The techniques of interviewing have been extensively treated in

in the social sciences.

literature, while the philosophical implications of the mode of under


standing in qualitative interviews have seldom been addressed. The
terms used to describe the interview in the preceding chapter such
as experience, consciousness, description, meaning, interpretation, and
Box 3.1

interaction were taken from the vernacular. In this chapter I present


philosophical lines of thought that have analyzed the very themes
central to qualitative research interviewing postmodern thought,
hermeneutics, phenomenology, and dialectics.

Literature on Philosophies
Pertaining to Interview Research

A postmodern approach focuses on interrelations in an interview,


on the social construction of reality in an interview, on its linguistic
and interactional aspects including the differences between oral dis

P o s tm o d e r n T h o u g h t

course and written text, and emphasizes the narratives constructed by

A ndersen, W . T. (1 995). (Ed.). The truth about truth De-confusing and

the interview. From a hermeneutical understanding, the interpretation


of meaning is the central theme, with a specification of the kinds of

re-constructing the postmodern world. N e w Y o rk : T archer/P utnam .


G e rge n, K. J. (19 94 ). Realities and relationships. Soundings in social

constructionism. C a m bridg e, M A : H a rv a rd University Press.

meanings sought and attention to the questions posed to a text. The

Kvale, S. (1 992). (E d.). Psychology and postmodernism. L o n d o n : Sage.

concepts of conversation and of text are pivotal, and there is an

L y otard, J. F. (19 84 ). The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge.

emphasis on the interpreters foreknowledge of a texts subject matter.


A phenomenological perspective includes a focus on the life world, an

M anch ester, UK: M anchester University Press.


R o se na u, M , P. (19 92 ). Postmodernism and the social sciences. P rince to n,
N J: P rinceton University Press.

openness to the experiences of the subjects, a primacy of precise


descriptions, attempts to bracket foreknowledge, and a search for

38

(continued)

40

Interviews

Interviews and Philosophy

41

Postm odern C onstruction


Box 3.1 Continued
I

Postmodern thought represents a broad movement in current art


and philosophy, particularly as expressed in different versions by such

H e r m e n e u tic s

French thinkers as Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, and Lyotard (see

G a d a m e r, H . G . (19 75 ). Truth and method. N e w Y o rk : Seabury.

Anderson, 1995). Though long influential in the humanities, post

Messer, S. B., Sass, L. A ., & W o o lfo lk , R . L. (1 9 88 ). (Eds.). Hermeneutics

modern thought has now reached the social sciences, too (Kvale,

and psychological theory. N e w B runsw ick, N J: Rutgers U niversity


Press.
Packer, A. L., &c A dd ison , R. B. (1 989). Entering the circle Hermeneutic

investigation in psychology. A lbany: S U N Y Press.


P alm er, R . E. (19 69 ). Hermeneutics. E vanston, IL: N orthw e ste rn U n iv e r
sity Press.
R a d n itz k y , G . (19 70 ). Contemporary schools of metascience. G o th e n b u rg ,
Sw eden: A k adem iforlaget.

1992; Rosenau, 1992). In his book The Postmodern Condition: A

Report on Knowledge, Lyotard (1984) characterizes the postmodern


age by a disbelief in universal systems of thought. There is a lack of
credibility toward meta-narratives of legitimation such as the E n
lightenment belief of progress through knowledge and science, as well
as the M arxist utopia to be reached through emancipation of the
w orking class, and the modern belief in economic growth.

P h e n o m e n o lo g y
G io r g i, A . (1 970). Psychology as a human science. N e w York: H a rp e r &c
R ow .
G io r g i, A. (19 85 ). (E d.). Phenomenology and psychological research. Pitts
burgh: D uquesne University Press.
M o ustakas, C . (19 94 ). Phenomenological research methods. T h o u sa n d
O aks, C A : Sage.
Spiegelberg, H . (I9 6 0 ). The phenomenological movement, Vol. II. The
H ague , T he N e the rlands: M a rtin u s N ijh o ff.

The philosophy o f the Enlightenment was a reaction against the


religious dogma of the medieval ages. The belief in one true and
almighty G od, for all people and from eternity to eternity, was
replaced in the modern era by a belief in one true and objective reality,
universal and stable. Today with a delegitimation of global systems
of thought there is no longer a stable foundation to support a
universal and objective reality. Rortys (1979) critique of the objectiv
ism im plied by the conception of knowledge as a mirror of nature

D ia le c tic s

pertains in particular to the dom inating mental representations of a

C o rn fo r th , M . (19 71 ). Materialism and dialectical method. N e w York:

cognitive psychology. The illusion o f the double w orld entailed

In te rn atio na l Publishers.
R iegel, K . F. (19 75 ). (E d.). The development of dialectical operations.
Basel, Sw itzerland: Karger.
Sartre, J.-P. (19 63 ). The problem of method. L o n d o n : M e th u e n .

thereby has been criticized by marginal positions as diverse as the


phenomenological philosophy of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty and the
radical behaviorism o f Skinner (Kvale & Grenness, 1967). The m o d
ern dichotomy of an objective w orld distinct from subjective images

In te r r e la tio n s

is today breaking down and being replaced by a hyperreality of signs

Bernstein, R. J. (19 83 ). Beyond objectivism and relativism. P h ila d e lp h ia:

referring to other signs, texts referring to other texts.

U niversity o f Pennsylvania Press.


M a d is o n , G . B. (1 9 90 ). The hermeneutics of postmodernity. B lo o m in g to n :
In d ia n a University Press.
R y an , M . (1 9 92 ). Marxism and deconstruction. B altim ore, M I ) : Jo h n s
H o p k in s University Press.

Philosophy in the past half century has been characterized by a


series of turns, such as the linguistic, the conversational, the narra
tive, and the pragmatic turn. The conception of knowledge as a mirror
of reality is replaced by a conception of the social construction of
reality (Berger & Luckmann, 1966), where the focus is on the
interpretation and negotiation of the meaning of the social world.

42

Intervi ews

interviews and Philosophy

43

W ith the breakdown of the universal meta-narrativesjof legitima

beyond the texts, but the participants discourse is of interest in its

tion, there is an emphasis on the local context, on the social and

ow n right, and the authors pose questions, such as, H ow is the talk

linguistic construction o f a perspectival ieality where knowledge is

constructed? and W hat does it achieve? They emphasize discourse

validated through practice. There is an openness to qualitative diver

analysis as not so much a method as an approach, focusing on the con

sity, to the m ultiplicity of meanings in local contexts; knowledge is

structive nature of questioning, transcribing, and analyzing in inter

perspectival, dependent on the viewpoint and values of the investiga

view research.

tor. H um an reality is understood as conversation and action, where


knowledge becomes the ability to perform effective actions. Today,

Knowledge as Narrative. In open interviews people tell stories,

the legitimation question of whether a study is scientific tends to be

narratives, about their lives. In current thought, there is a shift from

replaced by the pragmatic question of whether it provides useful

modern formalized knowledge systems to the narrative knowledge

knowledge.

embodied in storytelling (Lyotard, 1984). W ith a skepticism about

The qualitative research interview is a construction site of know l

global systems of thought, a renarrativization o f culture takes place,

edge. The knowledge generated by interviews is related below to five

w ith truth to be worked out locally in small narrative units and with

features of a postmodern construction of knowledge: the conversa

the collective stories contributing to uphold the values of the com m u

tional, the narrative, the linguistic, the contextual, and the interrela-

nity. The narrative character of the knowledge in the human sciences

tional nature of knowledge. These intertwined features are taken as a

has been treated by Polkinghorne (1988) and the specific narrative

starting point for clarifying the nature of the knowledge yielded by

nature of interview research by Mishler (1986), who analyzes the

the research interview and for developing its knowledge potentials.

structures of the stories subjects tell.

Knowledge as Conversation. An interview is a conversation, a

Knowledge as Language. The medium of the interview is language,

dialogue between two partners about a topic of m utual interest. W ith

and the knowledge produced is linguistic. Current philosophy has

the loss of faith in an objective reality that could be mirrored and

undergone a linguistic turn, with an emphasis on language games,

mapped in scientific models, there is a move toward discourse and

speech acts, linguistic and textual analyses, and hermeneutic interpre

negotiation about the meaning o f the lived world. The Socratic

tation. The linguistic turn has been radicalized in postmodern philoso

concept of dialogue is com ing to the fore. The primacy of conversation

phy: Language constitutes reality, each language constructing reality

is broadly recognized within current philosophy as well as outside

in its own way. The focus on language shifts attention away from the

postmodern philosophy, such as in Gadam ers hermeneutic analyses

notion of an objective reality, as well as away from the individual

of the conversation, and in the discourse philosophy of Habermas

subject. There is no longer a unique self who uses language to describe

where truth is to be sought through a rational discourse aim ing at

an objective world or to express itself; it is the structures of language

consensus. In Rortys neopragmatic philosophy, conversation is a ba

that speak through the person..

sic mode of knowing, and in Shotters conversational constructionism

In interview research, language is both the tool of interviewing and,

we live in conversational realities (Chapter 2, Interviews in Three

in the form o f tapes and transcripts, also the object of textual inter

Conversations).

pretation. Nevertheless, it has been rare in the social sciences for

Both the research interview and the philosophical discourse rest on

interview researchers to analyze the language medium they use as tools

conversation as access to knowledge. The nature of the interview

for and objects of their research. As one exception, Jensen (1989) has

conversation can be clarified by drawing on a philosophical analysis

argued for applying the techniques of linguistics as a statistics of

of discourse. Thus in Potter and W etherells (1987) application of

qualitative research.

discourse analysis, interview texts do not merely refer to some reality

44

Interviews

Interviews and Philosophy

45

Knowledge as Context. The interview takes place in an interper

There is a shift today from the individual m ind to relations between

sonal context, and the meaning of the interview statements depends

persons: Constructionism replaces the individual with the relation

on this context. W ith the collapse of the universal systems of knowl

ship as the locus of knowledge (Gergen, 1994, p. x). The knowledge

edge, the local, m anifold, and changing language contexts come into

created by the inter-view is inter-relational. The interrelational know l

prominence. Knowledge obtained within one context is not automat

edge of the interview has been particularly recognized by therapists.

ically transferable to, nor commensurable with, the knowledge within

To Sullivan (1954), the psychiatric interview is an inter-personal

other contexts. W ith the heterogeneity of contexts, the issues of trans

situation, the data obtained are neither objective nor subjective but

lations between contexts such as from the interviewers conversa

inter-subjective. In an interview about the therapeutic interview, the

tions with their subjects to their conversations with other researchers

Jungian therapist H illm an (1984) replied to the interviewer:

and of transitions from one modality to another such as from oral


to written knowledge come into the foreground.
Interviews are sensitive to the qualitative differences and nuances

The m ain thing is that we both get o ut o f the way. W h a t can block the
interview is us, your thinking about w hat you have to get done here,

o f meaning, which may not be quantifiable and commensurable across

and my thinking about my ow n thoughts, opinions, biography, myself.

contexts and modalities. The contextuality of the meaning obtained

The y o u and the m e can prevent the inter. Its not o ur views that

is central in the narrative approaches, as discussed by Mishler in his

matter, its the inter. (p. 8)

Research Interviewing Context and Narrative (1986). The differ


ences between the oral and the written language contexts become
critical through the transcription from an oral to a written modality
(Mishler, 1991).

New Views on Inter Views. The current qualitative research wave


in the social sciences may become comprehensible when situated in a
postmodern frame of reference. The recent interest in interview
research is, in the present analysis, not merely a result of internal

Knowledge as Interrelational. An interview is literally an inter view,


an inter change of views between two persons conversing about a
common theme. In postmodern thought there is an emphasis on
knowledge as interrelational and structural, interwoven in webs of
networks. Knowledge is neither inside a person nor outside in the
world, but exists in the relationship between person and world. In an
introduction to phenomenological philosophy, Lyotard (1991) points
out that the intentional relation o f subject and situation does not unify
two isolated poles; on the contrary, the subject and the situation
cannot be defined except in and by this relationship. Merleau-lonty,
a phenomenological psychologist and philosopher whose work has
also been regarded as a precursor to postmodern thought (Madison,
1990), emphasized the interrelational nature of knowledge in his
development of a phenomenology of perspectivity. His Phenomenol

ogy of Perception (Merleau-Ponty, 1962), which is a critique of the


prejudice of an objective world in psychology, thus concludes with a
quote from Saint Exuperys The Little Prince: M an is but a network
of relations.

developments in social science m ethodology, but reflects a broader


historical and cultural questioning and construction of social reality.
The im plicit conceptions of the knowledge produced by interviews
and the explicit analysis of knowledge construction by postmodern
philosophers thus converge on the conversational, narratival, linguis
tic, contextual, and interrelational features of knowledge. None of
these features o f knowledge are specific, new postmodern insights of
the past decades. The pervasiveness o f these aspects of knowledge as
expressions o f a postmodern loss of belief in an objective reality is
new, however, as is the recognition of their intertwinedncss in the
communal construction of knowledge of a social reality.
The affinities of knowledge construction in postmodern thought
and in research interviews pointed out here do not imply that the
interview is a postmodern method. Thematically, a com mon focus on
experiences and intentions of individual subjects in interviews con
trasts with a postmodern decentering o f the individual. Historically,
the conversation as a systematic tool for the creation of knowledge
can be traced at least to Thucydides and Socrates. The psychoanalytic

I ntcrVicws

46

Interviews ami Philosophy

47

interview, developed by Freud, has since the turn of the century been

The hermeneutic discipline is an attempt to reflect upon the mode

a m ain production site of new psychological knowledge. Yet the

of understanding in the humanities, such as by interpretations in

as a research m ethod in the

literature and historical research, as well as in theology and law.

social sciences is a new phenomenon of the past decades, and has here

Radnitzky (1970, p. 22) offers a definition of hermeneutics, which I

extended use of qualitative interviews

been related to changes in the concept of knowledge in a postmodern

have abbreviated slightly: Hermeneutic human sciences study the

era as introduced by the traveler metaphor in the first chapter.

objectivations of human cultural activity as texts with a view to

Postmodern philosophy has been applied by Scheurich (1995) in an

interpreting them to find out the intended or expressed meaning, in

analysis of the power relationship between the interviewer and the

order to establish a co-understanding, or possibly even a consent; and

interviewee, and by Lather (1995) in an extension of the concept of

in genera! to mediate traditions so that the historical dialogue of

validity.
I now turn to the philosophical positions that to some extent

m ankind may be continued and deepened.

provided the background from which postmodern thought developed

hermeneutics involves specific techniques of literary interpretation, as

The topic o f the so-called Betti-Gadamer controversy was whether

and reacted against and that in their own right have provided

maintained by Betti, or whether it entails a more fundamental ques

analyses relevant to qualitative interviews.

tioning of the meaning of being, which was Gadamers position


(see Palmer, 1969). I emphasize below the methodological im plica
tions o f hermeneutics and outline some aspects of hermeneutical

Herm eneutical Interpretation

interpretation.

Hermeneutics is the study of the interpretation of texts. The pur

The Hermeneutical Circle and Canons of Interpretation. The inter

pose o f hermeneutical interpretation is to obtain a valid and common

pretation of meaning is characterized by a hermeneutical circle. The

understanding of the meaning of a text. Although the subject matter

understanding of a text takes place through a process in which the

of classical hermeneutics was the texts of literature, religion, and law,

meaning of the separate parts is determined by the global meaning of

there has been an extension of the concept of text to include

the text, as it is anticipated. The closer determination of the meaning

discourse and even action. Thus, in Truth and Method, Gadamer

of the separate parts may eventually change the originally anticipated

(1975) starts with Platos dialogues and regards both the conversation

meaning of the totality, which again influences the meaning of the

and the oral tradition as presuppositions for understanding the written

separate parts, and so on. In principle, such a hermeneutical explica

texts, which historically are secondary phenomena. In his article

tion of the text is an infinite process, while it ends in practice when

H um an Action as a Text, Ricoeur (1971) extends the hermeneutic

one has reached a sensible meaning, a valid unitary meaning, free of

principles of interpretations of the texts of the humanities to the

inner contradictions.

interpretation of the object of the social sciences meaningful action.

Box 3.2 describes seven canons of a hermeneutic meaning inter

The research interview is a conversation about the hum an life

pretation of literary texts. They are taken from Radnitzkys (1970)

world, with the oral discourse transformed into texts to be interpreted.

analysis of the hermeneutical circle, and their implications for the

Hermeneutics is then doubly relevant to interview research, first by

interpretation of interviews are pointed out.

elucidating the dialogue producing the interview texts to be inter


preted, and then by clarifying the subsequent process of interpreting

Differences Between Literary and Interview Texts. Although the

the interview texts produced, which may again be conceived as a

relevance of a hermeneutical approach to interview research has been

dialogue or a conversation with the text.

suggested here, some reservations need to be made concerning differ-

48

Interviews

49

Interviews anil Philosophy

Box 3.2

Box 3.2 Continued

Hermeneutical Canons o f Interpretation

a possibility that the researcher may in a re-interview enter


into a dialogue with the subjects about the meaning of their
statements.

A first canon involves the continuous back and forth process

between the parts and the whole that follows from the
hermeneutical circlc. Starting with an often vague and
intuitive understanding of the text as a whole, its different
parts are interpreted, and out of these interpretations the
parts are again related to the totality, and so on. In the
hermeneutical tradition this circularity is not viewed as a
vicious circle, but rather as a circulus fructuosis, or spiral,
which implies the possibility of a continuously deepened
understanding of meaning. The problem is not to get away
from the circularity in the explication of meanings, but to

A fourth canon is the autonomy o f the text, that the text


should be understood on the basis of its own frame of
reference, by explicating what the text itself states about a
theme. For the analysis of interviews this means that the
interpretation should stick to the content of the statements
and try to understand what they express about the life world
of the subject. The biography of the individual and psycho
logical theories about the theme are of subordinate im po r
tance here; what matters is to deepen and extend the
autonom ous meaning of the interview statements.

get into the circle in the right way. During the analysis of

A fifth canon of the hermeneutical explication of a text

qualitative interviews, it is com mon to read an interview

concerns knowledge about the theme of the text. C onduct

through first to get at the more or less general meaning.

ing a qualitative research interview requires an extensive

One then goes back to certain themes and special expres

knowledge o f the theme so that the interviewer may be

sions, tries to develop their meaning, then again returns to

sensitive to the nuances of meanings expressed and the

the more global meaning of the interview in the light of the

different contexts into which the meanings may enter.

deepened meaning of the parts, and so on.


A second canon is that an interpretation of meaning ends

A sixth principle is that an interpretation of a text is not


prasuppositionless. The interpreter cannot jum p outside

when one has reached a good Gestalt, an inner unity of

the tradition of understanding he or she lives in. The

the text free of logical contradictions. Correspondingly the

interpreter of a text may, however, attempt to make these

interpretations of an interview will stop when the meanings

presuppositions explicit, and try to become conscious of

of the different themes make sensible patterns and enter

how certain formulations of a question to a text already

into a coherent unity.

determine which for|ns of answers are possible. Such a

A third canon is the testing of part interpretations against


the global meaning of the text and possibly also against
other texts by the same author. In interview analysis this
implies a comparison between interpretations of the single
statements and the global meaning of the interview, and
possibly with other information about the interviewee. In
contrast to the interpretations of dead texts, there exists

consciousness of presuppositions is necessary when using


the interview as a research m ethod, because the interviewer
and the interpreter will unavoidably co-determine the re
sults. W hat matters here is being as aware as possible about
ones own presuppositions and modes of influence and to
attempt to take them into account in the interpretation.
(continued)

so

Interviews

Interviews and Philosophy

51

condensation may be necessary to arrive at the meanings intended by


Box 3.2 Continued

the interviewee. O n the other hand, what appears to be noise from


the standpoint of a pure meaning interpretation may yield im por

A seventh canon states that every interpretation involves

tant inform ation through the deeper psychological interpretation of

innovation and creativity Jedes Verstehen ist ein Besser-

nonintended meanings as a form of depth hermeneutics.

verstehen (Every understanding is a better understanding).

The nature of the qualitative research interview as a conversation

The interpretation goes beyond the immediately given and

has been treated from a hermeneutical perspective by Carson (1986)

enriches the understanding by bringing forth new differen

and by Weber (1986). The implications of hermeneutics for interpret

tiations and interrelations in the text, extending its m ean

ing interview texts will be taken up in Chapter 12.

ing. Correspondingly the immediately experienced m ean


ings in the interview situations are expanded and refined
through interpretation.

Knowledge and Interest. From a critical hermeneutical standpoint,


Habermas (1971) has argued for an interlocking of knowledge and
hum an interests. He has outlined three types of knowledge-constitut

SOURCE: Adapted and extended from Radnitzky (1970).

ing interests: a technical, an understanding, and an emancipatory


interest.
The natural sciences are, according to Habermas, characterized by
a technical knowledge interest directed toward technical control over

ences between the literary texts of hermeneutics and the texts pro

objectified processes. This knowledge interest dominated a positivist

duced by interviews. First, hermeneutics has traditionally treated the

philosophy o f science in which the natural sciences were regarded as

interpretation of finished texts, whereas a research interview involves

the methodological ideal for the social sciences. The explicit purpose

both the generation and the interpretation of a text. The interviewers

of behaviorist psychology was thus the prediction and control of the

are cocreators of the texts they interpret, and they may negotiate their
interpretations with their subjects. The interview text is thus not a

behavior o f other people.


Hcrmeneutical research in the humanities is guided by an interest

pre-given literary text, but emerges in the same process as its interpre

in obtaining a possible consensus of understanding am ong actors

tation; it involves both the creation and the negotiated interpretation


of the text.

w ithin the frame of reference of self-understanding as mediated within

Second, a literary text is an accomplished work intended as com

the culture. The study of literature and history serves in this case to
further the understanding of the human situation.

munication outside the situation in which it originated. The interview

For the critical social sciences, Habermas has postulated an eman

is tied to a specific interpersonal situation, it develops more or less

cipatory knowledge interest. Inform ation about social laws may insti

spontaneously, the subjects addressing themselves to the interviewer

gate a process of reflection in the consciousness of the persons

not only by words but also through gestures and im plicit references

involved; and the unreflected consciousness, which belongs to the

to their common situation. The transcribed interview text renders an

preconditions for such laws, may then change. Habermas relates

incomplete account of the wealth of meanings expressed in the lived


interview situation.

psychoanalytical interpretations to the hermeneutics of text interpre

Third, literary texts contain well-articulated and highly condensed

tations, and regards the psychoanalytic therapy as a model for an


emancipatory self-reflection of the social sciences.

expressions of meanings; they arc em inent texts. The transcribed

Several criticisms can be raised concerning Habermass triad of

interviews are often vague, repetitious, and have many digressions

knowledge-constituting interests. One is that the natural sciences are

containing much noise. An extended process of clarification and

depicted in a narrow technical mode, in line with a positivist concep-

52

Interviews

Interviews and Philosophy

53

tion of natural science, neglecting other approaches such as an eco

the human life world by Heidegger, and to include human action by

logical understanding of nature. Another is that psychoanalysis is

Sartre. W ith the focus o f the interview on the experienced meanings

pictured in a rather idealized cognitive manner of hermeneutical

of the subjects life world, phenomenology appears relevant for clari

interpretations, with little weight on the emotional turmoils inherent

fying the mode o f understanding in a qualitative research interview,

in the therapy situation, as these appear, for example, in the session

Phenomenology is the study of the structure, and the variations of

reported by Rogers (see Chapter 2, A Therapeutic Interview on Hate).

structure, of the consciousness to which any thing, event, or person

In spite o f such limitations, Habermass analysis is im portant because

appears (Giorgi, 1975, p. 83). Phenomenology is interested in eluci

it goes beyond the common dichotomy o f facts or values to point out

dating both that which appears and the manner in which it appears.

how different human interests constitute different forms of scientific


knowledge.

scribe in detail the content and structure o f the subjects consciousness,

It studies the subjects perspectives on their w orld; attempts to de

In the present context we can include the emancipatory possibilities

to grasp the qualitative diversity of their experiences and to explicate

that research interviews have for getting beyond the surface level of

their essential meanings. Phenomenology attempts to get beyond

the phenomena, for going deeper than common sense and instigating

immediately experienced meanings in order to articulate the prere-

a process o f reflection on the phenomena studied. A social science

flective level of lived meanings, to make the invisible visible. Two

guided by an emancipatory knowledge interest would aim at commu

contributions of phenomenological philosophy to understanding

nicating the insights obtained about the life world of the interviewees

qualitative interview research will be discussed here: the phenom eno

back to the subjects concerned. Com municating a critical under

logical m ethod and the primacy of the life world.

standing of the life world, which still has an appearance of natural


necessity, may contribute to changes in the socially constructed world.

The Phenomenological Method. Spiegelberg (1960; see also Giorgi,


1994) outlined a phenomenological method that includes description,

Phenom enological Description


A phenomenological approach in a general nonphilosophical sense
has been prevalent in qualitative research. In sociology, phenom enol
ogy was mediated by the Husserlian-based phenomenology o f the
social world by Schuetz, and further by Berger and l.uckm ann in The

Social Construction of Reality (1966). W itho ut explicitly drawing in


the phenomenological philosophy of Husserl, Taylor and Bogdans

Introduction to Qualitative Research I'he Search for Meanings (1984)


is based on phenomenology in the sense of understanding social
phenomena from the actors own perspectives, describing the world
as experienced by the subjects, and with the assumption that the
im portant reality is what people perceive it to be.
Phenomenology was founded as a philosophy by Husserl at the turn
of the century and further developed as existential philosophy by
Heidegger, and then in an existential and dialectical direction by
Sartre and by Merleau-Ponty. The subject matter of phenomenology
began with consciousness and experience, was expanded to include

investigation o f essences, and phenomenological reduction. It is not


possible to give precise instructions for an open description, and
Spiegelberg illustrates the method by using metaphors; for example,
to the matters themselves, seeing and listening, keeping the eyes
open, not think, but see. According to Merleau-Ponty (1962), what
matters is to describe the given as precisely and completely as pos
sible; to describe rather than to explain or analyze. Phenomenology
is the attempt at a direct description o f experience, w ithout any
considerations about the origin or cause o f an experience. In pheno
menological philosophy, bbjectivity is reached through intentional
acts o f consciousness and is an expression of fidelity to the phenomena
investigated.
In the investigation of essences one shifts from describing separate
phenom ena to searching for their com m on essence. Husserl termed
one m ethod o f investigating essences as a free variation in fantasy.
This means varying a given phenom enon freely in its possible forms,
and that which remains constant through the different variations is
the essence o f the phenomenon.

54

Interviews

Interviews and Philosophy

55

A phenomenological reduction calls for a suspension o f judg m ent

colonization of the life world that reduces qualitative diversity to

as to the existence or nonexistence of the Content o f an experience.

isolated facts and variables and that transforms intentional human

The reduction can be pictured as a bracketing, an attempt to place

interaction to a means-ends rationality.

the com mon sense and scientific foreknowledge about the phenomena

The im plications of phenomenological philosophy for qualitative

within parentheses in order to arrive at an unprejudiced description

research were developed in a series o f studies at Duquesne University.

of the essence of the phenomena. Phenomenological reduction does

Starting w ith van Kaam s (1959) study of The experience o f really

not involve an absolute absence of presuppositions, but rather a

being understood, the method was further applied, systematized, and

critical analysis of ones own presuppositions.

reflected by Giorgi and co-workers (see Giorgi, 1970; Giorgi, Fischer,

8c M urray, 1975). The open phenomenological approach to the


The l'rimacy of the Life World. The qualitative research interview

meanings of phenomena in the everyday w orld is illustrated in the

has a unique potential for obtaining access to and describing the lived

interview reported by Giorgi (Chapter 2, A Research Interview on

everyday world. The attempt to obtain unprejudiced descriptions

Learning) and will be taken up again in the analysis of the interview

entails a rehabilitation of the Lebenswelt the life w orld in relation

(Chapter 11, M eaning Condensation). In a review of recent literature

to the world of science. The life world is the, w orld as it is encountered

on qualitative research, Giorgi (1994) outlines how a more compre

in everyday life and given in direct and immediate experience, inde

hensive phenom enological approach w ould deepen the qualitative

pendent o f and prior to explanations. The qualitative interview may

perspective. A general presentation of phenomenological m ethod is

be seen as one realization of Merleau-Pontys (1962) program for a

given by Moustakas (1994). The phenomenographic research in edu

phenomenological science starting from the primary experience of the

cation, which focuses on qualitative descriptions o f our conceptions

world:

of the world, was inspired by phenomenology but does not share its
philosophical assumptions (M arton, 1981 ). The mode o f understand

All my knowledge o f the w orld, even my scicntific knowledge, is gained

ing in qualitative research interviews outlined earlier (Chapter 2, The

from my ow n particular p oint o f view, or from some experience o f the

M o de of Understanding in the Qualitative Research Interview) is in

w orld w ith o ut which the symbols of science w ould be meaningless. The


whole universe o f science is built upon the w orld as directly experienced,

I and if we w ant to subject science itself to rigorous scrutiny and arrive at


a precise assessment o f its m eaning and scope, we m ust begin by re-

keeping with a phenomenological understanding, with the life w orld


as the point of departure, the qualitative descriptions of meaning, and
a deliberate navet as expression of phenomenological reduction.

awakening the basic experiences o f the w orld o f w hich science is the


! second order expression, (p. viii)

Dialectical Situating
The geographers map is thus an abstraction of the countryside
where we first learned what a forest, a m ountain, or a river was. In
this phenomenological approach, the qualitative studies o f subjects
experiences of their world are basic to the more abstract scientific
studies of the social world; interviews arc in this sense not merely a
few entertaining curiosities in addition to some basic scientific quan
titative facts obtained by experiments and questionnaires. The quali
tative interview is a research method that gives a privileged access to
our basic experience of the lived world. The descriptive focus on the
lived interactions of the human world may counteract a technological

Dialectics is the study of internal contradictions the contradiction


between the general and the specific, between appearance and essence,
between the quantitative and the qualitative. The development of
contradictions is the driving force of change. Dialectical materialism
involves the fundamental assumption that the contradictions of mate
rial and economic life are the basis of social relations and of conscious
ness. M en act upon the world, change it, and arc again changed by
the consequences of their actions. H um an consciousness and behavior
are studied w ithin the concrete sociohistorical situation of a class
society and its forces and relations of production. The objects of the

56

Interviews

Interviews and Philosophy

57

human sciences are seen as multifaceted and contradictory, consisting

Marxist theory, treats the double work situation o f women industrial

of internally related opposites in continual change and development.

workers who were also homemakers. Becker-Schmidt (1982) de

There are marked differences among the many different traditions

scribes the economic and social aspects of the wom ens world and the

of dialectics, such as the official dialectical materialism o f the former

conflicts that were generated by the contradictions in their life situ

socialist countries, the activity theory developed by Leontiev, the

ation. The specific contradictions of the w om ens reactions and atti

Frankfurt school o f Adorno and Horkheimer, and the existential

tudes expressed in the interviews were then interpreted, not only in

1 will not discuss the

relation to the individual wom ens personalities, but were also system

differences, but will offer some general implications that dialectics has

atically traced to the com m on economic and social contradictions of

for understanding qualitative interview research.

their everyday world, in particular the conflicting demands made by

Marxism of Sartre, which will be described here.

Sartre attempted to mediate between Marxism, phenomenology


and existentialism, and psychoanalysis in The Problem of Method

their work and their family situation.


Dialectics takes issue with the coherence criterion o f truth involved

(1963). His critique of the individualizing approach of psychoanalysis

in hermeneutics with a good interpretation as a coherent Cestait free

also pertains to much current interview research: H ow many times

of contradictions. From a dialectical perspective, a truth criterion

has someone attempted the feat of psychoanalyzing Robespierre for

based on being free o f contradictions in a contradictory w orld is false.

us w ithout even understanding that the contradictions in his behavior

Haug (1978) has criticized what she terms the need for consensus and

were conditioned by the objective contradictions of the situation

harmony in qualitative research. If social reality is in itself contradic

(p. 60). Sartres critique of an objectifying Marxist reductionism might

tory, the task of social science is to investigate the real contradictions

also be mentioned: Valry is a petit bourgeois intellectual, no doubt

of the social situation and posit them against each other. In other

about it. But not every petit bourgeois intellectual is Valry (p. 56).

words, if social processes are essentially contradictory, then empirical

In dialectical thought there is an emphasis upon the new, what is

methods based on an exclusion of contradictions will be invalid for

under development. W ith a conception of the social w orld as being

uncovering a contradictory social reality.

developed through contradictions, it is important to uncover the new


developmental tendencies in order to obtain true knowledge of the
social world. The statistical average or the representative case of the

Philosophy and Interviews

status quo is less im portant than the new tendencies developing as the

status nascendi.

Philosophy addresses the conditions for knowledge of the hum an

In a dialectical perspective, knowledge is intrinsically related to

situation; it does not provide specific methods for obtaining empirical

action. M arx, in his theses on Feuerbach, criticized the philosophers

knowledge of the hum an situation. The philosophies outlined above

for merely interpreting the world differently; what matters is to

have analyzed m ajor aspects of the mode o f understanding in the

; change the world. Correspondingly, social scientists have tended to

interview, such as life world, meaning, description, ambiguity and con

provide different interpretations of the social reality, rather than

tradictions, intersubjectivity, and change. By clarifying the nature of

/ contribute to its change. For Sartre, knowledge and action are two

such phenom ena these philosophies may contribute to conceptualiz

abstracted aspects of an original concrete relation: Action is an uncov

ing and reflecting the mode of understanding in the qualitative re

ering of reality and at the same time a changing of this reality.

search interview. In some instances they can also provide inspiration

The implications o f dialectical philosophy for qualitative interview

for a m ethodological development of interview research, such as the

research have been little addressed. I include it here in an attempt to

open phenom enological approach to conducting and analyzing inter

counteract the prevalent individualistic and idealistic approach of

views, or a hermeneutical approach to interpretation o f interview texts.

m uch interview research. O ne example, an interview study based on

38

In te r v ie w s

There are im portant convergences as well as fundamental differ


ences am ong the philosophies discussed aboVe. Heideggerd existential
philosophy, based on Husserls phenomenology and on the hermeneu
tic tradition, is now regarded as anticipating postmodern thought, as
is Merleau-Pontys phenomenological philosophy. Sartre developed
phenomenological and existential philosophy within a dialectical con
text, and Lyotard s early works focused on phenomenology and
dialectics.
T hough they converge on conceptual reflections o f major aspects
of the interviews mode of understanding, these philosophies were
developed with different aims and for different areas. There are many
conflicting assumptions among, as well as within, these philoso
phies. The idealistic focus on consciousness and texts in phenom
enology and hermeneutics contrasts with a dialectical materialist
emphasis on the social and economical contradictions of society. Both
phenom enology and dialectics seek the essences beneath the manifest
appearances, while in postmodern thought the appearance has become
. the essence. Phenomenology attempts to obtain presuppositionless
j descriptions, hermeneutics emphasizes foreknowledge by interpreta; tions. Hermeneutics attempts to obtain interpretations free o f contra! dictions, whereas dialectics focuses

0 11

these very contradictions of

consciousness and action as reflections of social and material contra


dictions. And whereas hermeneutics aims at consensus of interpre
tation, postmodern thought emphasizes the plurality of diverging
interpretations. Dialectical materialism presupposes a basic material
reality, postmodern thought emphasizes the linguistic and social con
struction of a social reality.

Qualitative Research
in Science and in Practice
Before turning from the philosophical understandings of interview
research to the concrete procedures of designing an interview inquiry,
I will address some current positions on qualitative research in aca
demic and practical social research. I will first discuss conccptual
controversies that are frequently brought up by mainstream social
scientists, such as the scientific status of qualitative research and its
relation to quantification and objectivity. Then I will discuss three
areas in which qualitative interviewing has been prominent in prac
tice: market research, feminist research, and psychoanalysis. Different
as these areas may be, they have in com mon a use of qualitative
interviews in attempts to develop knowledge that may change persons
and conditions.

These im portant differences will not be pursued in the present


context; in the follow ing chapters the philosophies w ill be used
pragmatically to highlight different aspects o f the qualitative research
interview, The philosophies will be applied to conceptualize and
reflect upon issues encountered throughout the method stages o f an
interview inquiry. These involve mthodologie choices in questioning,
interpreting, validating, and reporting interview studies, choices that
are often at odds with traditional conceptions of method in the
modern social sciences.

The Scientific Status of the Interview


The qualitative research interview has sometimes been dismissed as
not being scientific it may perhaps provide interesting results and
serve as preparation to scientific investigations, but the interview as
such is not a scientific method. Critical objections appear endemic to
current qualitative research. In Qualitative Research for Education,
Bogdan and Biklen (1982) list and discuss eight common questions
about the value of qualitative research. The concluding chapter of

Designing Qualitative Research (Marshall & Rossman, 1995) is titled


59

60

Interviews

Interviews in Science and in Practice

61

Defending the Value and Logic of Qualitative Research. In this

scientific is unwarranted. The automatic rejection of qualitative re

books final chapter, Chapter 1 5 ,1 will return to some of the standard

search as unscientific reflects a specific, limited conception of science,

objections to qualitative interview research.

instead of seeing science as the topic of continual clarification and

Neither textbooks on social science methodology nor dictionaries

discussion. T hroughout the follow ing chapters I w ill argue that the

of the English language provide any unequivocal and generally ac

qualitative research interview can produce scientific knowledge in the

cepted definition of science. Some of the main definitions of science

meaning of methodologically secured new and systematic knowledge.

in Websters dictionary (Websters, 1967) are, in abbreviated form:


Knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding,
attained through study; systematized knowledge; one of the natural

Positivism

sciences; knowledge covering general truths or the operations of


general sciences, especially as obtained and tested through scientific

O ne philosophical position that has generally rejected qualitative

m ethod; a system or method based on scientific principles. The

research as a scientific method goes under the name of positivism (see,

characterization of qualitative interviews as scientific or unscientific

e.g., Kerlinger [1979] and M andler &C Kessen [1959] for positivism

w ill therefore depend on which definition of science is chosen; thus

applied to the social sciences; Radnitzky [1970] for a critical discus

the interview does not belong to the methods of the natural sciences,

sion o f the philosophical foundations o f positivism, and Koch [1959]

though it can, as will be shown in this book, produce systematized


knowledge.

for a critique of its consequences for psychology). Truth was to be

An alternative, apparently simpler definition of science is as the

were largely independent of the content and context of the investiga

activity of, and the knowledge produced by, scientists. Although

tion. Any influence by the person of the researcher should be elim i

circular, this operational definition points to the social and historical

nated or m inimized.

issues of who is a scientist and who has the power to define an activity
as scientific or unscientific.

Com te founded both positivist philosophy and sociology as a science

Some accepted core concepts of the m eaning of science do exist

in mid-19th-century France. Positivism began as a positive develop

found through method, by follow ing general rules of method that

The founding of the social sciences was closely tied to positivism.

in our culture. It is understood that science should produce know l

ment; it reacted against religious dogma and metaphysical speculation

edge, and that this knowledge should be new, systematic, and ob

and stressed a return to observable data. Positivist science was to

tained methodologically. A broad definition of science that w ill be

provide determinate laws of society with possibilities o f socially

used here is therefore: the methodological production of new, system

engineering society. The potential contributions of social science to

atic knowledge.

social change were lost in the Vienna circle in the 1920s. Its strict focus

The concepts of this working definition methodical, production,

on the logic and validity of scientific statements had a strong impact

new, systematic, and knowledge are again complex. Depending on

on the mid-century development of the social sciences, in particular

how these five terms are defined, qualitative research may again be
characterized as either scientific or as unscientific. For example,

in the United States.


Social scientists of different critical schools have often labeled

systematic may refer to intersubjectively reproducible data, to quan

positivism as uncritical. This may pertain to positivist scientists defin

titative data, to objective results, to generalizable findings, and to

ing the political, historical, and social functions of social research as

knowledge obtained by a hypothetical, deductive method. Again, the

outside the scientific dom ain. W hen it comes to a critical approach to

scientific status of the interview depends on the definitions chosen.

scientific evidence and the rigor of scientific arguments, the positivists

W ith the m anifold meanings of the concept of science, any general

have contributed to movihg social research beyond myth and common

characterization of qualitative interview research as scientific or un

sense.

62

Interviews

Interviews in Science and in Practice

63

According to positivist thought, the youn social sciences should

T hough science was to build on objective, quantified data, the social

follow the experimental quantitative m ethodsof the established natu

and temporal practices of the researchers producing these data were

ral sciences, in particular o f the most advanced science at the turn of

neglected in the positivist social sciences. A closer look at the proce

the century physics. Social science should aifn at the prediction and

dures for obtaining intcrsubjective agreement among observers about

control of behavior. Scientific statements were to be based upon

objective facts reveals the many theoretical presuppositions built

observable data; the observation of the data and interpretation o f their

into the observational procedures leading to the construction of social

meanings should be strictly separated. The scientific facts should be

facts. This pertains to the transformation of meanings into data, for

objective and quantifiable. Data should be unambiguous, intra- and

example in psychology by the categorization of group action, and the

intersubjectively reproducible. Scientific statements ought to be value

content analysis of texts into atomized meanings as facts (Kvale,

neutral, facts were to be distinguished from values, and science from


politics.

nor ideals for interview research to approximate; social facts are social

To a philosophy o f science that takes as its point of departure the

constructions arising from a specific, chosen technological perspective

elim ination of the hum an factor in research, the qualitative interview

1976a). W ith a postmodern perspective, quantified data are not given,

on the social world.

based on interpersonal interaction must appear unscientific. The mode

Although positivist philosophy has had little influence on the

of understanding in research interviews consistently violates the posi

natural sciences one article even talks about the physics of the

tivist demands of scientific knowledge. The m ain aspects o f the

physicist and the physics of the psychologist as two entirely differ

interview, as outlined in Box 2.1 (see Chapter 2), either are irrelevant

ent realities (Brandt, 1973) and is no longer current in the philoso

to or directly violate a positivist conception of science. The interview

phy of science, a positivist understanding of science may still rule in

data consist o f meaningful statements, themselves based on interpre

some psychology departments. An extreme version of this attitude was

tations, and they are again subject to continual processes o f interpre

the early behavioristic lim itation of psychology to the objective obser

tation; the data and their interpretations are thus not strictly sepa

vation of behavior, with a prohibition against entering into a dialogue

rated. Q uantified knowledge is not the goal of interview research; the

with research subjects. Mishler (1986) documents how a behaviorist

main interview findings arc expressed in language, frequently in

approach long dominated interview research, and that a mechanical

everyday language. Interview statements can be ambiguous and con

behaviorist conception of interviews as responses (answers) emitted

tradictory and the findings may not be intersubjectively reproducible,

to stimuli (questions) led interviewers to neglect, and even suppress,

for example, because o f the interviewers varying knowledge of and

the spontaneous tendency that people have to tell stories about their

sensitivity to the interview topic. In conclusion, major features of the


mode of understanding in the qualitative interview appear, from a

lives.
A closer look at the practices of formalizing and quantifying

positivist perspective, as methodological sources of error, and the

research in the social sciences may show that these are linked less to

interview therefore cannot be a scientific method.

the actual practices of the natural sciences than to the administrative

Criticizing positivism and a quantitative hegemony in the social

procedures of bureaucratic institutions and a general technological

sciences is sometimes dismissed today as attacking a straw man. The

approach to hum an action (Kvale, 1976b), both of which attempt to

quantitative man may indeed be made o f straw in some disciplines,

eliminate or reduce the subjective dimensions of the subjects ruled.

but as recently as the 1984 congress of the International Union of

The strictly formalized procedures of categorization and quantifica

Scientific Psychology, the presidential address by Klix advocated the

tion are ways of ordering and structuring the social world, with

development of psychology as a natural science in accordance with

quantification as one means of legitimating administrative decisions.

the principle evolved by Galilei: Measure what is measurable, and

In the social sciences, positivism has entailed a philosophic bureau-

make measurable what is not.

64

Interviews

Interviews in Science anil in Practice

65

cracy that suppresses the subjective and social dimensions of social

intersubjectively testable and reproducible: Repeated observations of

research.

the same phenom enon by different observers should give the same
data. Objectivity may here refer to what a number of subjects or judges
observe, referred to as coder reliability. Scriven (1972) criticized

O bjectivity in Q ualitative Research

this quantitative conception of objectivity as the fallacy of intersub


jectivism the sheer number o f observers reporting the same phe

It has often been claimed that the qualitative research interview

nom enon is no guarantee of truth, the success of stage magicians being

lacks objectivity, due in particular to the human interaction inherent

one of many possible counterexamples. I can add the extreme position

in the interview situation. Turning to social science texts on m ethod

of the main character in Ibsens play, A?; Enemy of the People The

ology and to ordinary language dictionaries, about a dozen meanings

most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom is the compact m ajor

o f objectivity may be found (sec Polkinghorrie, 1989; Websters,

ity. . . . The minority is always right (act IV).

1967). Objectivity is often discussed as one side of a polarity: objective/

W ithin a conception of objectivity as intersubjective agreement we

subjective; unbiased/biased; public/private; intersubjective/personal;

may distinguish between an arithmetic and a dialogical conception of

reflects the nature of the object/personal impressions only; reality as

objectivity. Arithmetic intersubjectivity refers to reliability as mea

it exists independent of the observer/reality as dependent on the

sured mechanically by am ount o f agreement among independent ob

observer; value free/value laden; impartial/partial; facts/values; physi

servers. Dialogical intersubjectivity refers to agreement through a

cal/meaning; behavior/consciousness; quantitative/qualitative; stable/

rational discourse and reciprocal critique am ong those identifying and

changing; and universal/local.

interpreting a phenom enon. This may take the form of a com m unica

According to a definition of objectivity as intersubjcctive agree


ment, the lack of intersubjective consensus testifies to objectivity being

tive validation among researchers as well as between researchers and


their subjects (Chapter 13, Com m unicative Validity).

a rather subjective notion. W ith the variety of conceptions of objec

In principle, qualitative interviews can approach objectivity in an

tivity, the qualitative interview cannot be objectively characterized as

arithmetic sense of intersubjectivity. Although a single interview can

either an objective or a subjective method. The objectivity of the

hardly be replicated, different interviewers may, when follow ing

knowledge produced by the interview interaction must be discussed

similar procedures in a com m on interview guide, come up with closely

with specific respect to the different conceptions of objectivity and the

similar interviews from their subjects. W ith a dialogical conception of

topic of the concrete inquiry. Here three conceptions of objectivity

intersubjectivity, the interview attains a privileged position it in

will be discussed: as freedom from bias, as intersubjective knowledge,

volves a conversation and negotiation o f meaning between the inter

and as reflecting the nature of the object.

viewer and his or her subjects.

First, objectivity as freedom from bias refers to reliable knowledge,

T hird, objective may also mean reflecting the nature o f the object

checked and controlled, undistorted by personal bias and prejudice.

researched, letting the object speak, being adequate to the object

Such a commonsense conception of objective as being free of bias

investigated, expressing the real nature of the object studied. The

implies doing good, solid, craftsmanlike research, producing knowl

objectivity of a method then depends on its relation to the nature of

edge that has been systematically cross-checked and verified. In prin

the object studied, and it involves a theoretical understanding of the

ciple, the interview can be an objective research m ethod in the sense

content matter investigated. Again, the interview may in principle be

of being unbiased. This will be argued later in relation to validity as

objective. W ith the object of the interview understood as existing in

craftsmanship (Chapter 13, Validity as Quality of Craftsmanship).

a linguistically constituted and interpersonally negotiated social

Second, a conception of objective as meaning intersubjective knowl

w orld, the qualitative research interview as a linguistic, interpersonal,

edge has been com mon in the social sciences. Scientific data must be

and interpreting m ethod becomes a more objective m ethod in the

Interviews

Interviews in Science and in Practice

social sciences than the methods o f the natural sciences, which were

. . . the existential individual, the core o f the individuality, forever

developed for a nonhum an object dom ain. From this perspective the

escapes the scientist. H e is chained to group data, statistical prediction,

qualitative research interview obtains a privileged position concerning

and probabilistic estimates. (Kerlinger, 1979, pp. 270, 272)

67

objective knowledge of the social world: The interview is sensitive to


and reflects the nature of the object investigated, in the interview
conversation the object speaks.
In conclusion, the interview as such is neither an objective nor a
subjective method its essence is intersubjective interaction. The issue
of the objectivity of knowledge gained through an interview is linked
to the pervasive dichotomy of objectivism and subjectivism in Western
thought. Bernstein (1983), in Beyond Objectivism and Relativism,
describes objectivism as the basic conviction that there exists some
permanent, ahistorical matrix or framework to which we can ulti
mately appeal in determining the nature of knowledge, truth, reality,
and goodness. A realist version of objectivism implies that an objective
reality exists independently of the observer and that only one correct
view can be taken of it. The counterposition o f relativism involves a
view that all concepts of knowledge, truth, reality, and goodness are
relative to a specific theoretical framework, a form o f life or culture.
In an attempt to go beyond the polarity of an objectivist realism versus
an anything goes relativism, Bernstein follows a hermeneutical
tradition arguing for a dialogic conception of truth, where true know l
edge is sought through rational argumentation by participants in a
discourse. And the medium of a discourse is language, which is neither
objective or universal, nor subjective or individual, but intersubjective.

T he degree to which the observations can be quantified (translated into


numbers) is often a good index of the maturity o f a science. (Mussen,
Conger, & Kagan, 1977, p. 13)

According to the above views, the present introduction to qualitative


interview research is w ithout scientific relevance or is, at best, an
indication of an immature science.
Some possible reasons for the strong demands for quantification in
current social sciences will be mentioned. There may be an ontological
assumption that the social world is basically a mathematically ordered
universe in which everything that exists, exists in number form; and,
accordingly, the objective data of a science of the social world must be
quantitative. There may also be an epistemological demand that re
search data should be quantitative in order to be commensurable
across theories. There may further be a technical interest in quantifi
cation, in that statistical techniques are powerful tools for handling
large amounts of data. The demand for quantification may also stem
from the anticipated audience of a research report, such as a disserta
tion committee, the scientific or the public com munity, or a govern
ment agency. The use of numbers may be rhetorical here; when it comes
to convincing a modern audience, the hard quantified facts may appear
more trustworthy than qualitative descriptions and interpretations.
I will go into some detail here about the dichotom ization of

Q ualitative and Q uan titativ e Research

quantitative versus qualitative research methods. Quality refers to


what kind, to the essential character of something. Quantity refers to

One of the most persistent requirements in m odern social sci


ence has been that scientific knowledge should be quantitative; for
example,

how much, how large, the amount of something. In Websters (1967),


qualitative analysis is described as a chemical analysis designed to
identify the components of a substance, and quantitative analysis as a
chemical analysis designed to determine the amounts of the com po

Q uantitative research w hich does seek scientific explanation can he


referred to simply as the scientific approach. (Cjalder, 1977, p. .155)

nents of a substance. In chemistry a qualitative analysis is then a


presupposition for a quantitative analysis. In the practice of natural
science, both forms of analysis are often required: For example, a

Scientists are not and cannot be concerned w ith the individual case. They

recent job announcement for North Sea oil geologists listed the ability

seek laws, systematic relations, explanations o f phenom ena. And their


results are always statistical.

to do qualitative and quantitative interpretations of petrophysical


sediments as a requirement. Although quantification is an im portant

68

I nt erVi ews

69

Interviews in Science and in Practice

tool in the natural sciences, large areas of geology, biology, and

research, the content and form of com munication, mainly in the form

zoology are based on qualitative descriptions and interpretations, such

of texts, are quantified and made amenable for statistical treatment.

as studies by Darwin and by Lorenz of the interactions of animals with

In more open approaches to interview texts, qualitative and quantita

their habitats. In recent philosophical analyses of the practice of the

tive analyses intermingle. The relative emphasis will depend on the

natural sciences, such as those by Hesse, any sharp bifurcation of the

type o f phenomena investigated and the purpose of the investigation.

hum an and the natural sciences breaks down (see Bernstein, 1983).

In media research of TV soap operas, for example, both linguistic and

Thus, apart from the more basic question of why the social sciences

narrative analyses of the plot, and statistical analyses of viewer fre

should try to imitate the natural sciences, a brief look at the actual

quency and social distribution of the viewers may be required to

practice of the natural sciences erodes any automatic outlaw ing of

understand and predict the impact of a TV series.


N ot just the analysis phase, but the whole research process involves

qualitative research as unscientific.


The issue of qualitative versus quantitative methods has been a

the interaction o f qualitative and quantitative approaches (Mayring,

heated topic in the social sciences for some time; attempts at bridging

1983). An investigation starts with a qualitative analysis of the existing

the gap (Lazarsfeld, 1944) and arguments that it is a pseudoissue (e.g.,

knowledge about a phenom enon and the development of qualitative

Reichardt & Cook, 1979; Tschudi, 1989) have had little impact. And

concepts and hypotheses for the specific study. The phases of data

the title of one article appears somewhat premature: Closing Down

collection and data analysis that follow can be mainly qualitative or

the Conversation: The find of the Quantitative-Qualitative Debate

quantitative, often with an interaction. The final phase, reporting the

Among Educational Researchers (Smith & Heshusius, 1986). Some

results, is.predominantly qualitative; furthermore, tables and correla

conceptual and practical problems with a strict qualitative-quantita

tion coefficients require qualitative interpretations of their meanings.

tive bifurcation will be pointed out here, and some reasons why a

There may, however, be a tendency to downplay the qualitative

restricted quantitative conception of science still remains will be

aspects o f the research process in published reports. W hether due to

suggested.

external editorial requirements, or to self-censorship by the re

In social science textbooks four basic types of measurement are

searcher, ithe soft qualitative aspects of the research process and

distinguished: nom inal, ordinal, interval, and ratio. Qualitative re

product tend to be washed away, leaving only the hard quantified

search leading to an either/or categorization of an interview statement

facts as fit for public presentation.

as expressing, for example com petition or no com petition in

In conclusion, qualitative and quantitative methods are tools, and

volves scaling on a nom inal level. If the categories also include a

their utility depends on their power to bear upon the research ques

ranking of more versus less, for example as strong, m edium ,

tions asked. As tools they require different competencies, w ith differ

little, and no competition, scaling at an ordinal level is involved.

ences among researchers in their abilities to and interests in carrying

Scaling at an equidistant interval level, as attempted by intelligence

out quantitative computations or conducting linguistic or empathic

tests, and at a ratio level w ith an absolute zero, as by measurement of

analysis of qualitative data. Despite the conceptual and practical

temperature, is, however, outside the realm of qualitative research.

interweaving of the qualitative and quantitative aspects o f social

Qualitative research may thus lead to weaker forms of measurement

science research, a dichotomized conception with a hegemony on the

such as nom inal and ordinal scaling and no conceptual foundation

quantitative side may still prevail. Todays social science students

to m aintain a sharp dichotomy of quantitative versus qualitative

acquire a professional competency in analyzing the social w orld as a

methods appears here.

mathematically constituted universe, but remain amateurs in the face

In the practice of social research, qualitative and quantitative

of a linguistically constituted social world.

approaches interact. In the content analysis tradition o f media

* *

70

Interviews

Interviews in Science amI in Practice

71

I now turn from academic debates on the position of qualitative

In the course of the 20th century, the emphasis in economy has

research in social science to the role of qualitative research in some

changed from control of production to control of consumption and

practice-oriented fields, such as market research, feminist research,

com m unication. In a consumer society, an extensive knowledge of the

and psychoanalysis. The legitimacy of using qualitative interviews in

experiences, meanings, feelings, desires, and lifestyles of the consum

these rather different fields has rested less on their com patibility with

ers is essential for the design and marketing of consumer products. An

the prevailing ideas o f scientific m ethod than on their contributions

empathic uncovering of experienced meanings and assuming the

to effecting changes in persons and their conditions.

perspective of the potential consumers facilitates m anipulation of


their buying behavior.
Qualitative interviews are extensively used in todays market re

Q ualitativ e M a rk et Research

search to predict and control consumer behavior. W hat market re


searchers have called a depth interview or motive interview

In some quarters, qualitative research has come to be regarded as

(Dichter, 1960) and focused interviews with groups (Morgan, 1988)

progressive and quantitative research as repressive. It is maintained

come close to the qualitative research interview treated in this book.

that qualitative research is sensitive to the hum an situation, it involves

Dichter early developed market interviews inspired by the interpre-

an empathic dialogue with the subjects studied, and it may contribute

tational approach of psychoanalysis and in line with the sensitive

to their emancipation and empowerment.

nondirective interview techniques that Rogers used in therapy. Di-

The qualitative interview is a uniquely sensitive and powerful

chters outline of central aspects of qualitative interview techniques

method for capturing the experiences and lived meanings of the

was developed decades before the current qualitative wave in the

subjects everyday world. Interviews allow the subjects to convey to

social sciences.

others their situation from their own perspective and in their own

In consumer research it is important to get beyond the surface

words. Several books by social researchers, journalists, and novelists

meaning of a product and tap the more hidden, symbolic meanings it

have been based on interviews with groups w ho seldom participate in

has for potential consumers. In The Strategy of Desire (1960), Dichter

the public debate. Oscar Lewiss interviews with Mexican peasant

reports an automobile study he conducted for Plymouth. The original

families, The Children of Sanchez (1964), is one example. Such inter

report from 1939 outlined a new psychological research technique

view studies can have a politically emancipatory function by bringing

to get beyond the limits of current statistical research in an under

to attention and documenting the living conditions of oppressed

standing of the factors which influence the sale of cars (1960,

groups. It is, however, illusory to consider qualitative methods as such

p. 289). The study was based on case histories in the form of detailed

progressive, which is evident from a look at the use of qualitative

conversational interviews that had been recorded in shorthand and

interviewing in market research.

transcribed for analysis. O ur interviews reveal that cars stand for

In psychology, a technical interest in control over objectified pro

something, they are not just a means of transportation. A car is really

cesses has generally been associated w ith the natural science-oriented

a symbol, an expression of human desires. Its appearance, its mechani

experiments of behaviorism, with the research interest in predicting

cal functions, and its social functions help to build up that symbolic

and controlling the behavior of others. These behaviorist knowledge

value (Dichter, 1960, p. 292). According to Dichter, the empathic

interests and methods were well in line with the hum an engineering

psychological study from 1939 changed the style of autom obile

approach Taylor instigated in industry at the turn of the century

advertising by taking into account the many hidden meanings of

(Kvale, 1976b). This involved extensive time and m otion studies con

products and introducing new marketing approaches, which have

trolling the workers behavior, which was made more efficient by the

since become commonplace (Holbrook, 1995).

assembly line introduced by Ford.

72

I nterVi ews

Interviews in Science and in Practice

73

The issue of method is here simpler than in the social sciences: In

hum an actions can be the focus of research (Olesen, 1994). Feminist

consumer research, the legitimacy of a research method is based on its

research is qualitative research by women on wom en with a desire

contribution to increased consumption which in turn increases the

to make sense of w om ens lives and experiences; it must take

producers sales and profits. It is paradoxical that qualitative inter

w om ens oppression as one of its basic assumptions ; it is research

views which until recently had been dismissed as unscientific within

informed at every stage by an acknowledged political com mitm ent

a behaviorist psychology, whose explicitly stated purpose is to predict

(Scottm 1989, pp. 69-70).

and control behavior have found an extended application in market

In a postmodern feminist approach, in contrast to the Enlighten

research, whose survival depends on its very ability to predict and

ment view, the moral and political have priority over scientific and

control consumer behavior in practice.

epistemological theory. For feminist researchers, gender is a basic

Qualitative interviews are not in themselves progressive or oppres


sive; the value of the knowledge produced depends on the context and

organizing principle that profoundly shapes the concrete conditions


of our lives.

the use of the knowledge. Qualitative interviews can, for example, be


used to investigate teenage attitudes toward smoking, and the knowl

Very simply, to do fem inist research is to put the social construction o f

edge obtained used to motivate teenagers to start smoking or to

gender at the center o f ones inquiry. . . . The overt ideological goal o f

refrain from smoking. Interviews are powerful tools for obtaining


knowledge about human experience and behavior, and this knowledge
is at the disposal of power and money.
In contrast to the more open technological prediction and control
advocated in a natural science-oriented psychology, the softer human
istic forms of controlling feelings and experiences are more difficult
to detect. In a Foucault-inspired deconstruction of psychotherapy and
humanistic psychology, Richer (1992) points to these hidden forms of
control as more efficient than the shaping techniques of behaviorism,
concluding that, Psychology all of it is a branch o f the police;
psychodynamic and humanistic psychologies are the secret police
(p. 118).

feminist research in the h um an sciences is to correct both the invisibility


and distortion o f female experience in ways relevant to ending w o m e ns
unequal social position. (I.ather, 1991, p. 71)

The feminine side of science in general has been emphasized by


Shepherd (1993), with a focus on feeling and research motivated by
love, receptivity and listening, subjectivity, m ultiplicity and webs of
interaction, long-term trusting relationships, cooperation and w ork
ing in harmony, intuition, relatedness and a vision of wholeness, anti
the social responsibility o f science. Specific affinities of a feminist
approach and qualitative research are discussed by Olesen ( i 994) with
regard to subjectivity and experiences, relationships and personal
interaction, and the intersubjectivity between researcher and partici
pants. Furthermore, some feminists believe that soft qualitative data

Feminism and Q ualitative Research


Qualitative approaches to human interaction have gained a strong
position w ithin feminist research. In contrast to an often eclectic
qualitative research, feminist approaches have in com m on a focus on
the everyday world of women, work with methods appropriate for
understanding the very lives and situations of women, and under
standing is a means for changing the conditions studied. Feminist
research centers on wom ens diverse situations and the frames that
influence those situations, based on the assumption that interpretive

are more appropriate for feminist research, because quantitative m eth


ods encourage an unhealthy separation between those who know and
those who do not. Though the linear talk of men can be captured by
questionnaires, the way wom en want to make connections among
areas of their lives is better approached through qualitative in-depth
interviews (see Scott, 1985).
A feminist conception of the relationship between researcher and
researched is in line with the mode of understanding in qualitative
research interviews outlined earlier (Chapter 2, The M ode of Under
standing in the Qualitative Research Interview). There is also an
openness to new ways of cojnceiving research in a postmodern context,

74

Interviews

Interviews in Science and in Practice

75

with a conflict between feminist strands caught in a textual relativism

significant new knowledge about humankind. In textbooks of psycho

and a change-oriented feminist political agenda.

logical methods, however, the major method by which psychoanalyti

Feminist research focuses on social movements, organizations, and

cal knowledge is obtained the psychoanalytic interview is absent.

the m aking of policy, which produces a tension in relation to post

Freud (1963) regarded the therapeutic interview as a research method:

modernist feminist researchers w ho regard truth as a destructive

It is indeed one of the distinctions of psychoanalysis that research

illusion. The endless play of signs and stories, the shifting sands of

and treatment proceed hand in hand (p.

interpretation obscure the existing forms of oppression. The real lives

120 ).

Box 4.1 shows seven characteristics of the psychoanalytical inter

of wom en get lost in texts leading to a relativist resignation that

view based on Freuds (1963) writings on the therapeutic technique.

enforces the status quo in a world of inequality (see the critique by

The counseling session based on Rogers client-centered approach

Olesen, 1994). O Hara (1995), on the other hand, expresses the

(Chapter 2, A Therapeutic Interview on Hate) gives an adequate

liberating and moral potentials of postmodern feminism like this:

presentation of a dramatic episode in this form of therapeutic inter


view. Criticisms have been raised about the efficiency of psychoana

W h a t I feel, and read in the w o rk o f feminist poststructuralists, is an

lytical therapy, about the coherence of the theory, and about the

enorm ous sense o f relief, hope and responsibility. Far from despair, the

empirical validity of psychoanalytical observations (see Fisher &

idea that each o f us recreates reality w ith each encounter fills me w ith
w ondrous hope, em pow erm ent and co m m unity connection. If there is
no absolute truth out there to create pristine expert systems that can

Greenberg, 1977). I will not address those critiques here, but focus
instead on the fruitfulness of psychoanalytical therapy in bringing

som ehow solve our problems m ath e m atically ;. . . if we accept that when

forth new phenomena and new interconnections. The characteristics

we enter into dialogue we both change; if it is true that we co-create

of the psychoanalytic interview as outlined are in marked contrast to

reality, w hich in turn creates us then we are called to a new com m unity.
If I can m ake culture I must act responsibly, (p. 155)

Box 4.1

Psychoanalytical Knowledge P roduction


The Psychoanalytical Research Interview
I now turn to an innovative form of knowledge production that has
largely remained outside the discussions of scientific m ethod. Psycho
analysis is the one branch o f psychology that, nearly a century after

l'he Individual ('.ase Study. Psychoanalytical therapy is an

its inception, still has a strong professional impact in psychotherapy

intensive case study of individual patients over several

and that continues to be of interest to the general public, to other

years. The extensive knowledge of the patients life world

sciences, and to present a challenge to philosophers. Central areas of

and of their past thereby obtained provides the therapist

current psychology textbooks are based on knowledge originally

with a uniquely rich context for interpreting their dreams

obtained through the psychoanalytic interview regarding dreams and

and neurotic symptoms.

neurosis, sexuality, childhood development and personality, anxiety


and motivation, and the unconscious forces (Rapaport, 1959).

The Open Mode of Interviewing. The psychoanalytical in


terview takes place in the structured seating of the thera
peutic hour, the content is free and nondirective; it is based

PSYCH OAN ALYSIS AS A RF.SEARCH M E T H O D

The psychoanalytic interview, where knowledge production is not


the primary purpose, has been the psychological method for providing

on psychoanalytical theory, yet proceeds in an open man(continued)

76

In te r v ie w s

77

Interviews in Science and in Practice

Box 4.1 Continued

Box 4.1 Continued

ner. The patients free associations correspond with the

therapist develops. Strong emotions, ranging from love to

therapists evenly hovering attention. Freud (1963)

rage, were interpreted theoretically as a transference of

warned against scientifically formulating a case during

childhood feelings for the parents to the therapist. This

treatment, because that would interfere with the open

transference is deliberately employed by the therapist as a

therapeutic attitude with" which one proceeds aimlessly,

means to overcome the patients emotional resistance to

and allows oneself to be overtaken by any surprises, always

deeper self-knowledge and change. Different depths of

presenting to them an open m ind, free from any expecta


tions (p.

The Interpretation of Meaning.

layers of the patients personality are disclosed, depending


on the intensity of the emotional ties to the therapist. The

120 ).
An essential aspect of

psychoanalytical technique is the interpretation o f the


meaning of the patients statements and actions. The psy
choanalytical interpretations are open to ambiguity and
contradictions, to the multiple layers of meaning in a dream

influence of the therapists own feelings for the patient,


termed counter-transference, is not sought eliminated,
but employed in the therapeutic process as a reflected
subjectivity.

Pathology as Topic of Investigation. The subject matter of

or a symptom. They require an extensive context, with the

psychoanalytical therapy is the abnormal and irrational

possibility of continual reinterpretations: The full inter

behavior of patients in crisis, their apparently meaningless

pretation of such a dream will coincide with the completion

and bizarre symptoms and dreams. The pathological behav

of the whole analysis: if a note is made of it at the begin

ior serves as a magnifying glass for the less visible conflicts

ning, it may be possible to understand it at the end, after

of average individuals; the neuroses and psychoses are

many months (Freud, 1963, p. 100).

extreme versions of norm al behavior, they are the charac

The Temporal Dimension. Psychoanalytic therapy unfolds


over several years, in a historical dimension, with a unique

teristic expressions of what has gone wrong in a given


culture.

intertwinedness ol past, present, and future. Freuds inno

Ihe Instigation o/ Change. The mutual interest o f patient

vation was to see hum an phenomena in a meaningful his

and therapist is to overcome the patients suffering due to

torical perspective: The remembrance of the past is an ac

his neurotic symptoms. Despite patients having sought

tive force of therapeutic change, and the therapy aims at

treatment voluntarily, they exhibit a deeply seated resis

overcoming the repressions of the past as well as the pres

tance to a change in self-understanding and action. The

ent resistance against making the unconscious conscious.

whole theory of psychoanalysis is . . . in fact built up on

Human Interaction. Psychoanalytical therapy takes place


through an emotional human interaction with a reciprocal
personal involvement. Freud noticed that if the analyst
allows the patient time, devotes serious interest to him, and
behaves with tact, a deep attachment of the patient for the
(continued)

the perception of the resistance offered to us by the patient


when we attempt to make his unconscious conscious to
h im (Freud, 1963, p.

68). Although understanding can

lead to change, the im plicit theory of knowledge in psycho


analysis is that a fundam ental understanding of a phenom e
non can i first be obtained by attempting to change the
phenomenon.

78

Interviews

Interviews in Science and in Practice

79

4,

Despite such differences, it is possible for research interviewers to

Positivism). This may be one reason why the psychoanalytical inter

learn from the modes of questioning and interpreting developed in

view has not been regarded as a research method in psychology.

therapeutic interviews. There arc many problems with psychoanalysis

positivist criteria of scientific method as discussed above (Chapter

Although it was rejected by a positivist philosophy o f science, the

as a research method, and the scientific status of psychoanalytical

knowledge production in psychoanalysis has challenged thinkers in


the philosophical traditions outlined in Chapter 3. T hough generally

knowledge is still debated. Some of the issues concerning the validity

critical o f the speculative and reductionist trends of psychoanalytic

continuing paradox that the therapeutic interview, which has not been

theory, they have reflected on the unique nature of the personal

accepted as a scientific method and for which general knowledge

interaction in the psychoanalytical interview and its potentials for

production is a side effect, has produced some of the most viable

personal change as well as its contributions to knowledge about the

knowledge in the discipline of psychology.

of interpretations will be discussed later, in Chapter 13. It is a

hum an situation. An early introduction to the area was given by May,


Angel, and Ellenbergcr (1958) in Existence: A New Dimension in
Psychiatry and Psychology. There are also Bosss (1 963) Psychoanaly
sis and Daseinsanalysis, based on Heideggers phenomenological ex
istential and hermeneutical philosophy, and Laings (1962) The Self
and Others, inspired by Sartres existentialism. Am ong the philoso

T H E R A P E U T IC R E S E A R C H
B E T W E E N S C Y U . A A N D C l 1 A R Y B D IS

A therapeutic research project can be a dangerous voyage, a cruise


between anecdotal case stories with little method on the one hand,

phers addressing psychoanalysis are Sartres (1963) existential m edia

and quantified physiological and behavioral measures with little psy

tion of psychoanalysis and Marxism in The Problem o f Method;

chological content on the other. Clinical research has produced a long

Ricoeurs (1970) phenomenological and hermeneutical Freud and

history of rejected articles and shipwrecked dissertations. A therapeu

Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation; and Habermass (1971) criti

tic research voyage can be likened to Odysseus sailing the narrow strait

cal hermeneutical analysis of psychoanalysis as a model for an eman

between Charybdis and Scylla on his return from Troy, a passage that

cipatory social science in Knowledge and Human Interests. The pre

he declared was the most dangerous part of his long research voyage.

sent discussion of the psychoanalytic interview and the mode of


understanding in the research interview is inspired by these works.

O n one side of the perilous strait waits the monster Charybdis,


swallowing whole ships and their crews. Here, the therapeutic re

The psychoanalytical interview is related to, and contrasts with, the

searcher gets carried away by entertaining and exciting case histories,

research interview and its mode of understanding. The purpose of a

often with the therapist as the hero. There is seldom any methodical

therapeutic interview is the facilitation of changes in the patient, and

reflection on how the evidence for the story is obtained, nor analyses

the knowledge acquired from the individual patient is a means for

of the narrative structures involved, nor of the validity of the know l

instigating personality changes. The general knowledge of the hum an

edge presented. After almost a century of psychoanalytical therapy

situation gained through the psychoanalytic process is a side effect of

and theory, the main evidence supporting the psychoanalytic theory

helping patients overcome their neurotic suffering. The qualitative

Still rests on knowledge accumulated through psychoanalytical inter

research interview is a construction site of knowledge production; its

views, a research method that has hardly been given any systematical

purpose is to obtain knowledge of the phenomena investigated and

thought in the social sciences.

any changes in the interviewed subject is a side effect. The intensive

Odysseus tried so hard to avoid Charybdis that he came too close

personal therapeutic relationship may open painful, hidden memories

to the other side of the narrow strait, where the six-headed monster

and deeper levels of personality, which are inaccessible through a brief

Scylla devoured six members of his crew. Contemporary therapeutic

research interview.

researchers may try so hard to avoid therapeutic anecdotes that they


get caught in the positivist straightjacket on the other side and lose

80

Interviews

the lived therapeutic relations in a multitude of statistical correlations


and significances that may be insignificant to the therapeutic situation.
In this form of imitative scientism, the clinical researcher may become
more Catholic than the Pope or, in psychoanalytical terminology
identify with the aggressor.
Vessels sailing the current qualitative research wave also appear to
be caught in the narrow strait, blown back and forth between a
no-method Charybdis and an all-method Scylla. Interview ver
sions of this research can even fall prey to both monsters. O n the one
side there is hardly any methodological account of, or reflection on
the productions of, the texts in the original conversations, or on the

PART

III

transformations from living conversations to written texts, or on the


validity of the interpretations of meanings of the text. O n the other,
there is a qualitative hyperempiricism of quantified categorizations
and endless quotes from interview transcripts. Such interview reports
lose the lived reality of the conversation as well as the human situation
portrayed in the subjects stories.
I now w ill turn to the method stages of an interview investigation
in Part III and suggest some guidelines for keeping clear of the
no-method and all-method hazards in the dangerous passages of an
interview inquiry on the way from an original vision to a final report.
The goal for the interview researcher is to return from the stages of
his or her qualitative inquiry with a tale that does justice to the

The Seven Stages of an


Interview Investigation

subjects stories of their lived world and that conveys new and valid
knowledge and insights to the listeners to and the readers of the tale.

I now turn from the meaning of the concepts in the books subtitle

qualitative research interviewing to the methods of carrying out an


interview investigation. This methodological Part III follows the tem
poral course of a qualitative interview investigation through seven
stages: thematizing, designing, interviewing, transcribing, analyzing,
verifying, and reporting. In Chapter 5, the first two stages them atiz
ing and designing are discussed with respect to the production of

82

I ntcrVicws

knowledge. The moral aspects o f an intervjew inquiry are brought up


in Chapter

6, where ethical issues that may iirise throughout the stages

o f an interview investigation arc discussed]


The interview situation is treated in Chapter 7, with the aim of
im proving the quality of the knowledge produced. Preparing for and
carrying out a research interview is discussed, and an interview about

grades is reproduced to illustrate forms of questioning. Q uality criteria


for qualitative interviews are suggested in Chapter

8, where also ethi

cal aspects of the interview situation and the issue of leading questions
are also addressed.
The structuring o f the interviews for subsequent analysis is ad
dressed in Chapter 9. Technical questions of transcribing raise princi
pal issues about the differences between oral and written language.
The chapter concludes by outlining the usd of computer programs for
handling interview texts.
The next three chapters focus on the analysis of interviews. A
discussion of the 1,000-page question in Chapter 10 highlights some
key issues of interview analysis. Chapter 11 provides an overview of
approaches to analysis, such as meaning condensation and categoriza
tion, narrative structuring and interpretation, in Chapter 12, the
plurality of interpretations is related to the hermeneutic primacy of
the question, and questions posed to interview statements about
grading are discussed, drawing on different contexts of interpretation
and validation. Finally, a modern quest for meaning is contrasted with
a postmodern deconstruction of reified meanings.
Verification o f the knowledge produced in interviews is treated in
Chapter 13, where gencralizability, reliability, and validity in qualita
tive research are discussed. Validation as a social construction is
treated in some detail, and philosophical conceptions of knowledge

Thematizing and Designing


an Interview Study
This chapter attempts to design an interview investigation that goes
beyond the no-method or all-method dilemma by emphasizing the
expertise and craftsmanship of the interview researcher. It starts by
describing a contrast between the formal reports of social science stud
ies and the openness of the semistructured interview. An emotional
account of the hardships of an interview journey is given, showing
how things can go wrong when the overall design of an interview
investigation is not considered. Then a more structured, seven-stage
route for investigating is discussed thematizing, designing, inter
viewing, transcribing, interpreting, verifying, and reporting. The
stages are illustrated by my study of the effects of grades on learning.
The first two stages of an interview study, thematizing and designing,
are then treated in some detail. Finally, going beyond method by
conceiving of research as craftsmanship is suggested.

as conversation and action are included and communicative and


pragmatic forms of validation outlined.
W ith the emphasis on validation as com m unication and action, the
reporting of interviews comes into the foreground. Purposes and
forms of interview reports are discussed in Chapter 14. W riting is
discussed as a social construction, and in order to get beyond the often
boring interview-quoting reports, modes for enriching the reports are
suggested.

Openness and Em otions in Interview Studies


Articles in social scicnce journals give rather formalized pictures of
the research process. Fditorial requirements promote a distorted
technical picture of scientific research as a logical, linear process
which is far from the continually changing actual research process with
its surprises, design changes, and reformulations of concepts and
hypotheses. In a realistic presentation of designing qualitative re83

84

Designing an Interview Study

I nt erVi ews

85

search, Marshall and Rossman (1995) discuss how the formalistic

outlining of an interview investigation might also be required on

i situation, but an entire interview investigation tends to be a rather stan-

The com m on term unstandardized may pertain to the interview

applications for research funding, where the emphasis is on clear and


well-structured proposals .1

' dardized affair, often going through five characteristic emotional phases.

One example of a more valid description of the vicissitudes of ac

gation. The empirical basis for the descriptions involves observations

tual scientific research is A Case History in Scientific M e thod , by

from colleagues and students undertaking interview studies as well as

Box 5.1 describes the em otional dynamics of an interview investi

the radical behaviorist Skinner (1961). He dismisses the formalistic

recollections from my own study of grading. The intensity of the

way of presenting research and describes the many chance happenings

emotional phases varies. M om ents of enthusiasm, com m on at the

and surprises from his own experimental research on behavior that

beginning, can also occur in the later phases, such as when discovering

led to significant discoveries of animal and human behavior. Thus,

new meanings through interpretation. The five phases can also be

happenings such as the breakdown of feeding apparatuses and the

encountered through the use of other research methods. It seldom

experimental rats having babies led to discoveries of new contingen

happens, however, that the contrast between an initial enthusiasm and

cies of reinforcements for learning. Such realistic descriptions of

the later hardships is as distinct as in interview studies.

scientific research behavior can be a solace to students mystified by


the neat formal presentations of research publications and textbooks
on methodology.

Box 5.1

The very virtue of qualitative interviews is their openness. No


standard techniques or rules exist for an interview investigation based

E m otional Dynamics of an Interview Study

on unstandardized qualitative interviews. There are, however, stand


ard choices of methods at the different stages of an interview investi
gation. They include questions such as: H ow many interviews will be

Antipositivist Enthusiasm Phase.

needed? Should the interviews be taped, and should they be tran

usually starts with enthusiasm and com mitm ent. The re

scribed? H ow should the interviews be analyzed? Should the interpre

searcher is strongly engaged in a problem and wants to

tations be given to the interviewee?

carry out realistic natural life research. It is to be m eaning

Rather than prescribe standardized procedures and techniques, the

An interview project

ful qualitative research of peoples lives, and not a positiv

present approach calls attention to standard methodological choices

ist, quantified data gathering based on abstract theories.

arising at the different stages of an interview investigation. The aim is

The Interview-Quoting Phase.

to make decisions about method on a reflective level, based on

have recorded the initial interviews and is intensively en

By now the researcher will

knowledge of the topic of the study and of the methodological options

gaged in what the interviewees have said. Forming a con

available, and their likely consequences for the interview project as a

trast to the ideological enthusiasm in the antipositivist

whole. The very openness and flexibility of the interview, with its

phase, there is now personal engagement and a solitary

many on-the-spot decisions for example, whether to follow up new

identification with the subjects, w ho have revealed so much

leads in an interview situation or to stick to the interview guide put

of their often oppressive life situation. At lunch the inter

strong demands on advance preparation and interviewer competence.

viewer entertains his colleagues with a wealth of new

The absence of prescribed sets of rules creates an open-ended field of

quotations. Although exciting at first, it may after a while

opportunity for the interviewers skills, knowledge, and intuition.

be difficult for the colleagues to remain fully involved in

Interviewing is a craft that is closer to art than to standardized social

the interview stories.

science methods.

(continued)


86

Interviews

Designing an Interview Study

87

late Renata Tesch who ran a consultation firm for qualitative re


Box 5.1 C ontinued

search in the United States read the description of these emotional


hardships. She then wrote for permission to quote the descriptions in

The Working Phase of Silence.

After a time, silence falls

an advertising folder for her firm, and added after the five hardship

upon the interview project. The researcher no longer brings

phases: There is one way to avoid this state of affairs, call Qualitative

up interview quotations at lunch. A colleague now asking

Research M anagem ent!

about the project receives a laconic answer: The inter

Perhaps the description of the emotional hardships of interview

views are being transcribed or The analysis has just

research is becoming outdated; with many qualitative research milieus

started. This working phase is characterized by sobriety

and courses and with an abundance of me.thod literature, the novice

and patience.

researcher will have a good starting point for better getting through

The Aggressive Phase of Silence.

A long time has passed

the stages of an interview investigation.


i

since the interviews were completed and still no results are

presented. A colleague w ho now inquires about the project


w ould run the risk of being met with distinct annoyance:

The Seven Stages of Interview Research

the researcher bristles and more or less clearly signals its


none of your business. As for the researcher, this m id pro

In this section I outline ways of designing an interview investigation

ject crisis is characterized by exceeded time limits, chaos,

that may assist the interviewer through the hardships of the research

and stress.

process and help to contribute to retaining the initial vision and

The Final Phase of Exhaustion.

By now the interview

project has become so overwhelming that there is hardly


any time or energy left for reporting the originally inter
esting findings. One version of this phase is that nothing
is reported the many hundred pages of transcribed in
terviews remain in the files. In a lecture version, the
researcher conjures up some entertaining quotations in
lectures, but the final report remains postponed. In a
com mon save what can possibly be saved term ination,
the interviews appear as isolated quotations w ithout m eth
odological and conceptual analyses. In cases where a more
systematic final report does appear, the researcher may
feel resigned because he has not succeeded in passing on to
the readers in a methodological justifiable way the original
richness of the interview stories.

engagement throughout the investigation. As a first step toward

i
I
I

invalidating the description of the emotional hardships, seven stages


of an interview investigation are outlined.
Box 5.2 shows the course of an interview investigation through
seven stages, from the original ideas to the final report. In order to
provide some structure to an open and flexible interview study, I will
emphasize a linear progression through the seven method stages for
an interview inquiry. In contrast, the interactive nature of qualitative

research comes through quite well in Strauss and C orbins (1990)


presentation of the procedures and techniques of the grounded theory
approach, which is less formal than the present focus on seven stages

of an interview investigation. Strauss and Corbin depict a continual


interplay among conceptualization, field studies, analyses, and new
contacts with the field, which is downplayed in the present simplified
linear presentation that attempts to structure the often chaotic field

ji

of interview studies.
The emotional dynamics of an interview study can now be related

to the seven stages outlined here. The antipositivist enthusiasm domi-

The depicted emotional phases of an interview project need not be

nates the usually quickly bypassed thematizing and designing stages.

an exclusively Danish phenom enon, nor are they unavoidable. The

The engaged interview quoting covers the interviewing stage. The

'
I

i
>

88

Interviews

Designing an Interview Study

89

w orking and the aggressive quiet phases accompany the transcription


and, in particular, the analyzing stage. The verifying stage is often

Box 5.2

skipped, and exhaustion comes to dominate the reporting stage. The


root of these ordeals is in the quick bypassing of the stages of thema

Seven Stages of an interview Investigation

tizing and designing, which are particularly im portant in a method as


open as an interview inquiry.

1. Thematizing.

Formulate the purpose of an investiga

tion and describe the concept of the topic to be investigated


before the interviews start. The why and what o f the
investigation should be clarified before the question of

how m ethod is posed (Chapter 5).


2. Designing.

the interviewing starts. Designing the study is undertaken


with regard to obtaining the intended knowledge (Chapter
5) and taking into account the moral implications o f the

6).

3. Interviewing.

purpose is to give an overview of an entire interview investigation, to


outline the interactions among the stages, and to trace the intercon
nectedness of the practical issues of method and the philosophical

Plan the design of the study, taking into

consideration all seven stages of the investigation, before

study (Chapter

The treatment of an interview investigation in a single book entails


rather brief treatments of each of the seven method stages. M y main

conceptions o f knowledge and truth.


Some books with more extensive treatments of the stages of quali
tative investigation arc depicted in Box 5.3. Them atizing is bound to
specific subject areas and is not covered by any general book; several
of the chapters in Denzin and Lincolns (1994) handbook, however,
do treat general conceptions of the subject matter of interviews. For

Conduct the interviews based on an in

designing qualitative research, interviewing, analyzing, and reporting

terview guide and with a reflective approach to the kno w l

there now is a rich method literature. Little literature is available on

edge sought and the interpersonal relation of the interview


situation (Chapters 7 & 8).

verification, however, and the ethics and transcription of interview

4. Transcribing.

Prepare

the

interview

material

research are barely treated.

for

analysis, which commonly includes a transcription from


oral speech to written text (Chapter 9).

5. Analyzing.

Interviews A b o u t Grades

Decide, on the basis of the purpose and

topic of the investigation, and on the nature of the inter


view material, which methods of analysis are appropriate

extent based on my own interview study o f grading in Danish high

for the interviews (Chapters 10, 11, 8c

schools; examples from this investigation are used throughout this

6. Verifying.

12 ).

Ascertain the generali/ability, reliability,

and validity of the interview findings. Reliability refers to


how consistent the results are, and validity means whether
an interview study investigates what is intended to be
investigated (Chapter 13).

The slightly exaggerated emotional hardship phases are to some

book. The overview presented below illustrates the seven stages o f an


interview investigation. [Lhereafter

1 will return to more general

outlines o f the thematizing and designing stages.

I.

Thematizing. Thematizing refers to a conceptual clarification

Communicate the findings of the study and

and a theoretical analysis of the theme investigated, and the form ula

the methods applied in a form that lives up to scientific

tion of research questions. The grade study, which took place in 1978,

criteria, takes the ethical aspects of the investigation into

was instigated by a public debate about the effects of grading in

consideration, and that results in a readable product (C hap


ter 14).

connection with a new policy of restricted admission to college based

7. Reporting.

on grade point averages from high school (Kvale, 1980). A hypothesis

Interviews

90

Designing an Interview Study

Box 5.3

Literature on Q ualitativ e Research

91

Box 5.3 Continued


4. Transcribing
M is h le r, E. G . (1 9 91 ). R epresenting discourse: The rhetoric o f transcrip
tio n . ]oumal of Narrative and l ife History, I, 255-280.

1. Them atizing

5. Analyzing

D e n z in , N . K ., & L in c o ln , Y . S. (Eds.). (1 9 9 4 ). Handbook of qualitative

M ile s , M . B., & H u b e rm a n , A . M . (1 9 94 ). Qualitative data analysis: An

research. T h o u s a n d O a k s, C A : Sage.

expanded sourcebook. T housan d O aks, C A : Sage.

2. Designing

S ilv erm an , D . (19 93 ). Interpreting qualitative data. T h o usa n d O a k s, C A :


Sage.

Research Design

Tesch, R. (1 990). Qualitative research: Analysis types and software tools.

G lesne, C , & Peshkin, A . (1 9 92 ). Becoming qualitative researchers. W h ite


P lains, N Y : L o n g m a n .
M a rs h a ll, C ., & R ossm an, G . B. (1 9 9 5 ). Designing qualitative research.
T h o u s a n d O a k s, C A : Sage.
M a y k u t, P., &

M o re h o use , R . (19 94 ). Beginning qualitative research.

L o n d o n : Falm er.
M o rse , J. M . , & Field, P. A . (1 9 95 ). Qualitative research methods for

professionals. T h o usa n d O a k s, C A : Sage.

Ethics
Kisncr, E. W ., & P eshkin, A . (Eds.)- (1 9 9 0 ). Qualitative inquiry in educa

tion. N e w Y o rk : Teachers C ollege Press, (see the chapters by L in c o ln ,


by S m ith , & by Soltis)

Guidelines for the protection of human subjects. (1 9 9 2 ). Berkeley: U n iv er


sity o f C a lifo rn ia Press.
K im m e l, A. |. ( 19 88). Ethics and values ill applied social si ience research.
N e w b u ry Park, C A : Sage.
M a th is o n , S., Ross, E. W & C o rn e tt, J. W . (1 9 9 3 ). A casebook for teach

L o n d o n : Falmer.
W o lc o tt, H . F. (19 94 ). Transforming qualitative data. T h o usa n d O aks, C A :
Sage.

6 . Verifying
Eisner, E. W ., & Peshkin, A. (Eds.). (19 90 ). Qualitative inquiry in educa

tion. N e w Y o rk : Teachers C ollege Press (see the chapters on gener


a lizatio n by D o n m o y e r and by Schofield).
K irk , J ., & M ille r, M . L. (1 986). Reliability and validity in qualitative

research. N e w bury Park, C A : Sage.


Kvale, S. (Ed.). (19 89 ). Issues o f validity in qualitative research. L u n d ,
Sweden: Studentliteratur.

7. Reporting
A m erican Psychological A ssociation. ( 19 89). Publication manual (3rd ed.).
W a s h in g to n , D C : A uthor.
R ich a rd so n , 1.. (19 90 ). Writing strategies. N e w bury Park, C A : Sage.

ing about ethical issues in qualitative research. U n p u b lish e d m a n u

V a n M a a n e n , ]. (1 988). Tales of the field. C hicago: C hica go University


Press.

script. (A vailable from : A m erican E d u c a tio n a l Research A ssociation,

W o lc o tt, 11. F. (19 90 ). Writing up qualitative research. N e w b u ry P ark, C A :

Q u a lita tiv e Research S IC , W a s h in g to n , D .C .)

Sage.

3. Interviewing
R u b in , H . J., & R u b in , 1. S. (1 9 95 ). Qualitative interviewing. T h o u sa n d
O a k s, C A : Sage.
S eidm an , I. E. (1 9 91 ). Interviewing as qualitative research. N e w York:
Teachers C ollege Press.
S pradley, J. (1 9 79 ). The ethnographic interview. N e w Y o rk : H o lt, R in e h a rt
& W in s to n .
Y o w , V . R . (1 9 94 ). Recording oral history. T h o u s a n d O a k s, C A : Sage.

hypothesis stated that the prevalence of the grading perspective would


increase with a restricted admission to college based on grade point
averages.
T hough hardly new, the hypotheses which were based on com
m on sense as well as on research literature on grading in other
countries were contested in the public debate in Denmark. I had

of a grade perspective was formulated: G rading influences the process

been involved in a newspaper debate with the Danish minister of

of learning and the social situation where learning occurs. A second

education, who maintained that there would be hardly any educa

Intervi ews

92

Designing an Interview Study

93

tional or social impact from a restricted university admission based on

The actual course of the investigation was less neat than that

grade point averages. The purpose of the interviews was to test the

schematized here. The transcription and analysis of the 36 interviews,

two hypotheses, which also included an exploration of the main

which were conducted in January, took far more time than planned.

dimensions of the effects of grading on the pupils. A third hypothesis

The preliminary results were not ready to be reported back to the

postulated an instrumentalization of learning through grading: Learn

pupils and teachers, as promised before the interviews, until June. By

ing for grades in school socializes pupils to work for wages in occu

then most of the pupils were too busy with their final exams to be

pational life.

interested in discussing research about the effects o f grades.

2.

Design. Because the influence of grades was a controversial topic

when the interview study was begun, special care was therefore taken

Interviews and Questionnaires. Two psychology students later used


the interviews as a basis for constructing a questionnaire on grades

to have a methodologically well-controlled design. As one way of

(H volbul & Kristensen, 1983). They included statements from the

investigating the influence of grades, 30 high school pupils were

interviews in their questionnaire and asked new groups o f pupils for

interviewed about their experiences with grades. This number was a

their degree o f agreement or disagreement with these statements. The

compromise between obtaining a representative sample and the re

questionnaire consisted of more than 150 questions and was adm in

sources available for the study. In order to counteract possible special

istered to more than

circumstances at a single high school, pupils from three schools were

country. The purpose was to obtain representative and generalizable

200 pupils from six high schools across the

interviewed. They came from one class at each school and were se

findings. The results were analyzed by computer programs, which had

lected by their alphabetical name order. Six teachers were also inter

been prepared in advance.

viewed, to gain an alternative perspective on the effects o f grading.

The two students were so confident of how quickly the analysis

To counteract special interviewer bias, the 30 pupils were distributed

would be done that they had submitted a presentation to a Nordic

among four interviewers, three student assistants and myself.

educational conference to take place in Finland 2 weeks after the last

The remaining five stages of the grade study are treated in more
detail in the following chapters and only outlined briefly here.

questionnaire was scheduled to arrive. They actually managed to have


the major findings from the questionnaires ready for presentation at
the conference, with statistical computations of correlations and sig

Stage .3: Interviewing. A detailed guide was used for the individual

nificances in neatly arranged tables and figures. A corresponding

interviews, each o f which lasted about 45 minutes and was taped.

predictability and speed of analyzing and reporting for a qualitative

Stage 4: Transcribing. All 36 interviews w ith pupils and teachers

interview study w ould have been out of the question. W ith the

were transcribed verbatim, resulting in about 1,000 pages o f transcripts.

Stage 5: Analyzing. The 30 pupil interviews were categorized with


respect to different forms o f grading behavior. The interviews w ith the
pupils and the teachers were also subjected to more extensive qualitative
interpretations.

standardized structures and techniques for questionnaire construction


and quantitative analysis, the likelihood of delays and of getting lost
is less than with the little structured interview studies.
O ne of the statements included in the questionnaire was an asser

Stage 6: Verifying. Reliability and validity checks were attempted

tion about a connection between talkativeness and grades from an

throughout the project, including interviewer and scorer reliability, and

interview passage quoted earlier (Chapter 1, Conversation as Re

validity o f interpretations.

search). The statement, depicted in Table 5.1, was split into two items

Stage 7: Reporting. The project resulted in a book, Spillet om karakterer

in the questionnaire. The percentage of agreement am ong the 239

i gymnasiet (The G rading G am e in H igh School) (Kvale, 1980). The

pupils on the two items i$ indicated in Table 5.1. It turned out that a

thematic and m ethodic aspects o f the study were also treated in sub
sequent articles in professional journals.

majority of the pupils agreed with the first part of the statement that
grades are an expression of how much one talks, whereas a majority

94

Interviews

T A B L E 5.1

From Interview Statements to Questionnaire Items

Interview Statement

Designing an Interview Study

95

what: obtaining a preknowledge o f the subject matter to be investigated

why: clarifying the purpose o f the study

how: acquiring a know ledge o f different techniques o f interview ing


and analyzing, and deciding which to apply to obtain the intended

P upil:

G rades are often unjust, because very o fte n very ofte n they are o n ly a

m easure o f h o w m uch you talk, and h o w m u c h you agree w ith the teachers o p in io n .

knowledge

Method originally meant the way to the goal. In order to find or to

Percentage of 23 9 Pupils

show someone else the way to a goal, one needs to know what the
Strongly
Questionnaire Items

Agree

Strongly
Agree

Disagree

Disagree

20

62

15

20

57

19

Consultations on interview projects sometimes take the form of an


explorative counter-interview. The counselor first needs to explore,

G rad es are often an expression o f h o w


m u c h o n e follow s the teachers o p in io n

the content and the purpose of the study in order to make reflected
decisions on which methods to use at the different stages o f the study.

G rades are often an expression o f h o w


m u c h o n e talks in class

goal is. W hen designing an interview project, it is necessary to know

by carefully questioning the investigator, what the research topic and


basic questions of the interview study are before the specific questions
asked about methods can be addressed. There is a standard reply to

disagreed with the second part that grades are often an expression
of how much one goes along with the teachers opinion.
The example points out strengths and weaknesses in the two
methods. The interview brought out interesting beliefs about which

the questions of design of qualitative interviews the answer depends


on the thematic content and the purpose of the investigation. The
thematic questions of what and why have to be answered before
the how questions of design can be posed meaningfully.

behaviors lead to good grades, whereas the questionnaire made it


possible to test how prevalent these beliefs were among a large number
of pupils. I he questionnaire did not follow up on the pupils state
ments, but an interviewer could closely question the strength o f a
pupils belief and might also obtain concrete examples supporting the
claims (see the context of this statement in Chapter 1, Conversation
as Research).
In retrospect, the interview study o f grades w-ould probably have
yielded more valuable knowledge with fewer but longer, more inten
sive interviews. The questionnaire developed on the basis of the
interviews could be used to test the generality of the interview findings
and the smaller number of qualitative interviews could have been
subjected to more penetrating interpretations.

T heniatizing

CONTENT
Interview studies today often start without a theory of the themes
investigated, and also w ithout a review of the research literature in
the area. One definition of science is the systematic production of new
knowledge (Chapter 4, The Scientific Status of the Interview). W ith
out any presentation of the existing knowledge about the topic of an
investigation, it is difficult for both researcher and reader to ascertain
whether the knowledge obtained by the interviews is new, and thus
what the scientific contribution of the study is. The theoretical naivete
com m on in the many applied interview projects is not necessarily
confined to qualitative research. The contributions of Freud and later
psychotherapists testify to the potentials of theorizing on the basis of
qualitative interviews.
A significant part of any interview project should take place before
the tape recorder is turned on for the first actual interview. This

The key questions for planning an interview investigation concern


the what, why, and how of the interview:

involves developing a conceptual and theoretical understanding of the


phenom ena to be investigated, to establish the base to which new

96

Interviews

Designing an Interview Study

97

knowledge will be added and integrated. The thematic understanding

pupils, and the questions w ould attempt to elaborate and differentiate

of the topic of the study the what will further influence the
how of the study: the many decisions on method that must be made.

the meaning o f these experiences and help the pupil to express his

Knowledge o f a phenomenon is required to be able to pose significant

w ould be directed toward the pu pils interpersonal emotional dynam

questions, whether they are on the essence of beauty, truth, and

ics and family situation. Relevant questions m ight address whether the

goodness in a Socratic dialogue, the tactics o f a master chess player,

teasing in school related to similar episodes in the family and to sibling

or trends in-rock music tn a teenage interview.

rivalry. From a Skinnerian approach, the im portant inform ation

feelings about them. From a Freudian perspective, the questions

Familiarity with the content o f an investigation is not obtained only

w ould concern the contingencies reinforcing the teasing behavior; that'

through literature and theoretical studies. Just hanging out in the

is, what happens after the teasing occurs. The reactions of others to a

environment where the interviews are to be conducted w ill give an

behavior are essential reinforcers of social learning, and the question

introduction to the local language, the daily routines, and the power

ing w ould focus on what responses the teaser gets from the other

structures, and so provide a sense of what the interviewees will be

pupils and the teacher; in short, W hat are the immediate consequences

talking about. Particularly for anthropological studies, a familiarity

of the teasing behavior?


Different kinds of interview questions are required to obtain the

with the foreign culture is required for posing questions:

kinds of inform ation necessary to interpret the meaning of teasing


O ne o f the reasons for do ing field trips is that you are presented with

with respect to the different theories. The three approaches, simplified

how abstract is the most concrete o f your concepts and questions when

here, w ould focus on present experiences and feelings, on family his

you are at hom e in the library. W h en 1 first went to Brazil I made my

tory and em otional dynamics, and on future behavioral consequences,

way 2,0 00 miles into north central Brazil and 1 arrived in a small tow n.

respectively. These theoretical approaches highlight different aspects

I heard that there were Indians w ho actually were in tow n. A nd I can


remember an incredible sense o f excitement. I rushed out and walked
around tow n until I fo und this group o f Indians and walked straight up
to them and then I didnt know what to say. I wanted to ask: Have you
got moiety systems? (a special kind of kinship relations). A nd it d id n t

of the meaning o f teasing. If they are not introduced until the analysis
stage, after the interviews have been conducted, the relevant inform a
tion for the theoretical interpretations may be lacking.

make sense to do that. In fact it to ok four m onths to find a way to ask a


question with which I could discover from people whether they did have
moiety systems. (Lave 6c Kvale, 1995, p. 221; slightly abbreviated)

The influence that theoretical conceptions of the content have upon


method choices may be exemplified by an imagined interview w ith a
pupil about the meaning of teasing. Different theories will lead to dif
ferent emphasis on such phenomena as feelings, experiences, behavior
--as well as on the temporal dimensions of past, present, and future.
Say a school psychologist is interviewing a pupil who the teacher
complains is continually teasing the other pupils and thereby dis
turbing the class. The interview might be conducted from a Rogerian
client-centered approach, a Freudian psychoanalytic approach, and a
Skinnerian behavior modification approach, respectively.
From a Rogerian perspective, the important questions w ould con
cern what the pupil experiences and feels when he is teasing the other

IHJRPOSF.

T hcm atizing an interview study also involves clarifying the purpose


o f the study the why. Some com m on purposes of interview studies
w ill be discussed here. Im plications o f different purposes w ill be
addressed by the concrete decisions of design.
Interviews can be explorative and hypothesis testing: An explora

tory interview is open and has little structure. The interviewer in this
case introduces an issue, an area to be charted, or a problem complex
to be uncovered, such as in the interview on the experience of learning
reported by G iorgi. The interviewer follows up on the subjects
answers and seeks new inform ation about and new angles on the topic.
Interviews that test hypotheses tend to be more structured. This can
take the form of a comparison o f interviews from different groups,
for example, by testing a hypothesis that boys w ill express more

98

Interviews

Designing an interview Study

99

com petition about grades than will girls. W hen investigating group

sequent stages of interviewing transcribing, analyzing, verifying, and

differences, it is best to standardize the Wording and sequence of

reporting are treated in detail in later chapters. In this section, I call

questions in order to compare the groups. The testing o f hypotheses

attention to the temporal dimension of an entire interview inquiry

may also occur within a single interview, with the interview questions

from the first thematizing of the study topic to the final reporting. I

designed to test hypotheses about, for example, the structural simi

also discuss some of the overall aspects of the design, such as interview

larities o f learning for grades and of working for money.

types, number of interview subjects, and resources available for the

The main purpose of an interview can be either empirical or


theoretical. An investigation can be designed to gather empirical

study, as well as projects for which interviews are not particularly


suitable.

inform ation about, say, the effects of grading. O r an investigation


m ight also be designed to test the implications o f a theory or, as in the
grounded theory approach developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967),
to develop an empirically grounded theory through observations and
interviews.

n I E TEMPORAL DIMENSION
The temporal dimension of an interview design should be kept in
m ind from the first thematizing to the final reporting, taking into

There are more specific uses. Interviews are often applied in case
studies. The purpose may be to develop knowledge about one specific

account the interdependence of the seven stages. The final report

person or institution or to use the case to illustrate more general

verifying tasks should be pushed forward to earlier stages. The im pli

phenomena. Interviews can also serve as an auxiliary method in

cations of a researcher becoming wiser during the interviewing should

conjunction with other methods. In studies of participant observation

also be considered.

should be envisaged from the start, and much of the analyzing and

and in ethnographic studies, less or more inform al interviews arc


im portant sources of inform ation. Through the construction of ques

Overview. A key factor is to develop a view over the entire inves

tionnaires, pilot interviews can be used to chart the main aspects of a

tigation before the interviews start. W hen using the more standardized

topic and to test questions for the questionnaire. In postexperimcntal

methods, such as experiments, questionnaires, and tests, the very

interviews, subjects are questioned on how they understood the ex

structure o f the instruments requires advance decisions about the way

perimental design. Interviews may also be used as background material

in which the study will be conducted. M ethodological alternatives are

for other studies. In order to write a theoretical analysis o f grading,

in this case already built into the instruments, for instance by the

one might interview pupils and teachers about grades, listen to the

response alternatives of questionnaires and by computer programs for

taped interviews, and then theorize. Here the interviews are not

statistical analysis and presentation of the numerical findings. In open

subjected to methodical analysis, but serve instead as background

and unstandardized interview studies, however, the choices of method

material for the theoretical work and to provide illustrations o f the


phenomena discussed.

can tend to make their first appearances throughout the investigation,


often when it is too late to make decisions appropriate to the content
and purpose of the study.

Designing

Interdependence. There are strong interconnections among the choices


o f m ethod made at the different stages. A decision at one stage has

After the first stage of thematizing an interview investigation

consequences that both open and limit the alternatives available at the

clarifying its content and purpose the second stage, designing, con

next stage. For example, generalizing the findings of an interview

sists of overall planning and preparing the methodical procedures for

study to larger groups will require that certain criteria regarding size

obtaining the intended knowledge. Procedures o f design in the sub

and representativity of the sample of subjects already be met at the

100

1n t e r V i c w s

Designing an Interview Study

101

design stage. If o n e w ere t o m ake a lin guistic analysis o f interv iew s

d u rin g th e study m ay well c re a te p r o b l e m s for th e interview er. N o vel

this w o u ld no t be p o ssible, o r w ou ld re q uire a tim e - c o n s u m i n g re t r a n

d im e n s io n s o f a p h e n o m e n o n m ay be d is co v e r e d in the m id dle o f a

sc r ip tio n if the in terview s had be en ed ited in t o n o rm a l Englis h by the

ser ie s o f interv ie w s test in g, f o r e x a m p l e , d if f e r e n c e s a m o n g pu pils

t r a n s fo r m a ti o n fro m o ral t o Written language.

le a r n in g m o t iv a ti o n s in a p u blic vers us an e x p e r i m e n t a l s c h o o l . T h e

V ">

d il e m m a will t h e n b e w h e t h e r t o i m p r o v e the in te rv ie w g uid e to

Keep the Endpoint in Sight. F r o m the start o f the investig atio n keep

in c lu d e in the n e w d im e n s io n s , and n o t have c o m p a r a b l e g ro u p s , or

the e n d p o in t in view . W h a t is the studys pu rpose and h o w is the final

to refra in f ro m learn in g m o r e a b o u t the n e w d im e n s io n s u n c o v e re d

p r o d u c t en vis aged? W ill a pu blica tion result fro m the study? A sh or t

d u rin g th e study. N o easy s o lu tio n t o the d il e m m a o f b e c o m i n g wiser

a rticle? A b o o k ? F o r a scien tific fo ru m o r for a g eneral a u d ie n c e ? T h e

as a t h r e a t t o st an d ard ize d c o n d it i o n s is o f f e r e d , e x c e p t t o b e as clear

an s w ers t o su ch q u e stio n s can serve as g uid elin es t h r o u g h o u t the stages

as p o ssible a b o u t the m a in p u rpose s o f a study f ro m its i n c e p tio n .

o f the res ea rch p r o je c t, assisting the in fo r m e d d ecis ion s m a de t h r o u g h


o u t the in vestig atio n and k eep in g it on track to w a rd the g oal. T h e
n a tu re o f the final re p o r t is decisive for d ecis ions at earlier stages on

IN T E R V IE W F O R M S

such issues as: In fo rm in g the in terview ees a b o u t late r use o f w h a t they

T h e r e are m a n y d if f e r e n t f o rm s o f i n terv iew s and in te rv ie w s u b

sa y; o b t a in i n g w ritten p e rm issio n t o q u o te exten siv ely f r o m thei r

jects, r e q u i r i n g d if f e re n t a p p r o a c h e s , and a few will be m e n t i o n e d

in terview s; and han d lin g any co n trov e rsia l and c o n flictu a l t h e m e s that

b rie fly . In dividu al interv ie w s vary a c c o r d in g t o c o n t e n t , su ch as s e e k

m ig h t arise in the interv iew s. H o w p e rson al and critica l c a n the

ing factu al i n f o r m a t i o n , o r o p in i o n s and a ttitu d es, o r nar ra tiv es and

i n te rp r e ta tio n s o f the interview ees be in a p u blic rep ort?

life h is to rie s (see F lick et al., 1 9 9 1 ) . T h e i n t erv iew ees c a n also be


re g a r d e d as in f o r m a n t s for r e c o r d in g or a l histo ry (Y o w , 1 9 9 4 ) . G r o u p

Push Forward. A ttem p t to do m uch o f the w o r k o f the la te r stages

i n t e rv ie w s to d a y are o f t e n r e f e rr e d t o as f o c u s g ro u p s and are f r e

at e arlier stages. A lth ou gh the p ro b le m s o f an interview p r o j e c t tend

q u e n t l y used in m a r k e t res ea rch . T h e in t e r a c t i o n a m o n g th e in terv iew

t o su rface in the late r stages, m o re o ften than n o t they o r ig i n a te d in

s u b je c t s o f t e n lea ds t o s p o n t a n e o u s and e m o t i o n a l st a t e m e n t s a b o u t

the ea rlier stages. T h e so lu tio n is to im prove the qu ality o f the orig inal

t he t o p i c b e in g dis cussed. T h e g ro u p i n t e r a c t i o n , h o w e v e r , red uce s

interv iew s. T h u s , clarifyin g the m eaning s o f e x p r e ss io n s used during

t h e in t e r v i e w e r s c o n t r o l o f the in te rv ie w s itu a tio n and the p rice may

an in terv iew will faci litate later analysis; asking c o n t r o l qu e stio n s

b e a rela tively c h a o t ic d a ta c o ll e c t i o n , w ith d if fic u lties f o r s y s te m a tic

during the in terv iew will facilitate the validation. Im p ro v in g interview

a naly sis o f th e i n t e rm in g lin g v o ice s (see M o r g a n , 1 9 8 8 ) . D i f f e r e n t

q u ality is n o t sim ply a qu estion o f better interview t e c h n i q u e s or

g r o u p s o f su b je c t s re q u ire d if f e re n t in te rv iew a p p r o a c h e s . In ter v iew s

d esign; it also inv olv es a re flectiv e c o n c e p t i o n o f the to p i c an d pu rpose

w i th elites thu s involv e p r o b l e m s o f a ccess t o the in t e rv ie w e e s, and

o f the inq uiry fro m the very be ginning.

g e n e r a lly r e q u ire th a t the in t e rv ie w e r has a g o o d grasp o f the in terv iew


t o p i c in o r d e r t o e n te r ta i n an i n f o r m e d c o n v e r s a t io n (see H e r t z &

Getting Wiser. An in terview er may learn t h r o u g h o u t an investig a

Im ber, 1995).

tio n : T h e co n v e r s a t io n s w ith the su bjects may e x te n d and a lter the


r e s e a r c h e r s u n d er sta n d in g o f the p h e n o m e n a inves tigated . T h e in t e r
v iew ees b r in g forth n e w and u n e x p e c te d aspects o f the p h e n o m e n a

H O W M A N Y IN T E R V IE W S U B JE C T S D O 1 N E E D ?

s tu d ied ; a nd during analysis o f the t ranscribed interview s n e w d is tin c

T o th e c o m m o n q u e s t i o n , H o w m an y in te rv ie w s u b je cts d o I

t io n s m ay be d is covered. O n e o f the m ain p u rp oses o f an e x p l o r a t o r y

n e e d ? the a n s w e r is sim p ly, In ter v iew as m any s u b jects as ne cessary

study is the disco ver y o f n e w d im en s io n s o f the s u b ject m a tt e r. In

t o find o u t w h a t you n e e d t o k n o w .

h y po th e sis -testin g studies, h o w ev er, real izing sig nifica nt n e w insights

102

Interviews

T h e n u m b e r o f s u b jects n e cessa r y d e p en d s o n a stu d y s p u rp o s e . In


qu alitativ e in te rv iew st udies, the n u m b e r o f s u b jects te n d s t o b e eith e r

Designing an Interview Study

103

re s e a r c h e r s w h o do no t w o r k hard en o u g h t o find the spe cific r e i n


f o r c e m e n t sch ed ules co n t ro llin g the b e h a v io r inves tigated .

t o o small o r t o o large. If the n u m b e r o f su b je c t s is t o o sm all, it is n o t

T a k i n g in t o a c c o u n t the d ifferen c es a m o n g the p io n e e rin g studies

possible to m a k e statistical g e n e r a liz a t io n s o r to test h y p o t h e s e s o f

m e n t i o n e d a b o v e , tw o rea s on s for ob t a in in g sig nifica nt k n o w le d g e

d iffe ren c es a m o n g gro ups. If the n u m b e r o f su bjects is t o o larg e, then

f r o m a few su bjects, w h ic h has later b e en fou n d ge n eraliza b le to larger

it is n o t po ssible to m a k e p e n e tr a ti n g in t e r p r e ta t i o n s o f the in terview s.

g ro u p s , m ay b e suggested. Q u a n tita tiv ely , each case c o n t a in e d an

If the g o al is to p re d ict th e o u t c o m e o f a n a t io n a l e l e c t i o n , a r e p r e
sen tative s am p le o f a b o u t

1,000

su bjects is n o rm a lly r e q u i r e d , so

i m m e n s e n u m b e r o f ob serv a tio n s o f single ind ividuals. Q u alitativ e ly ,


t h e focu s o n single cases m a de it possible to investigate in d etail the

qu alitativ e inte rv iew s w o u ld be o u t o f the q u e st io n . If the p u rp o s e is

r e la t io n s h ip o f a specific b e h a v io r t o its c o n t e x t , to w o r k o u t th e logic

t o u n d e rsta n d the w o rld as e x p e r i e n c e d by o n e s p e cific p e r s o n , this

o f th e re la t io n s h ip b e tw een the individual and the situ a tio n . T h e

o n e s u b ject is su fficient.

s p e c if i c k ind o f re lationship varied fro m t ra n s fe r e n c e o f a p s y c h o a n a

If the p u rp o s e is t o test h y p o t h e se s a b o u t the d if f e r e n t a ttitu d e s o f

ly tic th e r a p y t o the r e i n fo r c e m e n t sch e d ules o f le arn in g. W h a t they

boys and girls t o w a rd c o m p e t i t i o n for g ra d es, th e n e cessa r y sam ple

ha v e in c o m m o n is the w o rk in g o u t o f c o n siste n t and re c u rr e n t

may be as sm all as thre e b o y s and th re e girls fo r c o n d u c t i n g a Fish er

p a t te r n s th ro u g h intens ive case studies.

test o f sig n if ica n ce . D e p e n d in g o n the d is trib u tio n o f the fin din gs, a
test o f statis tically s ig n ifica n t d if f e re n c e s b e tw e e n the t w o g ro u p s can
be m a de at a p ro b a b ility level o f

R E S O U R C E S A V A IL A B L E

p < . 0 5 (Siegel, 1 9 5 6 ) . If , h o w e v e r ,

the p u rp ose o f th e stud y is to e x p l o r e and d escrib e in detail the

Time and Money. T h e a m o u n t o f res ou rces ne cessary f o r an i n t e r

attitud es o f bo y s and girls t o w a r d gra des, n e w interv ie w s m ig h t be

view stud y can be easily o v e r l o o k e d at the design sta g e ; th a t is w hen

c o n d u c t e d until a p o in t o f s a t u r a tio n , w h e r e fu rt h e r i n te rv iew s yield

o n e sh ou ld ask such q u estion s as: H o w m uch tim e d o c s the res e a rch er

little n e w k n o w le d g e . In c u rre n t interview st udies, the n u m b e r o f

have a vaila ble for the study? H o w m uch m o n e y is available for

interview s te n d t o be a r o u n d 15 + 1 0 . T h i s n u m b e r m a y be d ue t o a

a ss is ta n ce for e x a m p l e , for typing the interview tra n scrip ts? C o n

c o m b in a t io n o f the tim e and r es o u rces available for the investig atio n

d u ctin g the interv iew s them selves is g enerally n o t t im e - c o n s u m i n g ;

and o f the law o f d im in ish in g re turns.


A c o m m o n critiq u e o f in te rv ie w stud ies is t h a t the fin din gs are no t
g enera liz ab le be ca u se t h e r e are t o o few su bjects. A p a r a d o x ic a l a n

t r a n s c r i b i n g th e m re quire s m uch m o re tim e and is th e r e fo r e exp e n siv e.


T h e s u b s e q u e n t analysis o f th e transcripts is usually the m o s t tim ec o n s u m i n g p a rt o f the interview study.

sw er, fro m the histo ry o f p s y ch o lo g y , is t h a t if the aim o f a study is to


o b ta in g eneral k n o w le d g e , t h e n fo cu s o n a few inten siv e case studies.

Quality Versus Quantity. A g eneral im pressio n fro m c u r r e n t in t e r

T h e c o n t r i b u ti o n o f F r e u d s case stud ies to the g ene ra l k n o w le d g e o f

view st udies is that m any o f them w o u ld have p ro fited f r o m hav ing

p a th o lo g y and p erson a lity is o n e in s tan ce. Less a t t e n t io n has b e en

fe w e r interview s in the study, and from takin g m o r e tim e t o p re p a re

given to th e fact th at a p i o n e e r study o f a natu ral sc ie n c e psy ch o lo g y ,

th e interv iew s and to analyze them . P erhap s as a d efen sive o v e r r c a c -

E b b in g h a u ss e x p e rim e n ta l- s t a tis t ic a l investig a tio n o f l e a rn in g and r e

t io n , s o m e q u a litativ e interv iew st udies ap p ea r to be d esig ned o n a

m e m b e rin g n o nsense sy llables, w as a case study with a single s u b je c t

q u a n t ita t iv e pre su p p o sitio n the m o r e in terview s, th e m o r e scientific.

himself. P iag ets inn ova tive studies o f c h i l d r e n s c o g n itiv e d e v e lo p

In c o n t r a s t , the p re sent a p p r o a ch e m phasiz es the qu ality ra th e r than

m ent o r ig in a te d w ith psy ch o an aly tically inspired interv iew s w ith his

t he q u a n t ity o f the interviews.

ow n ch ild ren . T h e rad ical b e h a v io r is t S k i n n e r ( 1 9 6 1 ) a rg u ed in A


C ase H is to ry in S c ie n tific M e t h o d against the f r e q u e n t use o f large

Expertise. G o o d in terview s req u ire e x p e rtis e in bo th su bject m a t

gro ups and statistics in p sy ch o lo g y : Statistic al avera g es are e x c u s e s for

ter and h u m a n in teractio n . If assistants are to be hired t o c o n d u c t s o m e

104

In terv iew s

Dcsifitiin k an Interview Study

105

o f the interview s, inten siv e training o f these n e w " in t e rv ie w e rs m ay

k ind s o f s t r o n g e m o t i o n a l d yn am ics m erely to serve res ea rch purp oses

be re q u ire d t o o b ta in in terview s o f g o o d quality. S p e c ific f o rm s o f

w o u ld be u n eth ica l.

analysis, say, o f the lin guistic asp ects o f the interview s, also r e q u ire a

O n e p u rp o s e o f the pre sen t b o o k is to lead s o m e read e rs

away fro m

specia l c o m p e t e n c e .

using r e s e a rc h in terv ie w s, by p o in tin g o u t th a t o t h e r m e th o d s m ay be

W H E N N O T T O I N T E R V IE W

T h i s b e in g said, it sh o u ld n o t be f o r g o tt e n t h a t inte rv iew s are p a rt ic u

m o r e a p p r o p r i a t e for the s u b je c t m a tt e r a nd p u rp o s e o f th e ir research .


larly su ite d f o r stud y ing p e o p l e s u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f the m ea n in g s in
In re c e n t social research th e r e has be e n an i n f la tio n a ry use o f

th e i r lived w o r l d , d escrib in g th e ir e x p e r i e n c e s a nd s e lf-u n d ers tan d in g ,

in terv iew s; a lso in are as b e tte r c o v ere d by o t h e r m e th o d s. In so m e

a n d cla rify in g and e l a b o ra t in g th e ir o w n p er sp ectiv e o n th e ir lived

in sta n ces, the prim a ry m otiv e for using qu al itativ e interview s a ppea rs

w orld.

! t o be a flight f r o m statistics. W h e n p lanning an in terv iew study, it may


be useful t o co n sid er w h e t h e r o t h e r m e th o d s might be m o r e a p p r o p r i
ate for the to p i c and the p u rp ose o f the investig atio n. M a r s h a ll and

F r o m M e t h o d to C r a f t s m a n s h i p

R o s s m a n ( 1 9 9 5 ) o f f e r a clear discuss ion o f d ifferen t m e th o d s o f d oing


qu alitativ e re s earch for d iffe re n t pu rposes and topics.

C h a p t e r 4 , o n q u alita tiv e re s e a rch , c o n c l u d e d w ith an o u t li n e o f

H e r e , it m ay be p e r tin e n t to m e n t io n so m e topics and p u rp o s e s to

the d il e m m a o f th e r a p e u t i c re s e a rch as ca u g h t in a n a r r o w strait

w hich qu alitativ e in terview s are little suited. If a study seek s t o p redict

b e t w e e n t h e . m o n s t e r s o f a n o - m e t h o d C h a r y b d i s and an a l l- m e th o d

the b e h a v io r o f larger gro ups, such as vo ting b e h a v io r , la rg er sa m ples

Scylla. T h e p re se n t gu id eli n es f o r designing an in te rv ie w investig atio n

o f r e s p o n d e n ts are ne cessary th a n w ou ld be possible t o c o v e r with

m ay a p p e a r t o ste e r an in terv iew in q u iry in t o the d a n g e ro u s vici nity

tim e - c o n s u m i n g qu alitativ e inte rview s; in su ch cases, su rvey q u e s t i o n

o f an a l l- m e th o d m o n s t e r . T h e s y s te m a tic p la n n in g m ay, in v o k in g the

nair es with p re c o d e d a nsw ers are the rele va n t m eth o d . A lso, w hen

i n t r o d u c t o r y m e ta p h o r s , r e m in d o n e m o r e o f an in t e rv ie w e r as a

there is little tim e available fo r a p r o je c t, q u e st io n n a ire s will usually

m in i n g e n g i n e e r th a n as a c o n v e r s i n g tr aveler.

b e faster t o ad m inister, analyze, and re p o r t than interview studies.


If you w ant t o study p e o p l e s b e h a v io r and their i n t e r a c t i o n with

In o r d e r t o d ev elo p the qu alit ativ e in te rv ie w as a fo rm o f res ea rch


it is ne cessa ry t o g o b e y o n d th e d ic h o t o m y o f all m e t h o d vers us n o

their e n v ir o n m e n t, the o b ser v a tio n s o f field studies will usually give

m e t h o d . I will discuss a cr a f t s m a n l i k e a p p r o a c h t h a t by passes this

m o r e valid k n o w led g e than m ere ly asking su bjects a b o u t th e i r b e h a v

o p p o s i t i o n o f rigid f o rm a lis m o r naive s p o n t a n e it y . C r a ft s m a n s h i p

ior. If the research to p i c c o n c e r n s m o re im plicit m e an in g s and tacit

h e r e in clu d es a shift f ro m m e t h o d t o the p e r s o n o f the re s e a rc h e r,

u n dersta nd ing s, like the tak e n - fo r- g ra n t e d a ssum ptio ns o f a g ro u p or

re l a t i n g sc ie n c e t o art , a skill m o d e l o f tra n s itio n f ro m n o v ice to

a cu ltu r e , then particip an t ob serv a tio n and field st udies o f actual

e x p e r t , and the lea rn in g o f r e s e a rc h t h ro u g h a p p r e n t ic e s h ip .

b e h a v i o r s u p p lem e n ted by in fo r m a l interviews m ay give m o r e valid


in f o rm a t io n .
If the p u rp ose o f a study is to ob tain d eeper k n o w le d g e a b o u t a

In te r v ie w in g is a cra f t : It d o e s n o t f o llo w c o n t e n t - a nd c o n t e x t - f r e e
ru le s o f m e t h o d , bu t rests o n the ju d g m e n ts o f a qu a lif ie d res e a rch er.

1o r

the t h e r a p e u t i c as well as the resea rch in te rv ie w , the in terv iew er

p e r so n , f ocu sing o n person al em o t io n a l co n flicts, th en this m ay best

is th e i n s tr u m e n t . T h e o u t c o m e o f an in te rv ie w d e p e n d s o n the

be o b t a in e d t h ro u g h the trust develo ped in the clo s e , pe r so n a l in t e r

k n o w le d g e , se nsitiv ity, a nd e m p a t h y o f the i n te rv iew er. Its re la tio n to

a c t i o n d ev elo p ed t hro u g h a lon g and e m o t io n a l th erap y p ro cess. T h e

th e su rv ey q u e s t i o n n a i r e and th era p y ca n again b e m e n t i o n e d : B ecau se

c h a lle n g e s t o a p e r s o n s estab lished self-im age and the st ro n g feelings

t h e r e are e x p l i c i t a nd s ta n d a rd ru le s f o r a d m in is t e rin g q u e s t io n n a ire s ,

p r o v o k e d are ne cessary parts o f thera py , as in the session r e p o r t e d by

n e w in t e rv ie w e rs can be fully train ed in a m a tt e r o f h o u r s o r days. In

R o g e r s ( C h a p t e r 2 , A T h e r a p e u t i c In te rview on H a t e ) . C r e a t i n g these

c o n t r a s t , th e qualificatio ns! for c o n d u c t i n g an o p e n p sy ch o a n a ly tic

106

Interviews

in t e rv ie w r e q u ire years o f a c a d e m i c tra in in g a nd o n e s o w h p s y c h o


a n a ly t ic t h e r a p y o v e r severa l years.

Designing an Interview Study

107

T h e n o v i c e - e x p e r t m od el o f the le arn in g o f skills as d evelo ping


fro m e x p l i c i t rule f ollow in g to intuitive m astery is not the o n ly m od e

W h e n the p e r so n o f the qu a lita tive r e s e a r c h e r ta k e s o n a m e t h o d o

o f a c q u i r i n g skillful b e ha vior. L e a rn in g by m ea n s o f an a p p renticesh ip

lo g ica l d im e n s io n , a b r o a d sp e c tr u m o f q u a l if i c a ti o n s is d esirab le. In

is usually m o r e in f o r m a l and has little verbal r u le -g o v ern e d b e ha vior

a d iscussion o f va lidity in qu alitative re s e a rch , S a l n e r ( 1 9 8 9 ) p ro p o s e s

at e i th e r the n o v ice o r the e x p e r t level. T h e n o v ice particip a tes in

re q u i r e m e n t s for the h u m a n sc i e n c e r e s e a r c h e r su ch as an a c q u a i n

c o m m u n i t i e s o f p ra c tice ; learn s t hro u g h h a n d s -o n p ra c tic e , with

ta n c e w ith p h ilo so p h ic a l analysis, an u n d e r st a n d in g o f th e d e v e lo p

o b s e r v a t i o n and im itatio n o f e x p e r t p e r f o r m a n c e s ; and gradually

m e n t o f ra tion al th o u g h t in W e s t e r n cu ltu r e, a critical p e r sp ectiv e on

a c q u i r e s a m a ste ry o f the craft (Lave & W e n g e r , 1 9 9 1 ) .

so c i e ty , tra in in g in the fo rm al an alysis o f everyday lan g u a g e , e x p e r ti s e

R e la t i o n a l, ta cit, and p rag m a tic asp ects o f pro fession a l k n o w led g e,

in a va riety o f re s e a rch m e th o d s , an a w a ren ess o f the eth ica l d im e n s io n

in c lu d in g r e s e a rc h , can hardly be p resented verbally in the fo rm o f

o f h u m a n sc i e n c e , and an a e s t h e ti c sensibility.

e x p l i c i t rules. A lth eide and J o h n s o n ( 1 9 9 4 ) have addre sse d the im p l i

An e m p h a s is o n th e cru cia l ro le o f the person o f the r e s e a r c h e r d o cs

c a t i o n s o f tacit k no w led g e w hen assessing in terp reta tiv e validity in

n o t im ply a n e g le ct o f t e c h n i q u e s a nd k n o w le d g e . F o r an artist, a

q u a lita tiv e res ea rch . They point to a bias o f c o m m u n ic a t i o n w hen the

m a st e ry o f the d if f e re n t t e c h n i q u e s o f oil pain tin g , w a t e r c o l o r s , and

t a c it k n o w le d g e is t ra n s fo rm e d into the logic o f a m o re sh a rea b le

p e n c il d ra w in g , as well as k n o w le d g e o f the laws o f pe r sp e c t iv e and o f

t e x t u a l c o m m u n i c a t i o n fo rm . Im p o r ta n t asp ects o f the th e r a p e u tic

c o l o r c o n t r a s t , a rc p r e c o n d i ti o n s f o r a m a stery o f the art o f painting.

k n o w le d g e is b e st c o m m u n ic a te d by exe m p la rs , a n e c d o te s , ca se s t o

A w o r k o f art c a n n o t , h o w e v e r , be p ro d u c e d by m e re ly f o llo w in g

ries, n a r rativ es, and m e ta p h o r s and is tested by its im p lica tio n for

m e t h o d ic a l ru les; the prim a ry i n s tr u m e n t rem a in s the artist, w ith his

p r a c ti c e (P o lk i n g h o r n e , 1 9 9 2 ) . Su ch form s o f tr ansm ission o f k n o w l

o r h e r sensitiv ity and cre a tivity . A rt is a g e n r e t h a t c a n ser v e as an

e d g e c o m e c l o s e r to cra ftsm a n sh ip and art th a n t o form al b u re a u c ra t ic

in s p ir a tio n for in te rv ie w in q uiries. E is n e r ( 1 9 9 1 , 1 9 9 3 ) has l o o k e d at

m o d e ls o f research design, and are be st tran s m itte d by p a rticip a tio n

ed u c a t i o n a l pra c tice and re s e a rch fro m the v ie w p o in t o f an art ist. H e

in local f o r m s o f p ractice. T o d a y there is an in creasin g r e c o g n i t io n o f

p o in te d o u t t h a t the c o n n o i s s e u r s sensitivity t o qu alitative d is tin c tio n s

i n d ir e c t a nd c o n t e x t - b o u n d

and the c r i t i c s ability to c o m m u n i c a t e n e w p ersp ectives and t o ev a lu

t h r o u g h su ch pra c tices as ap p ren ticesh ip and m e n t o r in g , n o t o n ly in

ate the qu alit y o f a w o r k o f art are q u a lif ic a tio n s equ ally d esira b le for

the c ra fts, bu t also for the higher p ro fession s, inclu ding scien tific

the ed u catio n al re s e a rc h e r.

r e s e a rch ( K v ale , 199.3a ; M i s h l e r , 1 9 9 0 ) .

D rey fu s and D r e y fu s ( 1 9 8 6 ) have p re sen ted a m o d e l o f skill lea rn in g

fo rm s o f c o m m u n ic a t i n g k n o w led g e

F o r m a l a p p r en ticesh ip in a trade, w h ere stud ents learn in terv iew in g (

w ith a t e m p o ra l s o lu tio n t o a d ic h o t o m y o f lea rn in g e i th e r by ex p l i c i t

t h r o u g h the i n t e r a c t i o n o f resea rch co m m u n it ie s w ith m asters o f the

rules o r by intu itio n. T h e ro a d t o the m a stery o f a skill lea ds f r o m a

c r a f t , are n o t c o m m o n ly available. W h e n the o p ti o n is to be self-

ru le -g uided k n o w in g t h a t to an e x p e r i e n c e - b a s e d k n o w in g h o w .

ta u g h t , a m a nu a l may be b e tter than n o th in g . T h e present b o o k spells

D r a w in g on ex a m p l e s f ro m dri vin g, playing ch ess, m a k i n g m ed ical

o u t gu id eli n es for the p ra c tice o f in terview re s e a rch , p ro vid es cases

d ia g n oses, and nu rs in g, they o u t li n e five q u a litativ ely d if f e r e n t st ag es

and e x a m p l e s o f the m e th o d s discussed, and gives e x a m p l e s o f b r e a k

o f ad ults skill a c q u isitio n t h ro u g h in s tr u ctio n a nd e x p e r i e n c e : n o v ic e ,

ing th e rules w h ich tend to be as n u m e r o u s as the e x c e p t i o n s in

a d va nced b e g i n n e r , c o m p e t e n c e , p ro f ic ie n c y , and e x p e r ti s e . W h a t

G e r m a n g ra m m a r . K n o w led g e o f interview ing is less em b ed d ed in

stands ou t is a p ro g re ss io n f ro m the a na ly tic b e h a v i o r o f a d e ta c h e d

d e te r m i n a t e rules o f m eth o d s than in ex a m p l e s o f the m e th o d in use.

su bject, o f a n o v ice lea rn in g th ro u g h i n s tr u ctio n o f c o n t e x t - f r e e

T h e aim is t o arrive at a tra n s p a ren cy o f the t echn ica l e q u i p m e n t ,

ele m e n ts and c o m b in i n g th e facts by c o n t e x t - f r e e r u le s , t o e m o t i o n

w h e r e the p ro f ic ie n t cra ftsm a n does no t focu s o n the m e th o d s bu t on

ally invo lved intuitiv e skillful b e h a v io r . T h e e x p e r t s e e s o r f e e ls

the task in H e id e g g e r s analysis o f c r a f t w o r k it is n o t the h a m m e r

so lu tio ns by relying o n an intuitiv e k n o w le d g e g e n e r a liz e d fro m

t he c a r p e n t e r focu ses o n , but the nail and the table.

ex ten sive case e x p e rie n c e .

108

Interviews

T h e p re se n t ou tlin e s o f m e th o d ic a l stages anti specific guid elines


are substitutes for le arn in g in prac tice, they are pre lim in ary t o o ls for
the grad ual m astering o f the cra f t o f interview ing . In o r d e r to nav igate
safely t h ro u g h diffic ult w ate rs it is, h o w e v e r, no t s u fficie n t sim ply to
s te e r o n e s vess el; an exten sive k n o w led g e o f the w a te r s and the
c o a s t lin e , t h ro u g h drafts o r person al e x p e r i e n c e , is also ne cessary . In
an in te rv ie w inquiry , a su bsta ntial familiarity w ith the t h e m e and
c o n t e x t o f the inquiry is a p r e c o n d i ti o n for the e x p e r t use o f the

in te rv iew m e th o d . In c o n c l u s io n , m e th o d as rule f o llo w in g is rep la ced


in qu alitative interview re searc h by the r e s e a r c h e r s ex p e r t k no w le d g e
o f the t h e m e to be investigat ed and by m astery o f the t e c h n i q u e s
re q u ire d t h r o u g h o u t a n interv iew inq uiry.
T h e issue o f research as restin g o n rule f o llo w in g versus on qualified
per so n a l ju d g m e n t perta ins n o t o n ly t o the k no w led g e d im e n s io n o f
t he in te rv ie w inquiry , but to its m oral d im e n s io n as w ell. T h i s will be
addressed in C h a p t e r

6 on

et hics in interview re searc h.

Ethical Issues in
Interview Inquiries
An i n t e rv ie w in q u iry is a m o ra l e n te r p ri s e : T h e per so n al i n t e r a c t i o n
in the i n t e rv ie w a f fe c t s the in t e rv ie w e e , and the k n o w le d g e p ro d u c e d
by the i n t e rv ie w a f fe c t s o u r u n d e r st a n d in g o f the h u m a n s it u a t io n . In
C h a p t e r 5 , an in te rv ie w design w as tre a te d w ith reg a r d to a c q u irin g
k n o w le d g e o f the h u m a n situ a tio n . In this c h a p t e r , the m o r a l i m p l i c a
t io n s o f an in terv iew inq uiry will be ad dressed .
E x p l ic it rules o r cl e a r s o l u t io n s t o ethica l p r o b l e m s th a t m ay arise
d u rin g an in terv iew stud y ca n hardly be p ro v id e d , bu t c o n t e x t s will
b e su g gested f o r th e r e s e a r c h e r s r e f l e c t io n o n the n o r m a ti v e a n d value
t h e m e s invo lv ed. F irst, s o m e e thica l issues t h a t m ay arise at the
d if f e r e n t st ag es o f an in te rv ie w p r o j e c t are o u t lin e d and d iscussed in
r e l a t i o n to th e e th ical gu id eli n es o f in f o r m e d c o n s e n t , c o n f id e n t i a l it y ,
a n d c o n s e q u e n c e s . T h e r e a f t e r , the th r e e e t h ic a l t h e o r i e s o f duty,
utility, a nd virt ue are p re sen ted as b r o a d e r c o n t e x t s f o r r e f l e c t io n o n
m o ra l d il e m m a s e n c o u n t e r e d in i n t e rv ie w in q uiries.
A ce n tr a l aim o f so cial sc ie n c e is to co n t r i b u t e k n o w le d g e t o a m e l i o
ra te the h u m a n c o n d it i o n and e n h a n c e h u m a n dignity. T h e p re a m b le
to the A m e r i c a n P s y ch o lo g ica l A s s o c i a t io n s eth ical pri n cip le s states,
P sychologists resp ect th e dignity and w orth o f th e individual and strive
fo r th e preserv ation and p ro tectio n o f fu nd am ental hum an rights. T h ey
are co m m itted to increasing kn ow led ge o f h um an b eh av io r and o f
p e o p le s un derstand in g o f th em selv es and oth ers and to th e utilization
o f such know led ge fo r th e p ro m o tio n o f hum an w elfare. (A m erican
P sychological A sso ciation [APA], 1 9 8 1 , p. 6 3 3 )

10 9

Interviews

R e s e a r c h w ith h u m a n p a rticip a n ts m ust serve s cie n tif ic

Ethical Issues

111

and h u m a n

in terests: T h e d ecis ion t o u n d e r ta k e resea rch rests u p o n a c o n s i d e re d

Box

ju d g m e n t by th e indiv id ual psy ch olo g is t a b o u t h o w best t o c o n t r i b u t e


to psy ch o lo g ical sc ie n c e and hu m a n w e l f a r e (p. 6 3 7 ) .

6. 1

E thical Issues of
the Seven R e s e a rc h Stages

E t h i c a l Issues a t Seven R e s e a rc h Stages


Kthical d e c is io n s d o no t b e lo n g to a Se para te stag e o f in te rv ie w
in v e s tig atio n s , b u t arise t h r o u g h o u t the en tire re s e a rch pro cess . W h e n
et h ic s is discussed he re as a part o f the d esig ning stag e, it is in o r d e r
to em p h a s ize the i m p o r t a n c e o f tak in g ethical q u e s t i o n s in t o c o n s i d

Thematizing.

T h e purp ose o f an interv iew study sh o u ld ,

b e y o n d the scien tific value o f the k no w le d g e so u g h t, also


be c o n s i d e r e d with regard to im p r o v e m e n t o f the hu m an
situ ation investigated.

e r a t i o n f ro m the very start o f an investig atio n t h ro u g h to the final

Designing.

re p o r t .

s u b je c t s i n f o r m e d c o n se n t to pa rticip ate in the study,

B o x 6 .1 gives an o v e rv ie w o f s o m e o f the eth ica l issues t h a t ca n

Ethical issues o f design involve o b t a in i n g the

s e c u rin g co n fid en tiality , and c o n sid e rin g the possible c o n

ari se d u rin g th e seven stages o f an in te rv iew in v es tig a tio n . Issues r e

se q u e n c e s o f the study for the subje ct s.

late d t o the t h e m a tiz in g and des ig ning stages are discu ss ed in this c h a p

Interview Situation.

t e r ; th o se p e r ta in in g t o the later st ag es will be tak en up in f o llo w in g

j e c t s rep orts need s to be cl ari fie d and the c o n s e q u e n c e s o f

c h a p ter s.

the interview i n tera ctio n for the su bjects to be t a k e n into

H e re the c o n f id e n tia lity o f the su b

a c c o u n t , su ch as stress during the interview and ch an g es in


self-im age. Also the potential closeness o f the research inter

E t h ic a l Guidelines

view t o the t h er a p eu tic interv iew sh ou ld be co n sid ered .

Transcription.
E T H IC A L C O D E S

H e re again is the issue o f c o n fid en tia lity ,

as w ell as the q u estion o f w h a t is a loyal w ritten t ra n s c rip


tio n o f an in te rv ie w e e s oral st atem ents.

W i t h a fo r e k n o w l e d g e o f the m o ra l issues th at typic ally arise at the


va rious st ag es o f an in terv iew inves tig atio n , the r e s e a r c h e r c a n m ake
re fle cted c h o i c e s w hile des ig ning a study and w a tc h for c ritica l o r
sensitive issues th a t m ay tu rn up d u rin g the inq uiry . P ro f e s s io n a l
ethical c o d e s for h u m a n resea rch and p h ilo so p h ic a l e th ical th e o r i e s

Analysis.

Eth ic al issues in analysis invo lve the q u estio n o f

h o w d eeply and critica lly the interview s can be an alyzed


and o f w h e t h e r the su bjects sh ould have a say in h o w their
st a t e m e n t s are interprete d .

serve as c o n t e x t s f o r r e f l e c t io n o n the spe cific eth ical d e c is i o n s t o be

Verification.

co nsid ere d .

s e a r c h e r to re p o r t k n o w le d g e th at is as se cured and verified

E th ic a l c o d e s and t h e o rie s se ld o m provide d efin ite a n s w e rs to the

It is the et hical re spon sibility o f the r e

as possible.

no rm a tive c h o i c e s t o be m a de d u rin g a re s e a rch p r o je c t. T h e y are m o r e

Reporting.

like te x ts to be in te rp r e te d th a n rules t o b e f o l l o w e d : T h e y p ro vid e

r e p o rt in g the interview s, as well as the q u estion o f c o n s e

guidelines th a t m u st be judged a c c o r d in g to their r e le v a n c e t o sp e cific

q u e n c e s o f the published re p o r t for the interview ees as well

situations . E x a m p le s and case studies m ay serve as aids for the t ra n s i

as f o r the g ro u p or institution they re p re sent.

tion fro m general prin ciple s t o sp e cific p ra c tices.

H e re again is the issue o f c o n f id e n tia lity w h en

1 12

Interviews

W h e n p re p arin g an o u t lin e o f the resea rch design, it can be useful


also t o d raft a parallel

ethical protocol tre atin g ethica l issues t h a t can

Ethical Issues

o n e m p l o y e e s to p a rticip a te . W i t h s c h o o l c h ild re n , the q u e st io n arises


about

w ho sh o u ld give the c o n s e n t the c h ild re n t h em selv es, the

be a n ticip a ted in an investig a tio n. In so m e settin gs this may be an

s c h o o l s u p e r i n te n d e n t, the s c h o o l b o a r d , the t e a c h e r , o r the parents?

in stitutio nal r e q u i r e m e n t ; thu s, in ad dition to the res ea rch p r o t o c o l


su b m itted t o a m e n t o r or s p o n s o r, a hu m an su bjects p r o t o c o l for an

I n f o r m e d c o n s e n t also involves the q u e st io n o f how much informa


tion should be given and when. Full i n f o r m a t i o n a b o u t design and

et h ics c o m m i t t e e m ay be req u ire d b e fo re the p ro je c t ca n be a ccep ted

p u rp o s e ru le s o u t any d e c e p t io n o f th e su bjects. P rov id in g i n f o r m a t i o n

Guidelines for the Protection o f Human Subjects \Guidelines],

a b o u t a study in vo lv es a carefu l ba la n ce b e tw e e n d eta iled o v e r - i n f o r

1 9 9 2 ) . E ven w h e n n o t a fo rm al r e q u ire m e n t , the ad van ce p re p a ra t io n

m a t i o n and leaving o u t a sp e cts o f the design t h a t m ay be sig nificant

o f an ethical p r o t o c o l will a llo w the investig a tor to c o n s id e r et hical

t o the su bjects. In s o m e in terv iew in v e s tig atio n s , the s p e cific p u rp oses

and m o ra l issues, and to have th e m in m in d during the d esig ning o f

o f a study are initially w ith h eld in o r d e r to o b t a in the in t e r v i e w e e s

the study and w h en m a kin g n o rm a tiv e d ecis ions later in the p r o je c t.

na tu ral vi ew s o n a to p i c and to avoid leadin g t h e m t o s p e cific answ ers.

(see

S o m e o f the qu estio n s to be c o n sid e re d in an ethica l p r o t o c o l for an

In su ch ca se s any m is le ad in g i n f o r m a t i o n s h o u ld be c o r r e c t e d in a

in te rv ie w study w e re d ep ic ted in B o x 6 . 1 .

d e b r i e f in g a f te r the study.

B esides having a p ro je c t acc e p t e d by an eth ics c o m m i t t e e , t h er e is

In the

grading study, th e high s c h o o l pupils w e r e in t e rv ie w e d at

a possibility o f co nd ucting an on going discussion o f its value issues with

s c h o o l . T h e p rin cipa l was fully i n f o r m e d a b o u t the design a n d the

m o r e e x p e r i e n c e d m e m b e r s in the resea rch co m m u n it y . T h e e thica l

p u rp o s e o f investig a tin g the e f fe c ts o f gra des. T h e pupils w e r e told in

skills e m b o d i e d in loca l p ro fession a l c o m m u n it i e s rep rese n t an i m p o r

a d v a n c e o n ly t h a t the interview s c o n c e r n e d the s c h o o l s itu a tio n and

tan t e x t e n s i o n o f the w ritten ethica l princi ple s, rules, and e x a m p l e s .

th a t p a r t i c i p a t io n was v o lu ntary . C o n s e n t w as easily o b t a in e d be cau se

T h r e e ethical guid elines for h u m an resea rch are no w discu ss ed in

the pupils w o u ld be free fro m a s c h o o l h o u r during the interview . T h e

so m e deta il: i n f o r m e d c o n s e n t , c o n fid e n tia lity , and c o n s e q u e n c e s (see,

d e c is i o n t o w i th h o ld the i n f o r m a t i o n a b o u t g rad in g as the m ain

e.g ., E is ner

8c P eshk in , 1 9 9 0 ; K im m e l, 1 9 8 8 ) .

i n t e rv ie w to p i c w as m a de in o r d e r t o investigate h o w p r o m i n e n t a
place g ra d e s had in the pupils ev er yday s c h o o l life. T h u s the first 5
m in u t e s o f th e in te rv ie w co nsisted o f q u e s t i o n s a b o u t the g e nera l

IN F O R M E D C O N S E N T

s c h o o l s it u a t io n , and the earlier the pupils sp o n t a n e o u s l y m e n t i o n e d


In fo r m e d c o n s e n t en ta ils in f o r m in g the research su bjects a b o u t the

g ra d es, the st r o n g e r th e in d ic atio n w as t h a t g ra d es w e r e ce n tr a l in their

overa ll p u rp ose o f the investigatio n and the m ain featu res o f the

s c h o o l life. A fter an in terv iew , ea ch pupil w as d e b ri e f e d a b o u t the

design, as well as o f any po ssible risks and b enefits fro m p a rticip a tio n

in te rv ie w t o p i c and p u rp o s e , w h ic h had a lrea d y b e c o m e eviden t

in the res ea rch p ro je ct. In fo r m e d c o n s e n t further involv es o b t a in i n g

d u rin g th e in te rv ie w itself. W i t h h o l d i n g o f i n f o r m a t i o n w as h e re

the vo lu n ta ry p a rticip a tio n o f the su bject, w ith his o r he r right to

c o n s i d e r e d as n o t g o in g ag ainst the pu p il s in te res ts and was d o n e w ith

w ith d ra w fro m the study at any tim e, thus c o u n t e r a c ti n g p o ten tia l

th e in t e n t i o n o f o b t a in i n g k n o w le d g e as u n c o n t a m i n a t e d by the r e

un du e in flu e n ce and c o e r c i o n (see M o u s ta k a s [ 1 9 9 4 ] and Y o w [ 1 9 9 4 ]

s e a r c h e r s h y p o t h e s e s as possible.

f o r e x a m p l e s o f le tters o f a g r e e m e n t with subje ct s).

M e e t i n g the r e q u i r e m e n t o f full d is clo su re m ay be d if ficu lt to fulfil

O n a prin cipal level the re q u ire m e n ts o f i n f o r m a t i o n for and

w h e n ch a n g e s in p u rp ose and design o c c u r d ue t o n e w k n o w le d g e and

c o n s e n t fro m the research su bjects are so und and re a s o n a b le . T h e

insig h t g ain ed d u rin g a res ea rch p r o je c t. S o m e eth ics review b o a rd s

p rin cip le o f in fo r m e d c o n s e n t is, h o w ev e r, not w ith o u t p r o b l e m s in

may w a n t t o a p p r o v e every in terv iew q u e st io n in a d v a n c e , w h e r e a s

who should give the consent. Issues

th e se m i s t r u c tu r e d in te rv ie w tre a te d h e re relies o n th e po ssibility o f

p ra c tic e su ch as the q u estio n o f

a b o u t c o n s e n t m ay arise w ith interv iew s in institutio ns, w h e r e a

f o l l o w in g up u n a n t ic ip a te d leads f r o m th e s u b jects and o f po sing

su p e r i o r s c o n s e n t to a study m ay imply a m o r e or less su btle pressure

q u e s t i o n s n o t p re p a re d in ad v a n ce . In C a n Q u a lit a tiv e Stu dies Be

1 14

Interviews

Ethical Issues

115

I n f o r m e d ? E is ne r ( 1 9 9 1 ) has p o in te d o u t th a t the c o n c e p t o f in

bu t w ith any i n f o r m a t i o n th at co uld jeop a rd iz e the a n o n y m ity o f the

before the e v e n t to

pu pils re m o v e d . T h e r e was o n e e x c e p ti o n . T h e d ecis ion to publish a

be observed w h a t the even t will be and its po ssible effe cts . T h i s may

b o o k a b o u t the interview s for the general m a rk et was first m a d e during

be possible in carefu lly p la n n ed e x p e r i m e n t a l studies, bu t is hardly

the analysis h a lf a year after the interv iew ing. I then w a n ted t o r e p r o

feasible in field resea rch and e x p l o r a t iv e stud ies, w h e r e an i m p o r t a n t

d uce a s p e cific interv iew in full, because it gave a p a rticu la rly vivid

ta ctic is t o f o llo w up u n a n t ic ip a te d leads: T h u s w e all like the idea

d e sc rip t io n o f the influ en ce o f gra des on the pupils life situ a tio n . In

o f in fo r m e d c o n s e n t , bu t w e a re less sure just w h o is t o p ro v id e th at

this in s ta n ce , the inte rview ee w ou ld be recog niz ed by o t h e rs , a nd I

c o n s e n t , just h o w m u ch c o n s e n t is n e e d e d , and h o w w e can i n f o r m

w r o t e for his perm issio n to r ep ro d u ce his interview. By th e n , h o w ev er,

o t h e rs so as to ob ta in c o n s e n t w h e n w e have such a hard tim e p r e d i c t

he ha d left s ch o o l to travel a ro u n d the w o r l d ; m a n y m o n th s a f te r my

ing w hat we need to g et c o n s e n t a b o u t (E isn er, 1 9 9 1 , p. 2 1 5 ) .

re q u e s t I receiv ed a t ele g r a m from J e r u s a le m with his per m iss io n to

fo rm e d c o n s e n t im plies th at the r e s e a r c h e r k n o w s

L in co ln ( 1 9 9 0 ) has p ro p o s e d r e p la c i n g the c o n c e p t o f i n f o r m e d

publish the interview.

c o n s e n t w ith a d ia log u e th at runs t h r o u g h o u t an in v e s tig a tio n , w ith

T h e p rin cip le o f the research su bjects right to privacy is n o t w i t h

the n e g o ti a t i o n o f research p ro ce ss e s and p ro d u cts w ith o n e s r e s p o n

o u t ethica l and scien tific dilem m as. T h u s the re is c o n c e r n a b o u t w h a t

den ts, so that there is a m utual sh a p in g o f the final research results

in f o r m a t i o n sh ould be available, and to w h o m . S h o u ld , for e x a m p l e ,

(p. 2 8 6 ) . S u ch a c o n tin u a l d ia log u e a p p r o a c h t o i n f o r m e d c o n s e n t

interv iew s with ch ild ren be available to their pare nts and t e a ch e r s? In

pre su p p oses ideals o f eg a lit a ria n is m a nd a m u tu a lity o f in terests o f

stud ies w h e r e several parties are involv ed , such as in terview s with

r e s e a r c h e r and r es ea rch ed th at m ay be hard to find in m a n y actual

m a rrie d o r div o rced co u p le s and in or g a n iz atio n s, it sh ou ld be m ade

so cial settings. T h u s in s o m e institutio ns th e r e m ay be radically

clea r b e f o r e the in terview ing w h o will late r have access t o the m ate ria l.

o p p o s in g c o n c e p t i o n s o f the p h e n o m e n a investig ate d , a nd with so m e

P ro t e c t in g c o n fid en tia lity can involve serio us legal p ro b le m s, such

intere sts vested in u p h o ld in g sp e cific c o n c e p t i o n s o f the institu tio n al

as in case s w hen a re s e a rc h e r t hro u g h the p ro m ise o f c o n f id e n t ia lit y

reality. T h e d ia log u e a p p r o a c h also in vo lv es a r a tio n a lism th a t hardly

and th e trust o f the rela tio n s h ip has o b ta in e d k n o w led g e o f m is tr e a t

pe r ta in s to t h e r a p e u t ic situ a tio n s , w h e r e the p a t i e n t s re s is tan ce to the

m e n t , m a lp r a ctice , ch ild abu se, the use o f drugs, or o t h e r c rim ina l b e

t h e r a p is t s i n t e rp r e ta t io n s is a m a in aspe ct o f the t h e r a p e u t i c p ro ce ss ,

h a v io r e ith er by the interview ee or oth e rs. T h e r e a rc instan ces w h e r e

and m ay req u ire years t o o v e r c o m e .

r e s e a rch st udies have c o m e to co n t a in i n f o r m a t i o n th at w as s u b p o e


n aed in legal pro ceed in g s, and there exist s cases w h e r e res ea rch ers

C O N FIDEN TIA LITY

have g o n e to jail rather than reveal in f o r m a t i o n dis clo se d by their su b


ject s. If there is any pre k n ow led g e that a research to p ic m ig h t b e c o m e

C o n f id e n tia lit y in re s earch im plies th a t private d a ta id e n tif y in g the

invo lv ed in a legal c o n f li c t , it is possible in th e U nited Sta tes t o o b t a in

su bjects will n o t be re p o rte d . If a study in vo lv es pu blishin g i n f o r m a

a ce r ti f ic a t e o f c o n fid en tia lity fro m the federal g o v e r n m e n t , w h ich

tion poten tia lly re c o g n iz a b le t o o t h e r s , the s u b jects ne ed t o ag re e to

p r o t e c ts re s ea rch ers against be in g co m p e lle d t o disclo se the identity

the release o f id en tifiable i n f o r m a t i o n . In su ch cases this sh o u ld be

o f th e ir su bjects in any legal p ro ce e d in g (see

Guidelines, 1 9 9 2 , p.

6).

st at ed ex p licitly in a w ritt e n a g r e e m e n t . T h e p r o t e c t i o n o f s u b je c t s

A c o n f l i c t exist s b e tw e e n the et hical d em an d for co n f id e n t ia lit y and

privacy by c h a n g in g their n am es and iden tify in g fe atu res is an i m p o r

the basic p rin ciple s o f scie n tific res ea rch , such as in tersubjective

t a n t issue in the re p o rtin g o f interview s.

c o n t r o l a nd the po ssibility o f rep rod u cin g the findings by o t h e r

grading study, the pupils and t e a c h e r s i n terv iew ed w ere

scien tists . As exp ress e d by Sm ith ( 1 9 9 0 ) : H o w ca n res ea rch results be

g u a ra n tee d th a t their interview s w o u ld be tre a te d co n f id e n t i a l ly . In

c h e c k e d by o t h e r res earch e rs if n o o n e k no w s w h o pa rticipa ted in a

the b o o k a b o u t the stud y, m any q u o t e s fro m the interv iew s w ere given,

st ud y , and w h e re and when it t o o k place?

In the

Interviews

CO N SEQ U EN CES

Ethical Issues

I he b r o a d e r c o n s e q u e n c e s o f in terv iew re s e a rch involv e po litic al

T h e ethica l p rin cip le o f

beneficence m e a n s th at the risk o f h a r m to

ju d g m e n t s a b o u t th e d esira b le uses o f th e a c q u i re d k n o w le d g e . As

a s u b ject sh ou ld be the least po ssible. T h e sum o f p o ten tia l b e n e f its to

m e n t i o n e d at the b e g in n in g o f this c h a p te r , the A m e rica n P s y c h o l o g i

a s u b je c t a n d the i m p o r t a n c e o f th e k n o w le d g e gained sh o u ld o u t

cal A s s o c i a t io n s e thica l g u id elin es st ate t h a t o n e aim o f p sy ch o lo g ica l

w eigh th e risk o f ha rm t o the su bject and thu s w arran t a d e cis io n to


c a r r y o u t th e study

(Guidelines, 1 9 9 2 , p. 1 5 ).

r e s e a rch is c o n t r i b u t i o n to h u m a n w e l fa re , w h ich lea ds t o politic al


issu es o f w h a t are h u m a n w e l fa r e a n d a ju st s o c i e ty . M a r k e t stu d ie s o f

T h e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f an in terview study need to be ad dressed with

c o n s u m e r e x p e r i e n c e are u n d e r ta k e n w ith the p u rp o s e o f p re d ictin g

re s p e ct to possible harm to the su bjects as well as the e x p e c te d benefits

a n d m a n i p u l a t i n g c o n s u m e r b e h a v i o r in th e in te re s t o f in cr eased

o f p a rticip a tin g in the study. T h i s involves a r e s e a r c h e r s responsibility

p r o f it s fo r p r o d u c e rs ( C h a p t e r 4 , Q u a lit a tiv e M a r k e t R e s e a r c h ) . O n e

t o re f le c t o n the possible co n s e q u e n c e s n o t on ly for the p erson s taking

a im o f f e m in is t r e s e a r c h is t o o v e r c o m e th e o p p r e s s i o n o f w o m e n

p a rt in the study, bu t for the larg er g ro u p they rep resen t, as well.

t h r o u g h giving prio rity t o the m oral and p o lit ic o v e r the s cie n tif ic

Id eally there sh ould be a rec ip r o city in w ha t the su bjects give and

( C h a p t e r 4 , F e m in is m a n d Q u a l i t a ti v e R e s e a r c h ) . T h e i m m e d ia t e

w h a t they rec eiv e fro m p a rticip a tio n in a study. In in te rv ie w rep orts

aim o f p s y c h o t h e ra p y is t o o v e r c o m e the p a t i e n t s su ffe rin g , and

there are so m e t im e s a c c o u n ts by aston ished re s e a rch e rs th at their

H a b e r m a s , in his d is cussion o f the i n t e r l o c k i n g o f k n o w le d g e a nd

s u b je c t s have e x p e r i e n c e d the interview s as po sitive e x p e r i e n c e s . Just

h u m a n in teres ts , posite d p sy ch o a n a ly tica l th e r a p y as a p arad ig m

liste ning t o w h a t peo p le have to say for an e x t e n d e d perio d o f time,

o f a cri tica l e m a n c i p a t o r y so cial s c i e n c e ( C h a p t e r 3 , H e r m e n e u t i c a l

as well as the qu ality o f the liste ning, can m a k e an interv iew a unique

I n te r p r e t a t io n ) .

e x p e r i e n c e . T h e inte rview r es ea rch er thus can o f f e r b e n e f its t o the


su bjects t h ro u g h their particip atio n in the investigat ion. T h e in te r

TI IF. ROLE O F T H E RESEARCHER

viewer sh ou ld also be aw are that the op e n n e ss and intim a cy o f the


in te rv iew may be seductive and lead su bjects to disclose i n f o r m a t i o n

M o r a l res e arch b e h a v i o r is m o r e than ethical k n o w le d g e a nd c o g

th e y m ay later regret. T h e pe r so n a l closeness o f the interview situa tion

n itive c h o i c e s ; it i n vo lv es th e p e r so n o f th e r e s e a r c h e r , h is o r h e r

puts stro n g d em an d s o n the sensitivity o f the in terview e r reg arding

sen sitiv ity a nd c o m m i t m e n t t o m o ra l issues and a c t i o n : C l e a rly ,

h o w far t o g o in his o r he r qu estion in g .

r e s e a r c h e r s n e e d b o t h ca se s and prin cip le s f ro m w h ic h t o le arn m o r e

At the them atiz ing stage o f t h egrade

study, the general p u rp o s e was

a b o u t e thica l b e h a v i o r . M o r e th a n this, they n e e d t w o a t tr ib u t e s : the

f o rm u la t e d as the d o c u m e n ta t i o n o f the effe c ts o f gradin g o n le arn in g

sen sitiv ity t o ide n tify an eth ica l issue a n d t h e r e s p o n sib ility t o feel

and so cial rela tio n s in s ch o o l. T h e s e e ffec ts w ere ass um ed to be in

c o m m i t t e d to a c t i n g a p p r o p r i a t e l y in regard t o su ch issu es (E isn er

c o n t r a s t t o the ce n tr a l values o f the o ffic ia l D an ish high sch oo l

P e s h k i n , 1 9 9 0 , p. 2 4 4 ) .

&c

c u rric u lu m , such as p ro m o t in g i n d e p e n d e n c e , c o o p e r a t i o n , a n d c r e a

T h e p e r so n o f the r e s e a r c h e r is critical for the qu ality o f the

tivity and an intrinsic intere st in lifelon g le arn in g. It w as h y po thesized

s c i e n t i f i c k n o w le d g e a n d f o r the s o u n d n e s s o f e t h i c a l d e c is i o n s in any

t h a t a new ly i n tro d u ce d g rad e -b a sed re s tric tio n o n en ter in g a u n iv er

r e s e a rc h p r o je c t. By in terv iew in g , the i m p o r t a n c e o f th e r e s e a r c h e r as

sity w ou ld p r o m o t e d e p e n d e n c e , c o m p e t i t i o n , c o n f o r m i t y , and n e g a

a p e r s o n is m a g n ifie d b e ca u se the in t e rv ie w e r h i m - o r h e r s e l f is the

tive attitu d e s to w a rd learn in g . At the tim e , 1 be lie ve d th at th e in vesti

m ain i n s tr u m e n t f o r o b t a in i n g k n o w le d g e . B e in g fa m ilia r w ith value

gatio n w o u ld serve the interests o f the pupils by d o c u m e n ti n g the

issues, e t h ic a l g u id e lin e s, an d eth ica l t h e o r i e s m a y h e lp in c h o i c e s t h a t

e f f e c t s o f g rad in g in c o n t r a s t w ith the o ffic ia l cu rricu lu m , a n d th a t this

w eig h ethical vers us sc i e n ti f i c c o n c e r n s in a study. In the e n d , h o w e v e r ,

co u ld result in instigating in stitutio nal ch a n g es that w ould im prove

th e in teg rity o f t h e r e s e a r c h e r his o r h e r h o n e s ty a n d fa ir ness,

th e i r lea rn in g a n d so cial c o n d it i o n s at s ch o o l.

k n o w le d g e , a nd e x p e r i e n c e a r e the decisive facto rs.

118

In tc rV ie w s

Ethical Issues

119

*
T h r e e et hica l aspects o f the r e s e a r c h e r s; ro le c o n c e r n s cie n tific
re sponsibility , rela tion to the s u b jects, a nd r e s e a r c h e r i n d e p e n d e n c e .
T h e re s ea rch er has a

Box 6.2

scientific responsibility to his p ro f e s s io n a n d his

su bjects th a t a resea rch p r o je c t yield k n o w le d g e w o r t h k n o w in g and

E th ic al Q u e stio n s a t the

that it is as c o n t r o l l e d and verified as possible. R e s e a r c h e r s tak e o n

S tart o f an In terview Study

d iffere n t roles in

relation to their subjects. G l e s n c and P csh k in ( 1 9 9 2 )

have d c p i it e d s o m e ro le s (lint qu a lita tive re s e a rc h e rs easily a ss u m e:


e x p l o it e r , r e f o r m e r , a d v o c a t e , a nd Iriend. T h e y g o o n to discuss

W h a t are the

beneficial co n s e q u e n c e s o f the study?

ethica l issues in the d iffe re n t ro le s, su ch as w h e t h e r a r e s e a r c h e r in an


a d voca tive ro le sh o u ld publish in f o r m a t i o n th at m a y pu t his o r he r
su bjects in a negative light.
The

independence o f research c a n be c o - o p t e d f ro m a b o v e as well

H o w ca n the study co n t r i b u te to e n h a n c in g the h u m a n


c o n d it i o n ?
W i ll p o ten tial c o n t rib u tio n s be prim arily for the p artici

as b e l o w , by the fu n d ers o f a p r o j e c t as well as by its p a rticip a n ts,

p ating su bjects? O r for their g ro up? O r will the c o n t r i

l ies to eith er g ro up m ay lead the r e s e a r c h e r t o i g n o re s o m e fin dings

b u t io n be in the form o f g eneral k n o w le d g e o f the hum an

and em pha siz e o t h e r s t o th e d e tr im e n t o f as full a nd u n b ia sed an

s ituation?

investig atio n o f the p h e n o m e n a as po ssible. In te r v ie w in g is i n te ra ctiv e


r e s e a rc h ; t h ro u g h clos e i n t e r p e r s o n a l i n t e r a c t i o n s w ith t h e i r s u b jects,
in terview ers may be p articularly p ro n e to c o - o p t a t i o n by th e m . I n t e r
view ers m ay so closely iden tify w ith th e ir su bjects t h a t they d o n o t
m ain ta in a p ro fessio n a l d is tan ce, bu t inste ad r e p o r t a nd in te rp r e t

H o w ca n the

informed consent o f the p a rticip atin g

s u b jects be o b ta in e d ?
S h o u ld in f o r m e d co n s e n t be agreed on orally o r sh ou ld
th e r e be a w ritte n c o n tra ct?

ev er y th in g f ro m their su b je c t s pe rspe ctives. T h e r e is a ri sk th at

W h o sh ou ld give the c o n s e n t the su bjects o r thei r

in terview ers c a n in p sy c h o a n a ly t ic t e r m in o l o g y b e c o m e victim s o f

su p e riors?

u n reco g n iz ed c o u n t e r t r a n s f e r e n c e , o r to use an a n t h r o p o l o g i c a l

H o w m uch i n f o r m a t i o n a b o u t the study needs to be given

e x p r e s s io n g o n a t i v e .

in a d v a n ce , and w hat i n f o r m a t i o n ca n w ait until a d e


b r ie fin g a f te r the interviews?

E T H IC A L IS S U E S A T T H E S T A R T O F A S T U D Y

B o x 6 . 2 d epic ts s o m e o f th e eth ica l q u e s t i o n s to c o n s i d e r w h en


beg in n in g an in terv iew study. T h e s e q u e stio n s su m m a riz e th e a b o v e

H o w can in fo r m e d c o n s e n t be h a n dled in e x p l o r a t o r y
st udies w h e r e the investigators them selves will have little
a d v a n ce k n o w led g e o f h o w the in terview s will p ro c e e d ?

confidentiality o f th e interview su bjects be

discu ss ion o f the t h e m a tiz in g and d esig ning stages, a n d o u t li n e s o m e

H o w ca n the

o f the issues t o be raised in the f o llo w in g ch a p te r s a b o u t the late r

p ro t e c te d ?

stages. T h e r e are n o easy a n s w e rs t o the se q u e s t i o n s ; the eth ica l

H o w im p o r t a n t is it that the su bjects re m a in a n o n y m o u s?

guid elines give so m e p rin cipa l d ir e c tio n s , and p a rticip a tin g in re s e a rch
c o m m u n it i e s will pro vide a d d itio n al c o n c r e t e b a c k g r o u n d k n o w le d g e

W h o will have access to the interview s?

for m a k in g ethical d ecis ions. T h e o r i e s o f e thics p ro vid e b r o a d e r

H o w ca n the iden tity o f the su bjects be disguised?

c o n t e x t s for r e flectin g o n the m o r a l issues o f r e s e a rc h , and s o m e key

C a n legal p ro b le m s co n c e r n i n g p r o t e c ti o n o f the s u b je c t s

th eo ries are n o w discussed.

a n o n y m i ty be e x p e c te d ?
(continued)

120

Interviews

Box 6.2 Continued


W hat are the consequences of the study for the partici
pating subjects?

Lithical Issues

121

I he split between factual knowledge and ethical values is being


questioned today; for example, by Habermass outline of the inter
locking of hum an interests and scientific knowledge (Chapter 3,
Hermeneutical Interpretation) as well as within feminist research
(Chapter 4, Feminism and Qualitative Research). W ith a loss of faith

W ill any potential harm to the subjects be outweighed by

in the Enlightenment belief in emancipation through knowledge, and

potential benefits?

hum an progress through the advance of scientific knowledge, the ends

W ill the interviews touch on therapeutic issues, and if so,

and means o f scientific research are being closely questioned in the

what precautions can be taken?

postmodern era, where the moral side of research becomes as im por

W hen publishing the study, what consequences can be


anticipated for the subjects and for the groups they
represent?

tant as the scientific side.


Theories o f ethics provide frames of reference for thinking about
specific moral issues in research. They contain more comprehensive
contexts for considering ethical choices than the specific guidelines

H ow will the researchers role affect the study?

outlined above. There are three major philosophical ethical positions:

H ow can the researcher ensure the scientific quality of

a duty ethics of principles, a utilitarian ethics o f consequences, and a

the study and protect the independence of the research?

virtue ethics of skills (see, e.g., Eisner 8c leshkin, 1990; Kiinmel,

H ow can the researcher avoid or counteract being co


opted from above by his sponsors?
H ow can the researcher avoid or counteract overidenti
fication with his subjects, thereby losing critical perspec
tive on the knowledge obtained?

1988).
The duty ethics of principles, also termed a deontological and an
intentional position, judges an action independently of its conse
quences. M oral actions are those that live up to principles, such as
honesty, justice, and respect for the person. An ethics of duty is
expressed by Kants maxims: Treat every man as an end in himself,
and never as a means only and Act as if the m axim of thy act were
to become by thy will a universal law of nature. These general ethical

Ethical Theories

principles may be specified as ethical rules for different types of


research. Carried to its extreme, the intentional position can become

From a historical perspective, scientific knowledge has been intrin


sically related to human values and interests. The sciences that are

a moral absolutism, with intentions of living up to absolute principles


o f right action, regardless o f the hum an consequences of an act.

today termed social sciences, in earlier centuries went under the

The utilitarian position, also termed a teleological position, em pha

name moral sciences. W ith the rise of modern social science, a split

sizes the consequences of an action an action is judged pragmatically

developed between facts and values, between the descriptive and the

by its effects. In the final analysis it is the results o f an action that

normative, between what is and what should be. I bis dichotom y was

determine its rightness. The end purpose might be the greatest good

prominent in positivist philosophy, with its sharp distinction between

for the greatest number; what is good might be determined to be an

an objective scientific and a subjective human side of research. The

increase in happiness, wealth, or knowledge. In an extreme version of

moral aspects of research, belonging to the value side of the dichot

a utilitarian consequence position, the ends come to justify the means.

omy, became secondary and were left to the ethical codes o f the
profession and the integrity of the researcher.

The contrasting practical implications of a duty and a utilitarian


theory may be highlighted by an extreme example:

t
122

Ethical Issues

Interviews

123

Patient over telephone to therapist: I am going o ut now to juiyip into

contextual-virtue position would be based on the researchers practi

l ake Sortedamssoen and d ro w n myself.

cal ethical skills and reasoning and, in cases of doubt, on a dialogue

Therapist replies: G o and ju m p in the lake then!

with others in the relevant communities.

Patient, a few days later: Forwards a co m plaint against the therapist

A contextual-ethical position has been argued by Dreyfus and

to the Ethical C om m ittee o f the Danish Psychological Association for


encouraging h im to co m m it suicide and thus not respecting his dignity

Dreyfus (1990) in a phenomenological account of the development of

as a h um an being.

ethical expertise. The authors describe their five-step ladder of learn


ing, from novice to expert (Chapter 5, From M ethod to Craftsman

The therapist appears here to have acted spontaneously from a u tili

ship), and postulate that with increasing expertise, explicit rules and

tarian position o f survival, and used a paradoxical therapeutic tech

reasoning disappear into the background of skill or habit. M oral

nique when answering the patient on the phone. The patient, who

consciousness expresses itself in everyday life through unreflective

apparently has profited from the therapists pragmatic intervention,

responses to interpersonal situations, and Dreyfus and Dreyfus suggest

adopts a duty position of the principle of absolute respect for his

that we begin our investigation of ethical experience on the level of

person, which he complains that his therapist has violated.

this spontaneous coping. The highest form of ethical comportment

19

1.1

Is

consists of being able to stay involved and to refine ones intuitions.

Both a consequential ethics of utility and an intentional ethics of


duty raise questions of whether there are universal ethical principles,

Ethical choices need not remain on the level of individual spontaneous

or whether they would depend on the values o f specific communities.

choices; in cases of disagreement, the wise decision maker will enter

A third position, departing from Aristotles concepts of virtue and

into a dialogue with those who have reached different conclusions.

practical reasoning, involves a contextual ethical position. Ethical

W ith in a virtue conception of ethics, L0vlie (1993) has attempted

behavior is seen less as the application of general principles and rules,

to overcome an opposition of explicit rules versus tacit skills by the

than as the researcher internalizing moral values. The personal integ

introduction of examples. These may be in the form of parables, alle

rity of the researcher, the interaction with the com m unity studied, and

gories, myths, sagas, morality plays, case stories, and personal exam

the relation to their ethical values is essential. The emphasis is on the

ples. As riddles subject to contextual interpretation, the examples are

researchers ethical intuitions, feelings, and skills as well as on nego

pieces of texts to be interpreted: The application of moral knowledge

tiations between actors in a specific community. The learning of

and wisdom then turns out to be governed as much by reflective

ethical research behavior is a matter of being initiated into the mores

judgement as by rule-following and the practising of skills (p. 76).

of the local professional culture. Through practice and interaction

In the next two chapters I turn to knowledge production in the

with more experienced members of the profession, which may be in

interview situation, and will return (Chapter 8, The Ethics of Inter

the form of master-apprentice relationships, the newcomer gradually

viewing) to some of the ethical issues raised here; in particular,

acquires the context sensibility and the wisdom of mature ethical

consequences of the interview interaction for the interviewees and the

behavior.

proxim ity of research interviews to therapeutic interviews.

The duty, the utilitarian, and the virtue philosophies emphasize


different aspects of ethical choices. O n some specific issues they may
lead to different decisions, such as deception o f research subjects. An
intentional duty ethic w ould emphasize honesty as an absolute prin
ciple, and thus reject any deception of research subjects in the interest
of a greater good. A utilitarian-consequence position could justify
P

deception in view of the positive consequences of knowledge and the


betterment of the human situation that the research could entail. A

The Interview Situation

125

An o p e n p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l a p p r o a c h t o lea rn in g fro m the i n t e r


view ee is well e x p r e ss ed in this i n t r o d u c ti o n fro m Sp ra d ley ( 1 9 7 9 ) :
1 w ain to u n derstand the w orld from you r poin t o f view . I w an t to know
w h at you kn ow in th e way you kn ow it. I w ant to u nderstand th e m eaning
o f y ou r ex p e rie n c e , to w alk in yo u r sh oes, to feel things as you feel th em ,
to exp lain th in gs as you exp lain th em . Will you b eco m e my te a ch er and
help m e Understand? (p . 14)

T h e re s e a rch in te rv ie w is an in t e r p e r s o n a l s it u a t io n , a c o n v e r s a t io n
b e t w e e n t w o p a rt n e rs a b o u t a t h e m e o f m utual interest. It is a spe cific
fo rm o f h u m a n in t e r a c t i o n in w h ic h k n o w le d g e evo lv es th r o u g h a

The Interview Situation

d ia lo g u e . T h e in t e r a c t i o n is n e it h e r as a n o n y m o u s and n e u tra l as w h e n
a s u b ject re s p o n d s t o a su rv ey q u e s t i o n n a i r e , n o r as pe r so n a l and

In the interview , k n o w le d g e is c re ated inter the po in ts o f view o f the


in t e rv ie w e r and the in tervie w ee. T h e interv iew s with the su b je c t s are
the m o st en gag ing stage o f an interv iew inquiry. T h e per so n al c o n t a c t
and th e c o n tin u a lly new insights in t o the su b je c t s lived w o rld m a k e
in te rview in g an e x c it in g and e n r i c h i n g e x p e r i e n c e . D if fe r e n t f o rm s o f
in te rv iew co n v e r sa t io n s w ere discussed in C h a p t e r 2 and the m o d e o f
u n d e r st a n d in g in the qu alit ativ e res ea rch interview d escrib ed . In this
c h a p te r I o u t lin e in m o re detail s o m e guid elines and t e c h n i q u e s for
ca rr y in g o u t interv iew s and give an illust ratio n with an in te rv ie w on
grading.

e m o t i o n a l as a t h e r a p e u t i c interview . P atie n ts se ek th er a p is ts for help :


T h e y are m o t iv a te d t o be as o p e n as possible w ith the th e r a p is t, with
w h o m a tru s tin g r e la t io n s h ip is e sta b li sh ed o v er tim e . In a res ea rch
s e ttin g it is up t o th e in t e rv ie w e r t o c re a te in a s h o r t tim e a c o n t a c t
t h a t a llo w s the i n t e r a c t i o n t o g e t b e y o n d m erely a po lite c o n v e r s a t io n
o r e x c h a n g e o f ideas. T h e in t e rv ie w e r m u st est ablish an a t m o s p h e r e
in w h ic h the s u b je c t feels safe e n o u g h t o ta lk freely a b o u t his o r he r
e x p e r i e n c e s a nd feelings. T h i s involv es a d elica te b a l a n c e b e tw e e n
co g n i ti v e k n o w le d g e seek in g and the e t h ic a l a sp e cts o f e m o t io n a l
h u m a n i n t e ra c t io n . T h u s , at the sam e tim e th a t pe r so n a l e x p r e s s io n s
and e m o t i o n s a rc e n c o u r a g e d , the in terv iew er m ust avoid a llo w in g the
in te rv iew to turn into a th e r a p e u t i c s it u a t io n , w h ich he o r sh e m a y no t

T h e In te rv iew C o n v e r s a t i o n

b e a b le to h an dle.
T h e p u rp o s e o f a qu alitativ e resea rch interv iew w as d escrib ed

T h e in t e rv ie w e r has an e m p a th i c a cce ss t o the w o rld o f the i n t e r

e a rlie r as ob t a in in g qu alitativ e d escrip tion s o f the life w o r l d o f the

v i e w e e ; th e i n t e r v i e w e e s lived m ea n in g s m ay be im m e d ia t e ly a c c e s s i

su b je c t w ith res p ect to in t e rp r e ta t io n o f their m ea n in g . T h e in terv iew

ble in the s it u a t io n , c o m m li n ic a t e d n o t on ly by w o rd s, bu t by t o n e o f

f o r m tre a te d he re is a s em istru c tu red interview : It has a s e q u e n c e o f

v o ic e , e x p r e s s io n s , and gestures in th e natu ral flow o f a c o n v e r s a t io n .

t h e m e s t o b e c o v e re d , as well as su gge sted questions. Yet at the sam e

T h e r e s e a rc h i n t e rv i e w e r ubes him - o r h e rse lf as a re s e a rch i n s tr u m e n t ,

tim e t h e r e is an op e n n e ss t o ch a n g es o f s e q u e n c e and f o rm s o f

d r a w in g u p o n an im p licit bo d ily and e m o t io n a l m o d e o f k n o w i n g that

q u e s t i o n s in o r d e r t o f o llo w up the an sw ers given and the s t o r ie s told

a llo w s a p rivileg ed a cce ss t o the s u b je c t s lived w orld .

by th e su bjects. I will discuss the interview in t e r a c t i o n in line w ith the

12 a sp e cts

A r e s e a rc h in terv iew fo llo w s an u n w ritten scrip t, w ith d if f e r e n t

of

ro le s sp e cifie d for the tw o acto rs. T h e im plicit rules o f th e ir in t e r a c t i o n

t he in terv iew : life w o rld , m e a n in g , q u a litativ e, d escriptive, sp e cif icity ,

b e c o m e visible w h e n th e y are b r o k e n , such as in this in te rv ie w

d elib era te na v et , focu s, am big uity , c h a n g e , sen sitivity, in te rp e r so n a l

e x c h a n g e w ith an u n e m p lo y e d m a n a b o u t trav elin g , in w h i c h the

m o d e o f u n d er stan d in g d ep ic te d earlier w ith respect t o

s it u a t io n , and a po sitive e x p e r i e n c e (see B o x

2.1

in C h a p t e r

2 ).

i n t e rv i e w e r is c a u g h t o f f g uard w h e n the s u b ject reverses the ro le s:

126

I n t e r v ie w s

127

The Interview Situation

S u b j e c t : W h e n y o u are o n v a c a t i o n t h er e is sjsme silly tim e f a c t o r , the

s e q u e n c e o f stand a rd q u estion fo rm u la tio n s , to o p e n in terview s w h ere

o n ly th in g you have tim e for is to g o d b w n a nd t h r o w y o u rse lf

s p e cific t h e m e s are in focu s but w ith o u t a p r e d e t e rm in e d se q u e n ce and

o n th e b e a ch . D o you su n b a th e ?

f o r m u l a t i o n o f qu estion s. S o m e ti m e s o n ly a first, t o p ic - in t ro d u c in g

In te r v ie w e r : W h a t ?

qu e s t io n is ask ed and the rem a in d e r o f the interview p ro c e e d s as a

S: D o y o u s u n b a th e ?

f o llo w -u p and e x p a n s i o n on the in te rv ie w e e s answ er t o the first


q u e s t io n s , such as in the in terview on lea rn in g re p o rt e d by G i o r g i . T h e

I: W e l l , n o I d o not.

interv iew s also d iffer in thei r

S: Y o u have a nice c o lo r .
I: I d o n t spend o n e single su m m e r day o n t h at, bu t as a w h o l e I l o o k
tanned. F

openness o f purpose; the i n terv iew er can

e x p la in the pu rpose and pose direct q u e stio n s fro m the st art o r can

u r t h e r m o r e I get very easily t a n n e d , I o n ly n e e d to

p ut o n e fin g er o u t o f the w i n d o w to c a t c h the su n.


S: A lot o f p e o p l e w o u ld envy you that.
I: W e l l , w h e r e d o w e be gin . W h a t are you d o i n g w ith y o u r frien ds?
( B e r g S o r e n s e n , 1 9 8 8 , p. 1 2 4 ) .

a d o p t a r o u n d a b o u t a p p r o a c h , w ith i n d ir ect q u estio n s, a nd reveal the


p u rp ose o n ly w h en the in terview is ov er.
T h e interview s ca n differ further in thei r e m pha sis o n exploration
versus hypothesis testing, as m e n t i o n e d in the discuss ion o f design.
In ter v iew s a lso vary co n c e r n i n g description versus interpretation. T h e
i n t e rv i e w e r m ig h t se ek m ainly t o o b t a in n u a n c e d d escrip tio n s o f the
p h e n o m e n a i n v e s ti g a t e d o r c a n , d u r i n g th e i n t e r v i e w , a l s o a t t e m p t

T h e c o n v e r s a t io n in a re s e a rch interview is n o t th e r e c ip r o c a l

t o clarify and in terp r et the d escrip tion s to g e t h e r w ith the su bject.

intellectual-emotional dimension, f ro m a

i n t e r a c t i o n o f t w o eq u a l p a rtn ers. T h e r e is a d efin ite a s y m m e t r y o f

In te r v ie w s also vary o n an

p o w e r : T h e i n terv iew er d efines the s itu a tio n , i n t r o d u c e s th e to p ics o f

ra tio n a l log ical d is cou rse b e tw e e n i n terv ie w er and s u b je c t a n a ly ti

the c o n v e r s a t io n , and t h ro u g h fu rth e r qu estio n s st eers th e c o u r s e o f

cally clarify in g c o n c e p t i o n s o f the p h e n o m e n a inves tigated , to the

the in terview . T his w as the ca se in the ra th e r o p e n in te rv ie w re p o rt e d

in t e rv ie w e r a t te m p t in g to get s p o n t a n e o u s and e m o t io n a l d escrip tio n s

by G i o r g i ( C h a p te r 2 ) . S o c r a t e s in te rv iew , despite th e co n v e r s a t io n a l

o f , a n d r e a c ti o n s a b o u t , a to p ic. T w o e x t r e m e interv iew s o n the

partn ers b e in g f o rm a lly equ al and the po lite i n t r o d u c t i o n , t o o k the

i n t e l le c tu a l- e m o t i o n a l d im en s io n w ere pre sented ea rlier the d is cur

fo rm o f harsh in t e r r o g a t io n , re len tlessly drivin g A g a th o n a r o u n d in

sive a r g u m e n ta t i o n o f S o c ra t e s and the e m o t io n a l t h e r a p e u t ic in t e r

his c o n t r a d ic t o r y c o n c e p t i o n s o f love and b e a u ty , until A g a th o n

c h a n g e r e p o r t e d by R og e rs.

t h ro w s in th e t o w e l a n d c o n c e d e s t h a t h e k n o w s n o t h i n g o f w h a t he
was t a lk ing a b o u t ( C h a p t e r 2 ).
Advance p r e p a ra t io n is ess ential to the in t e r a c t i o n and o u t c o m e o f

F r a m i n g th e Interview

an interv iew . A su b s ta n tia l p a rt o f the in v es tig a tio n s h o u ld t a k e p la ce


b e fo r e the ta pe r e c o r d e r is t u rn ed o n in the actual in te rv ie w situ atio n .

T h e in terv iew is a stage u p on w h ich k n o w le d g e is c o n stru cte d

what

t h r o u g h th e i n t e r a c t i o n o f in terview er and interview e e roles. S o m e

a cq u irin g a p re k n o w le d g e o f the su b je c t m a tt e r t o be in v es tig a ted ;

d ir e c ti o n s a re suggested h e re for settin g the interv iew stag e so the

why fo rm u la tin g a clea r p u rp o s e for the i n t e rv ie w ; and how be in g

in t e rv ie w e e s will be en co u rag ed to put w ord s to th e ir p o in ts o f view

fa milia r w ith d iffe ren t in terv ie w t e c h n i q u e s and d e cid in g w h i c h to

o n th e ir lives a n d w orlds. T h e d ir e ctio n s pertain t o interview s w ith

apply in the investigatio n. Also, b e f o r e the first interv iew s in a study

m id d le-cla ss p erson s in N o r t h e r n Kurope and N o r t h A m e rica . In o th e r

are u n d e r ta k e n , th o u g h t sh ou ld have b e e n given to h o w the interview s

c u lt u r e s, d if f e r e n t n o rm s may ho ld for in t e ra c t io n s w ith st ra ngers

will be anal yzed and how the fin dings will b e verified and r e p o rt e d .

c o n c e r n i n g initia tive, d ir ectn ess, o p en n ess, and th e like.

T h e key issues o f the in terv ie w c o n c e r n w ha t, w h y , and h o w :

R e s e a rc h interviews vary o n a se rie s o f d im e n s io n s . T h e y d if fer in

T h e in terv iew ees sh ou ld be pro vided with a c o n t e x t f o r the i n t e r

structure, fro m w e ll-o r g a n iz e d interview s t h a t fo l l o w a

view by a b r ie fin g b e fo re and a d ebrie fin g afterw a rd. T h e c o n t e x t is

d eg ree o f

128

interviews

The Interview Situation

129

briefing in w hich the in terview er defines th e situ

T h e lived in te rv ie w s itu a tio n , w ith the in te r v i e w e e s v o ice and

ation for the su b je ct; briefly tells a b o u t the purp ose o f the interview ,

facial and b o dily e x p r e s s io n s a c c o m p a n y i n g the sta te m e n ts, pro vides

the use o f a tape re c o r d e r , and so o n ; and asks if the su b je c t has any

a r i c h e r a ccess t o the su b je c t s m ea n in g s than the tra n s crib ed t e x t s will

in trodu ced with a

10 m in u tes

qu e stion s b e fo re start ing t h f interview . F u r th e r e x p l a n a ti o n s a b o u t

la ter . It m ay be w o r t h w h i le f o r the i n terv iew er t o set aside

the interv iew inves tigat ion sh ould prefe rab ly w ait until the interview

o f q u ie t tim e a f te r each in terv iew t o recall and reflect o n w h a t has

is over.

b e e n le a rn e d fro m the p a rticu la r intervie w , i n clu d in g the i n t e r p e r

T h e first m in u tes o f an interv iew are decisive. T h e su bjects will w a nt

so n al i n t e r a c t i o n . T h e s e i m m e d ia t e im p ress io n s , bas ed o n the in t e r

to have a grasp o f the in tervie w er b e fo re they a llo w them selv es t o talk

v i e w e r s e m p a t h i c a ccess to the m ea n in g s c o m m u n i c a t e d , m a y in the

freely, e x p o s i n g their e x p e r i e n c e s and feelings t o a stran ger. A g oo d

f o r m o f n o t e s o r sim ply r e c o r d e d o n t o the interview ta p e p ro vid e a

c o n t a c t is estab lish ed by a tte n tiv e liste ning, with the i n terv iew er

valua b le c o n t e x t f o r the later analysis o f tra nscripts.

s h o w in g in terest, u n derstand ing , and respect for w h a t the s u b je c t says;


at the sam e tim e , the in tervie w er is at ease and clear a b o u t w h a t he o r

T h e In te rv ie w G u ide

sh e w a n ts t o kno w .
The initial b rie fing sh ou ld be f o llo w e d up by a

debriefing a f te r the

in terv iew . At the end o f the in terview th e r e may be s o m e t e n s io n or


a n x ie t y , be ca u se the su bject has be en o p e n a b o u t o f t e n p e r so n a l and
e m o t i o n a l e x p e r i e n c e s a nd m ay be w o n d e r in g a b o u t the i n t e r v i e w s
p u rp o s e and h o w it will be used. T h e r e may perhaps also be feelings
o f e m p ti n e s s ; the su bject has given m uch in f o r m a t i o n a b o u t his o r he r
life and m ay n o t have re c e iv e d an y th in g in return. T h i s b e in g said, a
c o m m o n e x p e r i e n c e a f te r res ea rch in terview s is th a t the s u b jects have
e x p e r i e n c e d the in te rv ie w as g enu inely e n rich in g , have e n jo y e d t a lk
ing freely w ith an a tten tiv e lis te n er, and have so m e t i m e s o b t a in e d n e w
in sig h ts i n t o i m p o r t a n t th e m e s o f their life w orld .
T h e i n t e r a c t i o n ca n b e ro u n d e d o f f by the i n terv iew e r m e n t i o n i n g
s o m e o f the m ain po in ts le arn ed fro m the interview . T h e s u b je c t may
t h e n w a n t to c o m m e n t on this feed b a ck . T h e in t e ra c t io n can t h e r e a ft e r
b e c o n c l u d e d by the in t e rv ie w e r saying, for e x a m p l e ,

1 h av e

no

f u r t h e r q u estio n s. D o y o u have a n y t h in g m o r e you w a n t t o b r in g up,


o r ask a b o u t , b e f o r e we finish the in t e r v i e w ? T h i s gives th e s u b ject
a n a d d i ti o n a l o p p o r t u n i t y t o deal w ith issues he or sh e has b e e n
t h i n k i n g o r w o rr y in g a b o u t during the interv iew .
T h e d e b r i e f in g is likely t o c o n t in u e a f te r the tape r e c o r d e r has be en
t u r n e d o f f . A fter a first gasp o f relief, the inte rview ee m ay b r in g up
t o p i c s h e o r sh e did n o t feel sa fe raising w ith the tape r e c o r d e r o n .
A n d th e i n t e r v i e w e r c a n n o w , in s o far as the s u b je c t is i n t e re s te d , tell
m o r e fully a b o u t the p u r p o s e and design o f the in terv iew study.

An in te rv ie w guide in d ic a tes the to p ics and their s e q u e n c e in the


in te rv ie w . T h e g uid e ca n c o n t a i n just s o m e ro u g h to p ic s t o b e c o v ered
o r it can be a d etaile d s e q u e n c e o f ca re fu lly w o rd e d q u e stio n s. F o r the
se m i s t r u c tu r e d type o f in te rv ie w discu ss ed h e re, th e guid e will c o n t a in
an o u t li n e o f t o p i c s t o be c o v e r e d , w ith su gge sted q u e stio n s. It will
d e p e n d o n th e p a rt ic u la r design c h o s e n w h e t h e r the q u e s t i o n s and
t h e i r s e q u e n c e are st rictly p r e d e t e r m in e d and b in d in g o n the i n t e r
v ie w ers, o r w h e t h e r it is up t o an in t e r v i e w e r s ju d g m e n t a nd ta ct h o w
c l o s e ly t o f o l l o w th e guide and h o w st ro ng ly t o p u rsu e an individual
s u b j e c t s answ ers.
E a c h in te rv ie w q u e s t i o n ca n be eva lu ated w ith re s p e c t t o b o t h a
t h e m a t i c a nd a d y n a m i c d im e n s io n : t h e m a tic a lly w ith reg a rd t o its
r e l e v a n c e f o r the re s e a rch t h e m e , and d y n am ica lly with reg a rd to the
i n t e r p e r s o n a l re l a t i o n s h i p in the interview . A g o o d in te rv ie w q u e s t io n
sh o u ld c o n t r i b u t e th e m a ti c a l l y t o k n o w le d g e p r o d u c t io n and d y n a m i
ca lly t o p r o m o t i n g a g o o d in te rv iew i n t e r a c t i o n .

Them atically th e q u e s t i o n s rela te t o th e to p i c o f the i n t e rv ie w , to


the t h e o r e t i c a l c o n c e p t i o n s a t th e r o o t o f an i n v e s tig a t io n , and t o the
s u b s e q u e n t an alysis. T h e q u e s t i o n s will be d if f e re n t w h e n in te rv ie w in g
f o r s p o n t a n e o u s d e s c r i p t i o n s o f the lived w o r l d , o r i n t e r v i e w i n g fo r a
c o n c e p t u a l a naly sis o f the p e r s o n s c o n c e p t s o f a to p i c . Sim p ly e x
p re sse d , the m o r e s p o n t a n e o u s the in terv ie w p r o c e d u r e , the m o r e
l ik ely o n e is t o o b t a in s p o n t a n e o u s , lively, and u n e x p e c t e d answ ers
f r o m th e in t e rv ie w e e s. Arid vice vers a: T h e m o r e st ru c t u re d the

130

Interviews

i n t e rv ie w s itu a tio n is, th e easier the later stru qu ir in g o f the in te rv ie w


by analysis will be.

The Interview Situation

T A B L E 7 .1

131

R e s e a rc h Q u e s tio n s a n d In te rv ie w Q u e s tio n s

In line w ith the prin cip le o f pu shin g fo r w a r d in an i n t e rv ie w p r o j

Research Questions

Interview Questions

e c t , the la te r st ag es sh o u ld be tak en into a c c o u n t w h e n p r e p a rin g the

/ Do you find the subjects you learn

i n t e rv ie w qu estio n s. I f th e m e t h o d o f analysis will in vo lv e c a te g o riz in g

the a n s w ers, t h e n cla rify co n t in u a lly d u rin g the in te rv ie w the m e a n


ings o f the a n s w e rs w ith re s p e ct t o the c a t e g o rie s t o be used late r. If
a narrative analysis is to be em ployed, then give the subjects am ple free

W h ich form o f learning m otivation

im portant?

^ ------- D o you find learning

dom inates in high school?

interesting in itself?

d o m a nd tim e to u n f o l d th e ir o w n storie s, and f o l l o w up w ith q u e s


t io n s t o clarify the m a in ep iso d es a nd c h a ra c t e rs in th e ir narra tiv es.

W hat is your main purpose

Dynamically, th e qu estio n s sh ou ld p r o m o t e a positive in t e r a c t i o n ;

in going to high school?

k e e p the f lo w o f the c o n v e r s a t io n g o in g and m o t iv a te th e su b je c t s to


ta lk a b o u t th e i r e x p e r i e n c e s and feelings. T h e q u e s t io n s sh o u ld be easy

D o the grades prom ote an external,

t o u n d e r s t a n d , s h o r t, and d evoid o f a c a d e m i c lang u age.

instrum ental m otivation at the

expense o f an intrinsic interest

A g o o d c o n c e p t u a l t h e m a ti c res ea rch q u e s t io n need n o t be a g o o d


d y n a m i c in te rv ie w q u estio n . W h e n p re p a rin g an in terv iew it m a y be
useful t o d ev elo p tw o guides, o n e w ith the p r o j e c t s m ain t h e m a ti c
re s earch q u e stio n s and the o t h e r w ith the q u e s t i o n s t o be po sed during

m otivation for learning?

between what you w anted to read


(study) and what you had to read to
\

D oes learning for grades socialize


to w orking for wages?

Have you experienced a co n flict

obtain a good grade?

----- ------- Have you been rewarded with money


for good grades?

the in terv iew , w h ich takes b o th the t h e m a ti c and the d y n a m i c d i m e n


s io n s i n t o a c c o u n t.

Do you see any con nection between

T able 7 . 1 d epic ts the tra n s la tio n o f t h e m a ti c re s earch q u e stio n s in

m oney and grades?

the g ra d in g study in t o in terv iew q u e s t io n s to p ro vid e t h e m a t i c k n o w l


edge and c o n t r i b u t e d yn a m ically to a natu ral co n v e r s a t io n a l flow. T h e
a bs tract w o r d i n g o f the re s e a rch q u e stio n s w o u ld hardly lead to
o f f - t h e - c u f f a nsw ers f r o m high s c h o o l pupils. T h e a c a d e m i c res ea rch
q u estion s n e e d t o be tran s la te d in t o an ea sy -g o in g , c o ll o q u i a l f o rm to
g en er a te s p o n t a n e o u s and rich d escrip tio n s. O n e re s e a rch q u e s t io n
ca n be investigated t h ro u g h several in te rv ie w q u e stio n s, thus o b t a i n
ing ri ch and varied i n f o r m a t i o n by a p p r o a c h in g a t o p i c f ro m several
angles. And o n e interview q u e stio n m ig h t pro vide a n s w e rs to several
resea rch qu estion s.
T h e ro le s o f the w h y , w h a t , and h o w q u e s t io n s are d if f e re n t

did you feel t h e n ? W h a t did you e x p e r i e n c e ? and the like. T h e aim


is t o el icit sp o n t a n e o u s d escription s fro m the su bjects ra the r th a n to
g et th e ir o w n , m o r e o r less sp eculativ e e x p l a n a ti o n s o f w hy so m e t h in g
t o o k p la ce . W h y q u e stion s a b o u t the s u b jects o w n rea s on s for thei r
a c t i o n s m ay be im p o r t a n t in their o w n right. M a n y w h y qu estio n s
in an in te rv ie w m ay, h o w ev er, lead to an intellec tu a liz ed intervie w ,
p e r h a p s ev o kin g m e m o r i e s o f or al e x a m i n a t i o n s . F ig u rin g o u t the
re a s o n s and e x p l a n a ti o n s for w hy so m e t h in g h a p p e n e d is prim arily
th e task o f the investigator.

in re searc h versus interview q u estio n s. It has b e e n r e p e a te d ly e m p h a


sized that w h en designing an in terv iew p r o je c t, the w h y and w h a t
qu estion s sh ould be asked and an s w ered b e fo r e the q u e s t io n o f h o w

In terv iew Q u e stio n s

is posed. In the interv iew situ a tio n , the prio rity o f the q u e s t io n types
ch ang e. In the interview itself, the m ain q u e stio n s s h o u ld be in a
descriptive f o rm : W h a t h a p p e n e d and h o w did it h a p p e n ? H o w

T h e re s e a rch interview p ro c e e d s ra the r like a n o rm al c o n v e r s a t io n


bu t has a spe cific pu rpose and stru ctu re : It is ch a ra cte riz e d by a

In tcrV ie*

T k Interview Situation

sy ste m atic fo rm o f qu estio n in g . T h e i n te rv iew ers questions should he


b r ie f and sim ple. In the life w orld interviews described here, i

B o x 7.1

o p e n i n g q u estion may ask a b o u t a c o n c r e te situation. T h e different '


d im e n s io n s in tro d u ced in the a n s w er can then be pursued. The deci

T y p e s o f In te rv ie w Q u e s ti o n s

sive issue is the i n terv iew ers ability to sense the immediate meaning
o f an answ er and the h o r i z o n o f po ssible m eanings that it opens up. '
T h i s , again, req uires a k n o w le d g e of, and interes t in, both the theme

A.

and the h u m an in t e ra c t io n o f the in terview . Decis io ns abo ut which o f

D o you r e m e m b e r an o c c a s i o n w h e n . . . ? ; W h a t h a p

the m a n y d im en s io n s to pursue that are intro duce d by a subject*

pened in the ep iso d e you m e n t i o n e d ? ; and C o u l d you

a n s w e r will d epend o n the pu rp ose and c o n t e n t o f the interview,)

describe in as m u c h d eta il as p o ssible a situ ation in w h ich

well as on the social i n tera ctio n in the interview situation.


B o x 7 .1 depic ts s o m e m ain types o f qu estion s that may be useful in
the sem istru c tu re d in terview fo rm tre ated he re. A more extended '

Introducing Questions-. C a n you tell me a b o u t . . . ? ;

learn ing o c c u r r e d for y o u ? S u ch o p e n i n g q u e s t i o n s may


yield s p o n t a n e o u s , ri ch , d e s c rip t io n s w h e r e the s u b jects
them selves p ro vid e w h a t they e x p e r i e n c e as the m ain di

discu ss ion o f interv iew qu estio n s is given by Seidman ( 1 9 9 1 ) . In

m ensio ns o f the p h e n o m e n a in vestig ated. T h e re m a in d e r

a d ditio n to paying a t te n t io n to the t h e m a tic and dynamic aspects of

o f the in terv ie w c a n t h e n p r o c e e d as f o llo w in g up o f

the q u e stio n s, the in terview er sh ould also try to keep in mind the later

dim ensio ns in t ro d u c e d in the story told in re s p o n se to the

analysis, v e rifica tio n , and re p o rtin g o f the interviews. Interviewetx

initial q u estion .

w h o k n o w w h a t they are asking a b o u t , a nd why they are asking, will


a t te m p t to clarify the m ea n in g s re leva n t to the pro ject during the
interview , o b ta in in g a d is a m b ig u atio n o f the st atem ents made, and
th er eb y pro vide a m o re t ru s tw o rth y p o in t o f dep art ure for the later :
analysis. Su ch a pro cess o f m e a n in g cla rifica tio n during the interview
may a lso c o m m u n ic a te to the su bjects th a t the interview er actually is
liste ning to and intereste d in w ha t they are saying. Ideally, the testing
o f h y p o th ese s and i n te rp r e ta tio n s is finished by the end of the inter
vi ew , w ith the i n t e rv i e w e rs h y p o th ese s having be en verified or falsi
fied during the interv iew .
If an interview is to be r e p o rt e d , perhaps qu oted at length, then
a t te m p t w h e n feasible to m ak e th e social c o n t e x t exp licit during the
in terview , and w h e n possible the e m o t io n a l ton e o f the interaction,
so th at w h a t is said is u n d er sta n d a b le for the read ers, w h o have not

B.

Follow-Up Questions: T h e s u b je c t s answ ers m ay be

exten ded th ro u g h a c u rio u s , p er sisten t, and critica l a ttitu d e


o f the in terv iew er. T h i s can be d o n e th ro u g h d ir e ct q u e s
tio ning o f w h a t has just b e e n said. A lso a m e re n o d , o r
m m , o r ju st a pause c a n in d ic a te t o the s u b je c t t o g o on
with the d e scrip tio n . R e p e a t i n g sig n ifica n t w o r d s o f an
ans wer can lead t o f u rth e r e l a b o r a t io n s . In te r v ie w e r s can
train th em selv es t o n o t ic e red lig h ts in the an s w ers su ch
as unusual t e rm s, s t r o n g in t o n a t i o n s , and the like w h ic h
may signal a w h o l e c o m p l e x o f to p ic s im p o r t a n t t o the s u b
ject. T h e key issue h e re is the i n t e r v i e w e r s ability to listen
t o w h a t is i m p o r t a n t t o the su b je c t s, and at the sam e tim e
to keep in m in d the rejsearch q u e stio n s o f an inves tig a tio n .

Probing Questions: C o u l d you say s o m e t h in g m o r e

w itn essed the live interview situation. M u c h is to be learn ed from

C.

jou rnalists and novelist s a b o u t co n v e y in g the setting and m ood of a

a b o u t t h a t ? ; C a n y o u give a m o r e deta iled d e s c r i p t i o n o f

co n v e r sa tio n .

w hat h a p p e n e d ? ; D o you have fu rt h e r e x a m p l e s o f t h i s ?

T h e fo cu s he re has been o n the in terv iew ers questions. Active

T h e i n te rv iew er here pursues th e answ ers, p ro b in g their

liste ning the in t e rv ie w e rs ability t o listen actively t o what the inter

c o n t e n t bu t w i t h o u t st atin g w h a t d im e n s io n s are t o be

view ee says ca n be m o r e im p o r t a n t than the specific mastery of

tak en in t o a c c o u n t.

qu estion in g te chn iques: T h e r a p i s t s ed u ca tion em phasizes their skills

(continued)

Interviews

134

The Interview Situation

B o x 7 .1 C o n t i n u e d

135

B o x 7 .1 C o n t in u e d
1

Specifying Questions-. T h e i n terv iew er may also f o llo w

c o n v e r s a t io n the su bjects have a m p le tim e t o associate and

up with m o r e o p e r a t io n a l i z in g q u e stio n s, f o r in s ta n ce :

re f le c t and then brea k the silen ce them selves w ith signifi

W h a t did you think t h e n ? ; W h a t did you a ctu ally do

c a n t in f o r m a t i o n .

D.

w h en you felt a m o u n t in g a n x i e t y ? ; H o w did y o u r bo d y


r e a c t ? In an in terv iew w ith m a n y g en era l s t a t e m e n t s , the
i n terv iew er can a t te m p t to get m o r e p recis e d e scrip tio n s by
a sk ing H a v e you also e x p e r i e n c e d this y o u r s e l f ?

I.

Interpreting Questions: T h e d egree o f in t e r p r e ta t i o n may

th en m ean th at . . . ? o r a ttem p ts at cla rif ic a t io n : Is it

c o r r e c t that you feel that . . . ? ; D o e s the e x p r e s

*-

sio n . . . co v e r w h a t you have just e x p r e s s e d ? T h e r e may

d u ces t o p i c s an d d im e n s io n s , f o r e x a m p l e : H a v e you ev er

also be m o r e d ir e ct i n terp r eta tio n s o f w h a t the pupil has

receiv ed m o n e y for g o o d g r a d e s ? ; W h e n you m e n t i o n

said : Is it c o r r e c t th a t y ou r m a in a n x ie ty a b o u t th e gra des

c o m p e t i t i o n , d o you t h e n th in k o f a s p o r t s m a n l i k e o r a

c o n c e r n s the re a c tio n fro m y ou r p a r e n t s ? M o r e speculativ e

d estructive c o m p e t i t i o n ? S u ch d ir e c t q u e stio n s may p r e f

q u e s t io n s can take the fo rm of: D o yon see an y c o n n e c t i o n s

erab ly b e p o s t p o n e d until the later parts o f the in terv ie w ,

b e tw e e n the t w o situ a tio n s o f c o m p e t i n g with the o th e r

a fter the su bjects have given their o w n s p o n t a n e o u s d e

pupils for gra des and the re lation to y ou r siblings at h o m e ?

scr ip tio n s and th er eb y i n d ic ated w hat asp e cts o f the p h e


n o m e n a are ce n tr a l t o th e m .

Indirect Questions-. H e r e the in t e rv ie w e r m a y apply

as lis te ners, furthe ring an e m p a th i c active lis te ning t o th e m any

p ro je ctiv e q u e stio n s su ch as H o w d o you be lieve o t h e r

n u a n c e s a nd layers o f m eaning s o f w h a t th eir pa tients tell them . Fre u d

F.

pupils regard the c o m p e t i t i o n for g r a d e s ? T h e an s w e r may

( 1 9 6 3 ) r e c o m m e n d e d that therapis ts listen to their pa tients w ith an

re fer d irectly t o the a ttitu d e s o f o t h e r s ; it may also be an

even ly h o v e r i n g a t t e n t i o n t o a tten d to the m e a n in g o f th e ir ac c o u n ts

in d ir ect s t a t e m e n t o f the p u p ils o w n a ttitu d e , w h ic h he o r

(C h a p t e r 4 , P sy cho analy tic a l K n o w le d g e P ro d u ctio n ).

she does n o t state d ir ectly . C a r e fu l fu rt h e r q u e s t i o n in g will


b e ne cessary he re to i n t e r p r e t the answ er.

T h e i m p o r t a n c e o f lis te ning also appears in p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l and


h e r m e n e u t i c a l a p p r o a c h e s to in terview ing ( C h a p te r

s ec tio n s titled

Structuring Questions: T h e in t e rv ie w e r is re s p on sible

H e r m e n e u t i c a l In te r p r e t a t io n ; and P h e n o m e n o lo g ic a l D e s c r i p t io n ) .

for the c o u rs e o f the in te rv ie w and sh ou ld ind ic ate w h e n a

T h e r e is the p h e n o m e n o l o g i c a l ideal o f lis te ning w i th o u t p re ju d ice,

G.

th e m e has b e e n e x h a u s te d . T h e in t e rv ie w e r m ay d ir ectly

a llo w in g the i n t erv iew e es d escription s o f their e x p e r i e n c e s u n fold

and po litel y b r e a k o f f lo n g a n s w e rs t h a t are irrelev a n t to

w i t h o u t in t e r r u p t i o n s fro m interview er qu estio n s and the p r e s u p p o

the to p ic o f the in v es tig a tio n , for e x a m p l e by saying, I

sitio n s these invo lve. A h e rm e n e u tica l a p p r o a c h involves an i n t e r p r e

w ou ld n o w like to in t r o d u c e a n o t h e r to p i c : . . .

tative liste ning to the m ultiple h o riz o n s o f m e a n in g involv ed in the

H.

Silence: R a t h e r th a n m a k i n g the in te rv ie w a c ro ss e x

a m in a tio n by co n t in u a lly firing o f f q u e stio n s, the re s e a rch


in te rv iew er can tak e a lead f ro m thera p is ts in e m p lo y in g
silence to furthe r the interview . By a llo w in g pauses in the

involv e mere ly rep hrasin g an answ er, for in s tan ce: Y o u

Direct Questions-. T h e in t e rv ie w e r h e re d ir ectly i n t r o

E.

in t e r v i e w e e s sta te m e n ts, with an a t te n t io n to the possibilities o f


c o n t in u a l re in te r p re t a tio n s w ith in the h e rm e n e u tica l ci rcle o f the
in te rv ie w . A tte n tio n will also b e paid to the influ en ce o f the pre su p
p o sitio n s o f th e s u b jects an sw ers as well as the p re su p p o sitio n s o f the
i n t e r v i e w e r s qu estion s.

!>

Interviews

136

The Interview Situation

An Interview About Grades

137

my p a re n ts t h e m m a k in g a fuss. A nd s o m e o f th e o t h e r kids no t
r e s p o n d in g s o well w h o d id n t d o so w ell. It was m ix e d e m o t io n s ,
bu t g en e r a lly

An in terv ie w will be rep ro d u ced here to illu strate the m o d e o f

1re m e m b e r

the c e l e b r a t i o n asp ect.

q u e s t i o n in g in a q u a lita tiv e research interv iew . An in terv iew g uid e that

S K 4 : Y o u said m ix e d e m o t io n s . Are you a b le t o d escrib e th em ?

c o m b i n e d ex p l o r a t iv e and hy po th esis -testin g a p p r o a c h e s was p r e

Student 4 :

p are d in ad v a n ce. T h e interview was c o n d u c t e d b e fo r e a class at a

W e ll, at th at tim e 1 w as the t e a c h e r s p et a nd s o m e peo p le

w o u ld say, A ha , m a yb e sh e d id n t ea rn it, m ayb e it s just be cau se

resea rch w o r k s h o p at S a y b r o o k In stitute, San F r a n c i s c o , in 1 9 8 7 .

the t e a c h e r likes h e r so w e l l . A n d s o m e kind o f s t ra tifica tio n

A lth ou g h the interview situation is artificial, it gives in a c o n d e n s e d

o c c u r r i n g be ca u se I was n o t o n ly the t e a c h e r s pet bu t I was

f o rm a fair picture o f the se m istru c tu red interv iew form u n d er d is cus

m a y b e g ettin g b e tt e r g rad es and it c r e a te d s o m e kind o f d is so

sio n . T h e interview is re p ro d u ce d virtually v e rb atim , w ith o n ly a few

n a n c e w ith in m y c la ss m a t e s e x p e r i e n c e o f m e so cially.

m in o r ch a n g e s in linguist ic style.

S K 5 : C o u l d you d escrib e th a t d is so n a n ce ?
S t u d e n t 5 : W e l l , I th in k t h e r e s alw ays s o m e kind o f d e m a r c a ti o n

S K : I will n o w a tte m p t to d em o n strate the m o d e o f u n d e r st a n d in g in

b e tw e e n stu d en ts w h o d o well and stu d en ts w h o d o n t d o as w ell,

a qu a lit ativ e research in terview , and I need a v o lu n t e e r. It will

a nd t h a t s d e te r m i n e d , e sp ecia lly in the p rim a ry g rad es, by the

be a ra the r neutral to p ic, its n o t a psy ch o an aly tic d epth i n t e r


view. T h e interv iew will take a b o u t ten m in utes a nd a f te r w a r d s
w e will discuss it he re.

n u m b e r th a t you g e t on to p o f y o u r pap er .
SK

6:

W a s this early in s c h o o l ? W a s it first g rad e?

Student

A woman in her thirties volunteers.

SK 7:

6:

T h i r d grade.

1 hird g rad e. W e ll, t h a t s a lo n g tim e ag o. A re you able to


r e m e m b e r w h a t they said? O r

S K 1 : T h a n k you for your w illingness to particip a te and be in t e r


view ed h e re. I have b e e n studying the effe cts o f g rad es in E u r o p e
for s o m e years , and n o w Im intere ste d in the m e a n i n g o f grad es
fo r A m e ric a n stu d ents and pupils.

S t u d e n t 7 : N o ; it was m o r e f eelin g
SK

8:

Student

a ble t o r e m e m b e r th e first tim e you ever had any g ra d es?


S t u d en t 1: I r e m e m b e r a tim e ; bu t it might no t have b e e n the first

Y e a h , it w as the f eelin g o f , I d put s o m e sp ac e b e tw e e n me

SK 9 :

B eca u se o f y ou r g o o d gra des.

Student 9 : Yeah.
SK 10:

Did you try to d o an y t h in g a b o u t that?

S t u d e n t 1 0 : I d id n t d o so well a f te r that. It really a f fe c t e d m e in a

tim e.
S K 2 : L e t s take th a t tim e. C a n you tell me w ha t h a p p e n e d ?
St u d e n t 2 : I did very w ell. I r e m e m b e r g etting a red st ar o n the to p
o f my paper w ith

8:

and the peer g ro u p -

I w a n t to first ask you a m ay be difficult q u estio n . If y o u ll try


t o r e m e m b e r b a c k w h en you w en t to prim ary s c h o o l , are you

T h e fee lin g

100 ;

and that stands o u t in m y m e m o r y as

e x c it in g and interes ting.


S K 3 : Yes. Is it on ly the red star that st an ds o u t, or w h a t h a p p e n e d
a ro u n d it?
S t u d en t 3 : [laughter] I r e m e m b e r the c o lo r very very w ell. It was
shining. I r e m e m b e r g etting rew a rd ed all the w ay a r o u n d . I
re m e m b e r b e in g h o n o r e d by my classm ates and the t e a c h e r and

large way. I wanted to be with th e m m o re than I wan ted to be with


th e t e a c h e r , o r o n the t e a c h e r s g o o d list. S o it was sig nificant.
SK 11:

It w as a sig n ifica n t e x p e r i e n c e (Yes) t o y o u , a nd you g ot

in a c o n f l i c t b e tw e e n t e a c h e r and y o u r peers, o r you e x p e r i e n c e d


it as a c o n f li c t . (Yes) Did y ou r p a re n ts e n te r in t o the situ atio n ?
S t u d e n t 1 1 : N o t th a t I recall, be ca u se it w as t o me it w as a sig nifica nt
a l te r a ti o n in h o w I e x p e r i e n c e d g ra d es. T o th e m it w as m ayb e
just a little bit less. B u t it w as still sa t is f a c t o ry , still a c c e p t a b le ,
and I w as still rew a rd ed in g e n e r a l t e rm s f o r d o in g w ell and n o t
failing. S o th at d ic h o t o m y w as r es p ecte d .

138

Interviews

S K 1 2 : T h a t kind o f d is s o n a n c c b e t w e e n say jloy a lty t o youq t e a c h e r

The Interview Situation

Student 2 1 :

139

I re m e m b e r failing English in co lleg e! T h a t w as pre tty

a nd the a f fe c t i o n o f the cla ss m a te s, is th at a s itu a tio n you have

t r a u m a t ic . It m ean t I c o u l d n t g rad uate w ith my class. C o m

b e en into o t h e r t im es? D o e s it re m in d you o f o t h e r ?

plet ely u n e x p e c te d . It m ade m e feel bad. But I w o u n d up by

Stu d en t 1 2 : It keeps re p e a tin g itself in my life, yes. W h e n e v e r I start

ta k in g the test ov er the p h o n e w ith the t e a c h e r and finally

tak in g my friend s o r m y p eer g ro u p fo r g ra n te d , I g et s o m e kind

g ra d u a tin g with my class, in un derg ra du a te s c h o o l . T h a t was

o f m essage saying, H u h - u h , w h a t s m o r e i m p o r t a n t t o m e? And

very sw eet o f them .


S K 2 2 : T h e r e you w ere at the o t h e r en d o f the co n t in u u m .

w h a t s m o r e i m p o r t a n t t o me is my frien dsh ip s.

Student 2 2 :

S K 1 3 : U m - h m m . T h a t is the bas ic issue.


Y o u m e n t i o n e d several tim es b e f o r e r e w a r d e d w h a t d o
you m e an by r e w a r d e d ?

I had a lot o f friends say so ! [laughter]

S K 2 3 : S o there seem s to be an a lm o st o n g o i n g c o n f li c t in b o th
r e l a t i o n to the t e a c h e r and the re la tion t o the classm ates. And

S t u d en t 1 3 : O h , g e t tin g t o stay up t o w a tc h T V w h e n I w as in third

w h e r e is y ou r ow n self? Is th a t pulling apart ?

g ra d e, m a y b e ; o r g e t tin g to g o s o m e place o r stay o u t late r or

Student 2 3 :

m a y b e just g etting ice c r e a m , so m e f o o d

SK 2 4 :

SK 1 4 : So you g ot ta n g ible rew a rd s (Yes) for the g rad es? D id th at


m ak e you learn m o r e o r was it m o r e in cid en tal?

I m glad I d o n t have to deal with that any m ore .

Yes. 1 ca n see th a t
A nd asking m o r e sp ecifica lly a b o u t th e le a rn in g p ro cess , did

the fact th a t you w ere getting grad ed, did th at have any in fluen ce
o n the way you learn ed ?

S t u d en t 1 4 : It m ade m e w a n t t o d o w ell, so it w as d o b e tt e r.

S t u d e n t 2 4 : Yes; I w as very w o rr ie d a b o u t pick in g the right th e m e

S K 1 5 : Ive h e a rd s o m e place a b o u t the t e r m g rad e m o n e y

s u b je c t t o w rite a b o u t and getting the right res ea rch , a n d right

Stu den t 1 5 : G r a d e ?

m e a n in g n o t necessarily the best. So n o w [at S a y b r o o k , a n o n -

S K 1 6 : M o n e y . T h a t s o m e p e o p le get grade m o n e y .

resid ential P h.D . pro g ram w ith o n ly pass/fail eva luation ] Im

Stu d en t 1 6 : O h , if they d o well?

ta k in g m o re c h a n c e s w ith w riting essays, personal o p in i o n e s

S K 1 7 : Y es , did you ev er get that ?

says. I t h in k G e e , let me try this, it m ig h t n o t be a c c e p t e d , bu t

Stu d en t 1 7 : N o . O n ly f o o d ! [laughter] Ice c re a m .

I w o n t fail . T h i s is a much m o r e creative e x p e r i e n c e f o r m e,

SK 1 8 : T h e r e s a term ca lled w h e e d l in g o r a pple p o li s h i n g . O r

and the risk -takin g f a c to r has exp a n d e d . T h e r e w a s n t a lot o f

play ing up t o the te a c h e r . W e r e you ever accu sed o f that?

risk -ta k in g w h en I k new I was goin g t o get grad ed , cau se I


n e e d e d t o get the c o n f ir m a t i o n o f my p eer g ro u p , talk a b o u t it,

Stu d en t 1 8 : Yes.

and m ak e sure that it was in line with e v er y b o d y elses. T h i s

S K 1 9 : Y o u w ere. H o w did you ta k e that ?

e x p e r i e n c e is so individual and so n o n t h r e a t e n i n g that I m m o re

Stu d en t 1 9 : N o ; it w as up settin g, yes.

w illing to take creative risks.

S K 2 0 : T h e D a n ish pupils I ve in te rv ie w e d , t h e y ve also m e n t i o n e d


that co n f lic t . T h e y get g o o d re la tio n s w ith the t e a c h e r a nd a l m o s t
a u to m a tica lly o t h e r pupils m a y st a rt say ing its w h e e d l in g

SK 2 5 :

D o I un derst and you co r r e c t l y w h en I m saying th a t y our

e x p e r i e n c e w ith the gradin g you had to play it safe, n o t to be t o o


cre a tive or take any risks? (Yes) W h e r e a s w ith Pass/Fail, you are

L e t s see. If we ju m p ah e ad t o If you try to r e m e m b e r the


last tim e you ever g ot a g rade.
Stu de n t 2 0 : O t h e r than a Pass/Fail?
SK 2 1 : Yes.

a llo w ed to think cre atively and take risks?


S t u d e n t 2 5 : Yeah . And in this situation [at Saybrook| in pa rticula r its
very difficult to co m p a r e and c o n tra st w ith cla ssm a tes w h o a r e n t
very clo s e , so i t s a b e tter situation.

I nt e r v i e ws

140

SK 2 6 : O k a y . Are th e r e any m o re things yon w ou ld w a n t t o say


b e fo r e we en d the interview ?

The Interview Situation

141

R o g e r i a n , a F r e u d ia n , and a S k in n e ria n a p p r o a c h ( C h a p te r 5 , D e s ig n
ing).

I hese w ere used as g e n era l a p p r o a c h e s in this in terv iew to

Stu de n t 2 6 : N o ; I d o n t th in k so.

investigate d if f e r e n t a sp e cts o f the m ea n in g s o f gra des. T h u s w hen the

S K 2 7 : O k a y ; th a n k you very m uch for your c o o p e r a ti o n .

s t u d e n t d e scrib ed m i x e d e m o t i o n s (3) and it w a s m o r e th e feelin g

T h e in terv iew was then discussed in class, inclu ding the f o llo w in g

e l a b o r a t io n o f the fe eling and the m ix e d e m o t i o n s by re p e a tin g these

exchange:

very w o rd s ( S K 4

( 7 ), I s o u g h t, in line w ith a R o g e r i a n a p p r o a c h , to e n c o u r a g e furthe r

6c 8 ). A F reu d ian a p p r o a c h in a b ro a d sense was tried

by ask in g , D id y ou r p a re n ts e n te r i n t o the s i t u a t i o n ? (SK 1 1 ) and,


S K 2 8 : H o w did you e x p e r i e n c e bein g interview ed a b o u t it [the

m in d e d he r o f o t h e r s itu a tio n s (S K 1 2 ) . T h e s t u d e n t s an s w e r c o n f ir m s

grades] up in fro n t here?


Student 2 7 :

I t h o u g h t it was a really g o o d o p p o rt u n ity for me to

e x p l o r e that. I h a v e n t even th o u g h t a b o u t it in a lon g tim e , but


I k n e w fro m therapy th a t Ive had re cently that th a t was a big
tim e in my life w h en I was closer t o my t e a c h e r than

1 w as t o

my

friends and I ve had t o face that a lot. It was fun for me to talk
a b o u t it cause I m pretty clear a b o u t w hat ha p p ened .
T h e m o d e s o f q u estio n in g and the topics co v e re d in this artifici al
d e m o n s t r a t i o n interv iew a b o u t grades are rep resen ta tive o f the 3 0
interv iew s o n grades in D an ish high s ch o o ls discussed t h r o u g h o u t this
b o o k . F e w o f the pupils, h o w e v e r, gave su ch rich and e l o q u e n t
d e scrip tio n s o f thei r e x p e r i e n c e s with grades.

t h a t this k eep s r e p e a tin g itself in he r life, bu t sh e d oes n o t b r in g up


fa mily rela tio n s . I h e re had in m in d he r g ra d e-lo y a lty c o n f l i c t as
p ossibly r e a c tiv a tin g c h il d h o o d c o n f li c t s o f jealousy a n d sib ling rivalry
fo r the a f f e c t i o n o f pare nts.
A S k in n e ria n r e i n f o r c e m e n t a p p r o a c h was pursu ed (SK 1 3 ) by
p r o b i n g th e m e a n i n g o f the s t u d e n t s term r e w a r d e d (3 &

\1). T h e

s t u d e n t th e n tells a b o u t b e in g re w a rd e d for g o o d g ra d es as a ch il d by
g e t tin g t o stay up late t o w a tc h T V o r by b e in g given ice c r e a m . E a r l ie r
in th e in te rv ie w the stu d e n t (3) had m e n t i o n e d r e i n f o r c e m e n t s for
g o o d g rad es, su ch as be in g h o n o r e d by he r cla ss m ates, t e a c h e r , and
p a re n ts. If this had n o t b e e n a d e m o n s t r a t i o n in te rv ie w in f r o n t o f a
class, a n d ha d last ed l o n g e r, o n e or m o r e o f the th re e t h e o r e t ic a l
a p p r o a c h e s w o u ld have be en m o r e e x ten siv ely f o llo w e d up.

Know ledge Produced in the Interview. S e v era l i m p o r t a n t a s p e c ts


o f the so cial effects o f grad in g are evident in this sh ort in te rv ie w p rim arily a pervasive loyalty co n f lic t b e tw e e n t e a c h e r and p e e r s ; be in g
a t e a c h e r s pet g etting high grades c re a te d a d is so n an ce in h e r cla ss
m a te s e x p e r i e n c e s o f h e r, it put a sp ace be tw e e n he r and th e peer
gro up. T h i s d isson a nce k ep t rep ea tin g itself in he r life, w ith her
friendsh ip s be in g the m o st im p o r t a n t (Stud ent 3

la ter, w h e t h e r the loyalty c o n f li c t b e tw e e n t e a c h e r and pupils r e

tk. 5 ) . In the third

grade this even led the stu d en t d elib erately to seek lo w e r g rad es in
or d e r n o t t o be sep a ra ted fro m her peers (Stud ent 1 0 ) . In a pass/fail
ev aluation system in the present P h .D . p ro g ra m , she was reliev ed th a t
this m ad e it difficult to c o m p a r e and co n t ra s t e va lua tion s w ith class
mates. L earn in g th er eb y b e c a m e a m o r e creative e x p e r i e n c e f o r the
st udent, w ith m o re risk t a k in g (Stud ent 2 4 ) .
In the interview guide, the m ean in g s o f gradin g w e r e t o b e a d
dressed fro m the thre e th e o re t ic a l perspectives m e n t i o n e d ea r l i e r a

The Interview Situationi In spite o f the in te rv ie w ta k in g p la ce in


f r o n t o f a class , the a t m o s p h e r e w as ra t h e r r e la x e d . O n e re a s o n is the
s t u d e n t s o p e n n e s s : S h e had v o lu n t e e r e d , in d ic a tin g t h e r e b y t h a t she
w as n o t a fra id o f b e in g in terv iew e d in f r o n t o f an a u d i e n c e ; sh e had
a lso b e e n in th e r a p y and w^s thus c o m f o r t a b l e w ith ta lk in g a b o u t he r
p e r so n a l e x p e r i e n c e s . And;, as it tu rn e d o u t , the t o p i c o f th e i n t e r
v iew g rad es had had qu ite so m e person al i m p a c t o n he r s c h o o l life.
M y e x p e r i e n c e fro m pre v io u s interv iew s a b o u t g ra d es m a d e it
relativ ely easy t o lis ten t o and fo l l o w up o n sig n ifica n t t h e m e s a b o u t
g ra d es f ro m the p er sp ectiv e o f the stu d e n t. I did, h o w e v e r , a p p e a r
m o r e i n f l u e n c e d by the a u d ie n c e th a n the s u b je c t w a s, s o m e t i m e s n o t
f o l l o w in g up i m p o r t a n t lea ds in the an s w ers a nd n o t t o l e r a t i n g pauses
( S K 2 0 & 2 4 ) . I felt the to p ic s he re m ig h t be t o o se nsitiv e t o e x p l o r e
in f r o n t o f the o t h e r students.

14 2

Interviews

The Interview Situation

143

T h e in terv iew was in t r o d u c e d by a b rie fing a b o u t th e p u rp o s e and

up o n the an sw ers (Studen t 2 0 - 2 2 ) w ith an i n te rp r e ta tio n in the

c o n t e x t o f the in terv iew b e f o r e , and also at th e start, o f the in terv iew

d ir e c ti o n o f the loyalty c o n f li c t (SK 23/1), bu t this tim e w as po litel y

( S K 1). It w as ro u n d e d o f f by a d eb riefin g b e f o r e e n d i n g the i n t e r

put o f f by a d oub le e n te n d r e rem a rk by the stud ent ( 2 3 ) : I am glad

view by asking if the st u d en t had an y th in g m o r e t o say (SK 2 6 ) , and

I d o n t have to deal with that a n y m o r e . A sec o n d to p ic from the

afte r the intervie w by asking he r a b o u t he r e x p e r i e n c e o f the in terv iew

i n t e rv ie w guide a b o u t le arn in g and grad in g (SK 24/E) w as then

(SK 2 8 ) .

i n t r o d u c e d , and this o p en ed to a lon g stud ent ( 2 4 ) answ er a b o u t


g ra d e s as su ppre ssing cre ativity and risk takin g, w hich again led into

Question Types. T h e ap p lica tio n o f sorrje o f the q u e s t i o n types

the loy alty c o n f li c t d escrib ed exten sively earlier in the interv iew .

o u tline d in T a b l e 7 .1 from (A) th ro u g h (I) will n o w be p o in te d ou t.

The m a jo rity o f qu estion s in this interview w ere p ro bin g ( C ) o ften

The i n t r o d u c to r y q u e s t i o n , a sk ing a b o u t a s p e cific e p iso d e o f grad in g

by r e p e a tin g significant w ord s from the s t u d e n t s answ ers to a few

(S K 1/A), hit h o m e , a nd th e first t w o third s o f the in te rv ie w w ere

d ir e ct q u e stio n s a b o u t e piso des and effec ts o f grading. T h e r e w e r e a

m ain ly a f o llo w in g up (B) o f th e s t u d e n t s a n s w er (2) a b o u t th e red

few i n terp r etin g q u estion s, su ch as the m ean in g -clarify in g q u e stio n ,

s t a r . T h e term w as a red lig h t sig naling th a t I stop and p r o b e ; the

D o I un d e rstand you c o rre ctly w hen I m say ing that you e x p e r i e n c e

very w o r d , and p ro b a b ly also her t o n e o f the vo ice and facial e x p r e s

w ith the grad in g you had to play it safe, . . . (SK 25/1), w h ich is

sio n , had ind ic a ted th at this was a sy m b o l o f s o m e s ig n if ic a n t e x p e r i

f o llo w e d by a c o n f ir m a t i o n and further e la b o ra t io n ( Stu d en t 2 5 ) .

en ce. T h e f o llo w -u p q u e s t i o n , re p e a tin g the t e r m red s t a r (SK 3/B),

E a r l ie r in the in terview , a direct in t e r p r e ta t i o n o f the stu d e n ts st a t e


m e n t ( 8 ) as B ecause o f y ou r g o o d g rad e s (SK 9/1) was im m ed ia tely

led to an e m o t io n a l re s p on se ri ch in i n f o r m a t i o n ( Stu d en t 3 ) .
C o n t i n u e d p ro b in g , r e p e a tin g a n o t h e r sig n if ic a n t e x p r e s s io n

c o n f i r m e d , Y e a h (Stud ent 9).

&c C )

E x te n s iv e in terp r eta tio n s and follow -u p s ch e c k in g the reliability o f

o p e n e d up a basic c o n f li c t f o r the s u b je c t b e tw e e n loyalty t o the

the a n s w e rs and testing o f h y po theses w e re n o t u n d e r ta k e n in this

te a c h e r o r to he r peers. T h i s t o p i c was pu rsu ed in the f o llo w in g

i n terv ie w . T h i s was due to the sh o r t tim e, to the social situation in

m ix e d e m o t i o n s and p ro b in g for fu rth e r d e s c r i p t i o n (S K 4/B

s e q u e n c e un til the c o n c l u d i n g st u d en t ( 1 2 ) re m a rk , A nd w h a t s m o re

f r o n t o f the class, and to the sensitivity o f the s u b ject t o s o m e o f the

i m p o r t a n t t o me is my f rie n d sh ip s . In s o m e o f the an s w e rs in this

t o p i c s raised . T h i s interv iew t h e r e fo re d oes n o t live up t o the ideal

se q u e n ce I o v e r h e a r d p o ten tia lly sig n ifica n t e x p r e s s io n s lik e d e m a r

r e q u i r e m e n t s po sed ea rlier o f be in g i n terp r eted , va lidated, and c o m

c a t i o n and s p a c e ( S tu d en t 5 &
up po sed sp e cify in g (S K

6/D)

8),

and inste ad o f f o l l o w in g th e m

and i n t e rp r e tin g ( S K 9/1) q u e stion s.

I t h e n w e n t b a c k in th e in terv iew a nd re p e a te d a t e r m in t ro d u c e d
by the stu d en t t h a t w a s o f th e o r e t ic a l in te re s t t o m e r e w a r d e d
and asked for its m e a n in g (S K 1 3/B & C ). T h i s led to a c o n c r e t e a n s w er
a b o u t ice c r e a m and T V as rew ard s, w h e r e a s a d ir ect f o l l o w -u p q u e s
tio n a b o u t rec eiv in g m o n e y for grad es (S K 15/E) gave n o co n f ir m a t i o n .
T h e n f o r the first tim e sin ce the o p e n i n g q u e s t io n I tu r n e d t o the
interview guide and posed a d ir e ct q u estio n a b o u t w h e t h e r the stud ent
had been a ccu sed o f w h e e d lin g (S K 18/E). T h i s was c o n f i r m e d by the
stud ent ( 1 8

8c

1 9 ) but in su ch a tense way t h a t I c h o s e n o t to f ollow

up and a ttem p te d a co n s o l in g r e m a rk (SK 2 0 ) . T h e s u b ject did no t


exp an d o n the situa tion, and th e r e was a pause w h e r e u p o n

1 ch a n g e d

the to p i c by asking a b o u t a re c e n t g ra d in g e p iso d e. I s o u g h t t o fo llo w

m u n ic a t e d by the tim e the ta p e re c o r d e r is sh ut o ff. In C h a p t e r

8 I will

a d dress s o m e o f the fa cto rs co n trib u tin g to the qu ality o f an interview .

Quality o f the Interview

145

B o x 8.1

Q u a li ty C r ite r ia for an Interview

T h e e x t e n t o f s p o n t a n e o u s , rich , s p e cific, and relevan t


a n s w e rs fro m the in terv iew ee.
T h e s h o r t e r the in t e r v i e w e r s q u e s t io n s and the lon g er
t he s u b je c t s a nsw e rs, the be tter.

T h e Quality of the Interview

The d egree to w hich the in t e rv ie w e r fo llo w s up and c l a r


ifies the m e a n in g s o f the relev a n t asp e cts o f the an sw ers.

In the first part s o f this c h a p tc r I will ad dress issues o f qu ality in


in te rv ie w res ea rch . C r it e r i a f o r evaluating the qu ality o f a res e arch
in te rv iew are sugge sted and related to ch a ra cteristics o f the in t e r v i e w
ees and the interview ers. An interview by H a m l e t is th en p re s e n t e d as
an illust ra tio n o f pro b le m s th at m ay arise w hen using fix ed c r it e ria for
a pprais in g the qu ality o f an interview . T h e r e a f t e r , the m o ra l qu al ity

T h e ideal in te rv iew is t o a large e x t e n t in te rp r e te d


t h r o u g h o u t the interv iew .
The in t e rv ie w e r a t te m p t s to verify his o r he r i n t e r p r e t a
tio ns o f the su bject s answ ers in the course o f the interview.
The

in terv iew is s e l f - c o m m u n i c a t in g it is a story

o f an interview is discussed in relation to et hica l research guidelines,

c o n t a in e d in its elf that hardly re q uire s m u ch e x t r a d e

a nd finally, a c o m m o n o b je c ti o n t o the sc ien tific qu ality o f an i n t e r

s c r ip tio n s a nd e x p l a n a ti o n s .

view is addressed the question o f leading questions.

T h e th re e interview s in C h a p t e r 2 live up to the qu alit y criteria

Interview Q u ality

su g ge sted h e re in d if f e r e n t ways. T h u s the in terv iew r e p o r t e d by


G i o r g i has b r ie f q u e stio n s and lo n g a n s w e rs; it p ro vid es ri ch and

T h e in terv iew is the raw m ate ria l for the la ter pro cess o f m e a n i n g

s p o n t a n e o u s relev a n t a nsw ers a b o u t le arn in g in everyd ay life, and the

analysis. T h e qu al ity o f th e original interview is decisive f o r the qu al ity

a n s w e rs are f o l l o w e d up and clarifie d . In the se ssion re p o rt e d by

o f the late r analysis, v e rifica tio n , and r e p o rt in g o f the interview s.

R o g e r s the c o u n s e l o r fo llo w s up and cla rifies the m e a n in g s o f the

O f the six qu ality crite ria for an interv iew d ep ic ted in B o x 8 . 1 , the

c l i e n t s a n s w ers, and at the end the c l i e n t h e rse lf sp o n t a n e o u s l y in

last th re e in particular re fer to an ideal interview r eq u irin g th at the

te r p r e ts the m e a n i n g o f the i n t e r a c t i o n . In the third e x a m p l e , S o c r a t e s

m e a n in g o f w h a t is said is in te rp r e te d , ve rified, and c o m m u n i c a t e d by

critica lly i n t e rp r e ts the m e a n in g s and c o n t r a d ic t i o n s o f A g a t h o n s

the tim e the tape re c o r d e r is tu rn ed off. T h i s d em an d s c ra ftsm a n sh ip

s t a t e m e n t s a b o u t love and b e a u ty , and c o n c l u d e s by c o n s t r u c t in g a

and e x p e rtis e and presupp oses that the in terv iew e r k n o w s w h a t he o r

log ical c h a in o f a rg u m e n ts , the validity o f w h ich A g a th o n en ds up a c

she is in terview in g a b o u t , as well as why and ho w . A lth o u g h su ch

ce p t in g . All t h r e e interview s are in o n e re s p e ct s e l f - c o m m u n i c a t in g

qu ality criteria m ig h t see m to be u n rea ch a b le ideals, they can serve as


guid elin es.

144

th e y co n v e y i m p o r t a n t k n o w le d g e as th e y stand , and they a lso o p en


t o fu rt h e r i n t e rp r e ta t io n s .

146

Interviews

Quality o f the Interview

147

T h e s e qu ality cr iteria are n o t w i t h o u t e x c e p t i o n s . A t a w o r k s h o p ,

e x p e r i e n c e s and e m o t io n a l states, versus telling cap tu r in g storie s. T h e

o n e p a rticip a n t told a b o u t an un su ccessfu l in terv iew sh e had c o n

s u b je c t s o f the thre e interv iew s in C h a p t e r 2 w e re thus all g o o d

d uct ed w ith a y o u n g a u t h o r at a w ritin g s c h o o l . T h e t o p i c w as the

s u b je c t s w ith re spect to d ifferen t pu rposes A g ath on p ro viding logical

a u t h o r s o w n w ritin g p ro ce ss ; the c o n t a c t dulling the in terv iew had,

c o n t r a d ic t i o n s for S o c ra t e s to cla rify ; the t h er a p eu tic c lie n t living ou t,

h o w ev er, b e e n p o o r , a n d the a u t h o r s sta t e m e n t s w e re fra g m e n te d and

a nd le a rn in g fro m , the e m o t io n a l n a t u re o f the t h e r a p e u t ic r e l a t i o n

su perficial. T h e r e w ere n o c o h e r e n t s t o r ie s a nd d e s c rip t io n s , the

s h ip ; and the w o m a n learn in g in terio r d eco ra tin g giv ing ri ch , s p o n t a

in te rv iew er co u ld n o t find any unity o r d e e p e r m e a n in g in the answ ers.

n e o u s d escrip tio n s o f le arn in g in everyday life.

T h e resulting interview a p p e a r e d w o rt h le s s to her. I he n sh e ven tu red

R e c o g n i z i n g that s o m e people may be h a rd er t o in terv iew than

the in f o r m a t i o n that the a u t h o r had told he r that lie was trying t o be

o t h e r s , it re m ain s the task o f the in terview er to m o tiv a te and faci litate

a p o s t m o d e rn a u th o r. F r o m this p e r sp e ctiv e , th e f r a g m e n t a t i o n , the

th e su b je c t s a c c o u n ts and t o ob ta in interv iew s rich in k n o w le d g e fro m

in c o h e r e n c e , and the su rfa ce st a t e m e n t s that a bsta in f r o m d eep er

virt ual ly every subje ct .

i n t e rp r e ta t io n s o f m e a n in g need n o t be due t o a p o o r in terv ie w


t e c h n i q u e , but stem fro m the very t o p i c w ritin g l it e r a tu re w ith the
i n terv ie w ee pl ayin g the ro le o f a p o s t m o d e r n a u th o r.

Interview er Q u alificatio n s
T h e in terv iew e r is him - o r he rself the resea rch instrum ent. A g o o d I

T h e I n te rv ie w Subject

in t e rv ie w e r is an ex p e r t in the t o p ic o f the interview as well as in


h u m a n in t e r a c t i o n . T h e in terv ie w er must c o n tin u a lly m ak e quick

S o m e in terv ie w s u b jects a p p e a r to be b e tter th a n o t h e r s . G o o d

c h o i c e s ab o u t w hat to ask and h o w ; w h ich as pects o f a s u b je c t s answ er

i n t erv iew ees are c o o p e r a ti v e and well m o t iv a te d , they are e l o q u e n t

t o f o l l o w up and w hich n o t ; w hich an sw ers to in terp r et and w h ich

and k n o w le d g e a b le . T h e y are truth fu l and c o n s i s t e n t, they give c o n c i s e

n o t . In ter v iew er s sh ould be k n o w le d g e a b le in th e to p ics investigated,

and pre cise an s w ers t o the in t e r v i e w e r s q u e stio n s, they p ro vid e

m a s t e r co n v e r sa t io n a l skills, and be pro ficien t in language w ith an ear

c o h e r e n t a c c o u n t s and d o n o t co n t in u a l l y c o n t r a d ic t th e m se lv e s, they

f o r th e ir s u b je c t s linguistic style. T h e in terview er sh ould have a sense

stick to the in terv iew to p i c and d o n o t rep ea ted ly w a n d e r o ff. G o o d

f o r g o o d sto rie s and be able to assist the su bjects in the u n f o l d i n g o f

su bjects can give lon g and lively d e scrip tio n s o f th e ir life s itu a tio n ,

t h e i r narra tiv es.

they tell ca p tu r in g st orie s well su ited f o r re p o rtin g . T h e s u b jects o f the

L e a rn in g t o b e c o m e an in te rview er takes place t h ro u g h in te rv ie w

lea rn in g in terv iew re p o rt e d by G io rg i and o f the in te rv ie w o n grad es

ing. R e a d in g b o o k s may give s o m e guid elin es, bu t p ractice rem a in s the

w ere b o t h g o o d in terv iew su bjects a c c o r d in g t o these criteria .

m ain ro a d to m a sterin g the cra f t o f interv iew ing. T h i s involv es reading

As p leasan t as such in terv iew su bjects m ay a p p ea r t o the i n t e r

in terv iew s, lis te ning to interview tapes, a nd w a tc h in g m o r e e x p e r i

view er, it is by n o m ea n s a given t h a t the y p ro vid e the m o s t valu a b le

e n c e d in tervie w ers, bu t le a rn in g is p rim arily t h ro u g h o n e s ow n

k n o w le d g e a b o u t the research to p ic s in q u e s t i o n . T h e a b o v e idealized

e x p e r i e n c e w ith interviewing. An in t e rv ie w e rs s e l f -c o n f i d e n c e is a c

su bject ap p ear s ra th e r sim ilar t o an u p p e r- m id d le - c la s s intelle ctu a l

q u ired t h r o u g h p ra c tic e ; co n d u c t i n g several pilot interv iew s b e fo r e

w h o se views are n o t n e cessaril y re p re se n ta tiv e o f the g e n era l p o p u l a

the act ual p ro je c t interviews will increase his o r he r ability to c re a te

tio n. W e l l -p o li s h e d e l o q u e n c e and c o h e r e n c y m ay in s o m e ins ta n ce s

safe and st im u lating in teraction s.

gloss o v er m o r e c o n t r a d ic t o r y re la tio n s to the res ea rch th e m e s .

R o l e pl ayin g ca n be in clu ded in pilot interview s for the p u rp o s e o f

T h e ideal interview su bject d oes n o t e x ist d if f e r e n t p e r s o n s arc

tra in in g , with su bjects playing such ro le s as the T a c i t O y s t e r , the

su ita ble for d iffere n t types o f interview s, su ch as p ro v id in g a c c u r a t e

N o n s t o p T a l k e r , the In tcllectualizin g A c a d e m ic ia n , and the P o w er

w itn ess o b ser v a tio n s, versus giv ing se nsitiv e a c c o u n t s o f pe r so n a l

P la y er w h o tries t o take c o n t ro l o f the interview .

148

Interviews

149

Quality o f the Interview

B o x 8 . 2 ou tlines s o m e criteria for in te rview er q u a l if i c a ti o n s that

in the d ir e c ti o n o f w h a t sh e w a n ts t o k n o w a b o u t the le arn in g

m ay lead to g o o d interview s in th e sense o f p ro d u cing rich k n o w le d g e

e x p e r i e n c e . T h e th e r a p e u t i c in tervie w er is g e ntle and safe, a llo w s the

and d oing justice t o the ethical d em an d o f cre atin g a b e n e fic ia l


situation f o r the su bjects.

'

R ecall o n c e m o r e the th re e interv iew s in C h a p t e r 2 . The i n terv iew e r

B o x 8 .2 C ontinued

inq uiring a b o u t in t e rio r d e c o r a t i n g po ses clear qu estion s, is g e n tle and


o p en t o w h a t is said, fo llo w s up sensitively, and st eers th e intervie w

5.

Sensitive:

Lis te ns actively to the c o n t e n t o f w h a t is

said, h e ars the m a n y n u a n c es o f m e a n in g in an a n s w e r, and


seek s t o g et the n u a n c e s o f m e a n i n g d escrib ed m o r e fully.
Box 8.2

Q u a lific a tio n C rite ria for the Interview er

T h e in t e rv ie w e r is e m p a th i c , listens t o the e m o t io n a l m e s
sage in w h a t is said , n o t o n l y h e a rin g w h a t is said bu t also
h o w it is said, and n o tice s as well w h a t is n o t said. T h e
in t e rv ie w e r fe els w h en a to p i c is t o o e m o t io n a l t o pu rsue
in the inte rview .

1.

Knowledgeable:

H as an exten sive k no w led g e o f the

6.

Open:

H e a r s w h ich aspects o f the in terv iew t o p i c are

interview t h e m e , c a n c o n d u c t an in fo r m e d c o n v e r s a t io n

i m p o r t a n t for the in te rv ie w e e . L iste n s w ith an ev enly h o v

a b o u t the to p i c ; be in g fa milia r w ith its m ain a sp e cts the

erin g a t t e n t i o n , is o p e n t o n e w a sp e cts th at can be i n t r o

in terview er will k n o w w h a t issues are im p o rt a n t to pu rsu e,

d u ce d by th e in te rv ie w e e , and fo llo w s th e m up.

w ith o u t a tte m p tin g to shine with his o r he r exten siv e


k no w le d g e .

7.

Steering:

K n o w s w h a t h e o r sh e w a n t s t o fin d o u t : is

fa m ilia r w ith the pu rp ose o f the in terv iew , w h a t it is


In tr o d u c e s a p u rp ose f o r the in terv iew ,

im p o r t a n t t o a c q u i r e k n o w le d g e a b o u t. T h e i n t e rv i e w e r

ou tlin e s the p ro ced u re in passing, and ro un ds o f f the

c o n t r o l s th e c o u rs e o f th e i n t e rv ie w a n d is n o t a fra id o f

in terv iew by, for e x a m p l e , briefly te lling w h a t w as lea rn ed

in t e rr u p t in g dig re ssion s fro m the in te rv ie w e e .

2.

Structuring:

in the co u rs e o f the co n v e r s a t io n and asking w h e t h e r th e


i nterview ee has any q u e s t i o n s c o n c e r n i n g the situa tion.

8.

Critical:

D o e s n o t take e v e r y th in g t h a t is said at face

value, b u t q u e s t io n s critically t o test th e re liability and

Ios es cle ar, si m p le, easy, and sh o r t q u e s t i o n s ;

validity o f w h a t the i n t erv iew e es tell. T h i s cri tica l c h e c k in g

spe aks distinctly and u n d ersta nd a bly , d oes no t use a c a

ca n p e r ta i n t o th e o b s e r v a ti o n a l e v id e n c e o f th e in t e r

d e m ic language o r p ro fession a l ja rg o n . The e x c e p t i o n is in

v i e w e e s st a t e m e n t s as well as t o th e i r log ica l c o n siste n cy .

3.

Clear:

a stress interview : T h e n the q u e stio n s can be c o m p l e x and

9.

Remembering:

R e ta i n s w h a t a s u b ject has said during

a m b ig u o u s, w ith the s u b jects an sw ers re ve aling their r e a c

the i n t e rv ie w , c a n recall earlier st a t e m e n t s and ask t o have

t io n s t o stress.

th e m e la b o r a t e d , a n d ca n relate w h a t has be en said d uring

4.

G entle:

Allo ws su bjects t o finish w hat they are saying,

d if f e r e n t parts o f th e in te rv ie w t o each o t h e r .

lets th e m p ro c e e d at their o w n rate o f thin k in g and s p e a k

10.

ing. Is easy -g oing , t o lera tes pauses, in d ic ate s that it is a c

cla rify a nd e x t e n d the m e a n in g s o f the i n t e r v i e w e e s s t a t e

ce p ta b le to put f orw a rd u n c o n v e n ti o n a l and p r o v o c a tiv e

m e n t s ; p r o v i d e s i n t e r p r e ta t i o n s o f w h a t is said , w h i c h m ay

o p in io n s and to trea t e m o t io n a l issues.

t h e n b e d is co n firm ^ d o r c o n f ir m e d by th e in te rv ie w e e .

Interpreting:

M a n a g e s t h r o u g h o u t the i n t e rv ie w to

150

Interviews

Quality o f the Interview

1 51

c lie n t t o sta te he r e m o t i o n a l c rit iq u e o f h im self, is se nsitiv e t o w h a t

a sk in g a b o u t the m ean in g o f au th ority , he had played the ro le o f an

the c lie n t says, and re f le c t s it b a c k to he r w ith ^ mild d e g r e e o f i n t e r

a u t h o r i t a r i a n interview e r, th er eb y o b tain in g a rich sp e ctru m o f s p o n

p r e ta t i o n . S o c r a t e s str u c t u r e s his in terv iew by sta rtin g w ith A g a t h o n s

ta n e o u s in terv iew ee re a c tio n s to the p h e n o m e n o n o f auth ority .

s p e e c h a nd statin g the p u rp o s e o f his q u e s t i o n ih g a b o u t the n a t u re o f


l ove; he t h e n st eers his o p p o n e n t t h ro u g h relen tless q u e s t i o n in g ,
r e m e m b e r s well A g a t h o n s earlier a n s w ers, in terp r ets c o n t r a d i c t i o n s

H a m l e t s Interview

in a n d a m o n g th e a n s w ers, and critically q u e s t i o n s th e ir log ic o n the


basis o f his o w n t h o r o u g h c o n c e p t u a l k n o w le d g e o f love and be a uty.

T h e r e a rc n o d efinite crite ria for evaluating the qu ality o f an

T h e b r ie f in te rv ie w passage o n talk ativity and grad es ( C h a p t e r 1,

in terv iew . An e x a m p le from literatu re may sh o w h o w the app raisal o f

C o n v e r s a t io n as R e s e a r c h ) c a n also be m e n t i o n e d . By b r in g in g up an

an in te rv ie w t e c h n iq u e depend s o n the pu rpose and th e c o n t e n t o f the

a n s w e r f r o m earlier in the in terv iew a nd asking in an o p e n w ay , the

in terview .

in t e rv ie w e r o b t a in s t w o interestin g pupil h y p o t h e s e s a b o u t a c o n
n e c t i o n b e t w e e n h o w m u c h a pu pil t a lk s and his g r a d e s as w e ll as

H am let:

b e tw e e n a g r e e m e n t w ith a t e a c h e r s o p in i o n s and g ra d es. T h e i n t e r

P o l o n iu s : By t h mass, and tis like a c a m el indeed.

v iew er d o es n o t ta k e th e st a t e m e n t s at face va lue, bu t f o llo w s up first


by q u e s t i o n in g th e p o stu la te d c o n n e c t i o n in an o p e n , ra t h e r naive w a y ,
and th en in a s e c o n d q u e s t io n o p e n ly disputes the c o n n e c t i o n , w ith

D o you see y o n d er cl oud t h a t s a lm o st in shape o f a ca m el?

H a m l e t : M c t h i n k s it is like a wea sel.


P o l o n i u s : It is b a c k d like a weasel.

the pupil w h o still ho ld s to his o w n o f f e r i n g to p ro vid e e x a m p l e s o f

H a m l e t : O r like a w hal e?

his p o stula te .

P o l o n iu s : V ery like a w hal e.

In spite o f su ch criteria as th o se given in B o x 8 . 2 , t h e r e are n o a b s o


lute stan d ard s f o r i n terv iew er qu a lifica tio n s. In interv iew s in w h ic h

H a m l e t : . . . (Aside)

They

fool

me

to

the

to p

of

my

be nt.

( H am let , act III, sce n e 2)

the to p i c really m atters , the a b o v e tech n ical rules and c r it e ria m a y lose
re lev an ce in face o f the ex iste n tia l i m p o r t a n c e o f the in te rv ie w to p ic.

A first c o m m e n t on the qu ality o f this interview c o n c e r n s its length.

W i t h e x te n siv e p ra c tice in d if f e re n t in t e rv ie w f o r m s and w ith d if f e re n t

H a m l e t s interview is brief. T h e seve n lin es are, h o w e v e r , d en se and

su bjects, an e x p e r i e n c e d in terv iew er m ig h t g o b e y o n d t e c h n i c a l r e c

ri ch e n o u g h t o be the su bjcct o f m o re leng thy c o m m e n t s . In c o n t ra s t ,

o m m e n d a t i o n s and c r it e ria , a n d s o m e t i m e s -d elibera tely dis reg ard

c u r r e n t res earch interv iew s are o fte n t o o lo n g and filled w ith idle

or b r e a k the rules.

c h a tt e r . If o n e k n o w s w hat to ask fo r, why o n e is ask ing , and h o w to

O n e e x a m p l e o f br e a k in g rules in th e in teres t o f g o o d in te rv ie w in g

ask, o n e c a n c o n d u c t s h o r t interv iew s rich in m ea ning .

t o o k place at an in terv iew w o r k s h o p . T h e p a rticip a n ts w e r e divided

T h e qu ality o f H a m l e t s in terview t e c h n iq u e d epend s o n h o w the

into g ro ups in w h ich o n e o f th e g ro u p m e m b e r s in t e rv ie w e d a n o t h e r .

in te rv ie w is in terp reted . T h i s sh o r t passage gives rise to several in t e r

T h e in stru ctio n to the inte rv iew ers w as t o e x p l o r e th e m e a n i n g o f

pre ta t io n s . At first g la nce the interv iew is an e x a m p l e o f an u n reliable

auth ority f o r the su bjects. All bu t o n e g ro u p re t u r n e d t o th e plenary

t e c h n i q u e by using thre e leading qu estio n s H a m l e t lea ds P o lo n iu s to

session w ith lively po sitive re p o rts. T h e negative e x p e r i e n c e ca m e

give t h r e e en tirely d ifferen t answers. T h e interview thus d o e s n o t yield

f ro m a gro up w h ere the i n terv iew er had be en d e m a n d i n g , h o s t ile , and

any re p r o d u c i b le , reliable k n o w le d g e a b o u t the

a l o o f and had c o n tin u a lly in te rr u p te d the in t e r v i e w e e s a n s w ers,

q u e st io n .

shape o f the cloud in

brea k in g m ost o f the ab o v e crite ria for g o o d in te rv ie w in g , w ith the

At a s e c o n d g la n ce, the to p ic o f the in terv iew m ig h t c h a n g e : T h e

result that his gro up r etu r n ed d is in te grated and angry. T h e i n t e r

personality o f
Polonius, his t rustw o rthine ss. T h e interview th en pro vides reliable,

vi ew ers ex p l a n a ti o n o f his bad b e h a v i o r w as sim p le inste a d o f

figure in q u estio n is n o lon g er the clo u d , bu t the

153

Quality o f the bitervieiu

t h ric e - c h e c k e d k no w le d g e a b o u t P olo n iu s as an un relia ble p e r s o n to

A ce n tr a l t h e m e o f the play , w h i c h w as w ritten at the transition

all thre e q u estion s his answ ers are led by H a m l e t s q u e stion s. W i t h the

f r o m the m ed ieval to th e m o d e r n a g e , is a q u e s t i o n in g o f reality; no t

c h a n g e in the pu rpose and the to p ic o f the in terv iew the le ading

ju st a su sp icio n o f the m otiv e s o f o t h e rs , bu t a lso a p r e o c c u p a ti o n with

qu e stio n s d o no t p ro d u ce un reliable k n o w led g e, bu t b e c o m e a s o p h i s

th e frail n a t u re o f reality. H a m l e t s in te rv ie w m ay in th a t case be seen

tica ted , ind ir ect, interv iew te ch n iq u e .

as an illu stra tio n o f a

H a m l e t s interview then a p p r o x i m a te s the th re e fo ld ideal o f be in g


in te rp r e te d , va lidated, and co m m u n ic a te d by the end o f the interview .

pervasive doubt about the appearance o f the


world, i n clu d in g the sh a p e o f a c l o u d and the p e r so n a litie s o f fe llow
play ers.

By rep ea tin g the q u estion in d ifferen t versions and each tim e g etting

F r o m an ethical pe rsp ectiv e, the e v alu a tio n o f H a m l e t s in terv iew

the ' s a m e in d ir ect a nsw er a b o u t P o l o n iu s s person a lity , th e in t e r

ag ain d e p e n d s o n the in t e r p r e ta t i o n o f its p u rp o s e a nd c o n t e n t . In the

view is s e l f -i n te r p r e t e d b e fo re H a m l e t cl oses o f f w ith his aside in t e r

first re a d in g , the leadin g q u e stio n s m e re ly lead t o un relia b le k n o w l

p r e ta t i o n : T h e y fool me to the to p o f my b e n t . As to th e s e c o n d

ed ge o f the sh ap e o f the clou d . In the s e c o n d rea d in g , the in terv ie w

r e q u i r e m e n t v e r i f i c a t i o n few in t e r v i e w r e s e a r c h e r s t o d a y r e p e a t

en ta ils the d e lib e ra t e d e c e p t io n o f P o l o n iu s ; th e r e is n o q u e s t i o n o f

so c o n siste n tly as H a m l e t a q u estio n in d ifferen t v e rs io n s t o test

i n f o r m e d c o n s e n t , a nd the c o n s e q u e n c e s m ay be a m a tt e r o f life and

the reliab ility o f the answ ers. R eg a r d in g the third r e q u i r e m e n t

d ea th f o r the p ro ta g o n ists. An e th ics o f pri n cip le s is h e re o v e rru le d by

c o m m u n i c a t i o n the s h o r t interv iew has b e e n ca rrie d o u t so w ell th at

a u tilita ria n in te re s t in survival.

it spe a ks f o r itself. I w ou ld think that, w h en w a tc h in g the pl ay, the

In c o n c l u s i o n , the qu a lit y o f the k n o w le d g e o b t a in e d by H a m l e t s

a u d i e n c e w o u ld g en er a lly e x p e r i e n c e a G e st a lt sw itch f ro m clo u d

in t e r v i e w , as w ell as the eth ical e v alu a tio n o f the in te rv iew , d e p en d s

sh a p e t o person a l cre dibilit y as the interview to p ic even b e fo r e H a m l e t

o n th e i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f the p u rp o s e and th e t o p i c o f the interview .

gives his aside co n c l u s io n .

S o m e fu r t h e r issues o f et h ic s and o f leadin g q u e stio n s will n o w be

S o far, I have discussed 1 l a m l e l s interview iso lated fro m its c o n

ad dre sse d m o r e sp e cifically . N e i t h e r are m e re tech n ical p ro b l e m s :

t e x t , its po sition in the b r o a d e r d ram a. At a third glance th e in te rv ie w

T h e y raise basic q u e s t io n s as t o the n a tu re o f the h u m a n i n t e r a c t i o n

a p p e a r s as a display o f the

pow er relations at a royal co u rt . T h e p rin ce

in the i n t e rv ie w and the rea lity the in te rv ie w is abo u t.

d e m o n s t r a t e s his p o w e r t o m a k e a c o u r t i e r say a ny thin g he w an ts. O r ,


th e c o u r t i e r d e m o n s t r a t e s his m od e o f m a na g ing the p o w e r r e la t io n s
at the co u rt . In an ea rlie r scene in the play, P olo n iu s h i m s e l f gave a

T h e E t h i c s o f In te rv ie w in g

le sso n in w h a t in c u r r e n t t e x t b o o k s o f m e th o d is ca lled an in d ir e c t ,
fu n n e l -s h a p e d , in te rv iew te ch n iq u e . P olo n iu s req u e s ts a m e s s e n g e r

T h e m o r a l qu alities o f an in te rv ie w are h e re first a d dressed w ith

g o i n g t o Paris t o inq uire into the b e h a v io r o f his so n stu d y in g m u sic

re g a r d t o th e eth ica l gu id eli n es o f i n f o r m e d c o n s e n t , c o n f id e n t i a l it y ,

in th e city. T h e m e sse n g e r is instr ucted to start with a b r o a d a p p r o a c h :

a n d c o n s e q u e n c e s . T h e r e a f t e r , c o m p a r is o n s with t h e r a p e u t i c i n t e r

E n q u i r e m e first w h a t D an sk ers are in P aris and th en g ra d u a lly to

view s will se rve to em p h a s iz e s o m e o f the eth ical issues i nvo lv ed in

a d v a n c e th e su b je ct, t o end up with sugge sting such vice s as d rin k in g ,

r e s e a r c h intervie w s.

q u a r r e l i n g , a n d visitin g b r o th e ls, w h e r e Y o u r bait o f f a ls e h o o d ta k e


this c a rp o f t r u t h , c o n c l u d i n g the lesso n , By i n d ir e c t io n s find

Inform ed Consent. T h r o u g h b r ie fi n g a nd d e b rie f in g , the su bje cts

d ir e c t i o n s o u t ( H am let, act II, scene 1). W h e n P o lo n iu s is t h a t well

s h o u ld b e i n f o r m e d a b o u t the p u rp o s e a nd th e p r o c e d u r e o f the

v e rs e d in in d ir e c t q u e st io n in g t e c h n i q u e s , is he actually c a u g h t by

i n t e rv ie w . W h e n it c o m e s t o later use o f the in te rv ie w it m ay be

H a m l e t s q u e s t i o n in g te c h n i q u e ? O r d o es he see t h ro u g h the s c h e m e

p r e f e r a b l e t o have a w r i tt e n a g r e e m e n t , signed by b o th in terv iew er

and play up t o H a m l e t as a co urtier?

a n d s u b je c t , th e r e b y o b t a in i n g the i n f o r m e d c o n s e n t o f the in terv iew ee

154

Interviews

Quality o f the Interview

155

t o participate in the stud y and a llo w future u s e jo f the interview s. T h i s

Research and Therapeutic interviews. S o m e c o n s e q u e n c e s o f a

may inclu de i n f o r m a t i o n a b o u t c o n f id e n t i a l it y a n d w h o will have

re s e a rch interview can. be highlighted by a c o m p a r is o n w ith t h e r a

a cccs s t o the in terv iew ; the r e s e a r c h e r s right t o publish the w h o le

pe u tic interv iew s. A lth ou gh the res earch in terview er can learn m uch

interview o r part s o f it; and the i n t e r v i e w e e s po ssible right t o see the

fro m t h e r a p e u t ic in terview s, it is im p o rta nt t o dis tinguish b e tw e e n the

tra n s crip tion and the in t e rp r e ta t io n s. In m o st ca se s su ch issues m ay

t w o types.

n o t m a tter m u ch t o the s u b jects in te rv ie w e d , bu t if the investig a tio n

r e s e a rch it is the a cq u isitio n o f k no w led g e. A resea rch i n t e r v i e w e r s

sh ou ld treat o r instigate issues o f c o n f li c t , p articu larly w ith in i n s titu

ability t o listen a tte n tiv ely m ay, h o w ev er, in s o m e cases lead t o quasi-

tio n al se ttin gs, a w ritten a g r e e m e n t m ay serve as a p r o t e c t i o n fo r b o th

th e r a p e u t i c re lation s h ip s, for w h ich m ost re searc h in terview ers have

the in terv iew ees and the res e a rch e r.

I he m ain goal in therapy is c h a n g e in the p a t i e n t ; in

n e it h e r the t ra ining no r the tim e. A resea rch interview c a n c o m e to


a p p r o x i m a t e a th e r a p e u tic interv iew , d ep en d in g o n the e x t e n t , the

Confidentiality. T h e qu a lita tive res earch in terv iew in vo lv es d if f e r

to p i c , and the su bjects of the interview . A q u a s i- th e ra p c u tic r e l a t i o n

e n t e thica l issues than t h o s e o f a standardiz.ed q u e s t i o n n a i r e o r a

ship m ay be p r o m o t e d t h ro u g h lon g and re p ea ted in terview s w ith the

t h e r a p e u t ic co n v e r s a t io n . C o n f i d e n ti a l it y in these ca se s is assure d by

sam e s u b je c t , w h e r e a close personal ra p p o rt m ay d evelo p. If the

the c o m p u t e d avera g es in su rvey r es p o n ses and by the clos e d d o o r s o f

i n t e rv ie w to p ics invo lve st ro ng ly personal and e m o t io n a l issues, they

the t h e r a p is t s o f f ic e . It is m o r e p r o b l e m a t i c in a re s e a rch intervie w .

m ay in s o m e cases brin g forth d eeper personal p ro b le m s req uiring

C o n f i d e n ti a l it y issues invo lv ed in t r a n s crib in g a nd re p o r t i n g i n t e r

th e r a p e u t i c ass istance. E m o tio n a lly un stable su bjects, m o r e o r less

view s will be ad dres sed in late r ch a p te r s ( C h a p t e r 9 , T r a n s c r i b in g

c o n sc io u sly seek in g the advice o f a p ro fessio n a l, may a t te m p t to turn

In terview s; C h a p t e r 14 , E th ic s o f R e p o r t i n g ) .

a res e arch in terv ie w into person al ther ap y.


A ny po ssibility th at an interview situation m ig h t c o m e clo s e t o a

Consequences. T h e c o n s e q u e n c e s for the in t e rv ie w e e s c o n c e r n the

t h e r a p e u t i c rela tionship sh ou ld be tak en into a c c o u n t w h en des ig ning

situation itself as well as late r e f fe c ts o f p a rt ic ip a t in g in the in terview s.

the study. T h i s can be d o n e by se eing to it th at the interview s d o n o t

grading study the g e n era l b e n e f its o f the investig a tio n a p p e a r e d

p r o m o t e a th e r a p e u tic relatio n . If sensitive issues and s u b jects are

In the

u n p r o b l e m a ti c , n o h a rm s w e r e fo r e s e e n f o r th e pupils in te rv ie w e d ,

involv ed in an interview study, a rr a n g e m e n t s m ig h t be m a d e w ith a

and m o r e k n o w le d g e a b o u t the e f fe c ts o f g ra d es w as c o n s i d e r e d to be

t h e r a p is t t o serve as a b a c k u p for dealing with p erson al p ro b le m s

in their o w n intere sts . T h e r e w e r e , h o w e v e r , s o m e p r o b l e m a t i c c o n

t h a t m ig h t be br o u g h t up by the interviews.

s e q u e n c e s f o r the su bjects. T h e D a n ish pupils a p p e a r e d ra th e r e m b a r

In s o m e cases it may be possible t o give in terv iew s u b je cts a fair

rassed w h en d escrib in g th e ir o w n rela tion t o ce r ta in f o rm s o f g rad in g

re turn for their ser vices. O n e su ch study c o n c e r n e d the tran s itio n o f

b e h a v io r , su ch as c o m p e t i t i o n a b o u t , and w h e e d l in g for, g o o d grad es

m e n ta l patients from living in a sta te ho spital to living u n d er n o rm a l

(see also the interview o n g rad es, C h a p t e r 7 , An In te r v ie w A b o u t

c i r c u m s ta n c e s in the city o f Aarhus. F o r their c o m b in e d m a s t e r s

G ra d e s). At su ch po in ts their a c c o u n t s o f t e n b e c a m e g en eral and

thesis, th re e psy ch olo gy stud ents c o n d u c t e d intens ive person a l in t e r

vag ue; for re s earch p u rp o s e s it w ou ld have be en d esirable to p ro b e

vi ew s with the patients during the tra n s itio n p erio d, and in return

m o r e inten sively and critically in o r d e r t o o b t a in re lia b le k n o w le d g e

o r g a n iz e d a co n su lta t io n g ro up to faci litate the p a tien ts t ra n s itio n to

a b o u t such g ra d e-a ffe cte d be h a v io r s. T h i s w as n o t d o n e o u t o f c o n c e r n

n o rm a l living situations. In s o m e cases, su ch as in t h e r a p e u t ic res ea rch ,

for the pupils w e ll-b e in g ; w h en c o n s e n t in g t o be i n t e rv ie w e d , they

it m ay thus b e possible t o e x c h a n g e therapy for i n f o r m a t i o n , t o o f f e r

had n o t b e e n told th a t they m ig h t be q u e s t io n e d a b o u t to p ic s th a t

b e n e f it s th at may alleviate trou bles the interview ee s may have had.

co uld be p en ib le to t h em selv e s o r m ig h t involv e c h a n g e s in the ir


se lf -c o n c e p t.

A su sp ici ous attitud e tow ard the su b je c t s sta te m e n ts, as in H a m l e t s


in te rv iew , has also be en c o m m o n in s o m e form s o f psy ch o lo g ical

Interviews

156

Quality o f the Interview

157

interview res ea rch and may be based in a t h er ap eu tic fra m e o f r e f e r

t io n s a w o m a n w h o re p ea ted ly a nd e n e rg e tica lly tells the in terv iew e r

e n ce. In th erap y it is ethical t o be skeptical o f what patients say: T h e y

h o w hap p y sh e is in he r m arria g e . T h e w o m a n also gives m an y verb al

arc at a loss a b o u t the m e a n in g and pu rpose o f their life and g o t o a

and n o n v e rb a l sig nals d eny ing the h a p piness and r e p o rt s situations

therap is t for help in le arn in g w h a t they really m ean and w a n t . In

w h e r e sh e is angry a b o u t the m arria g e. T h e i n f o r m a t i o n o b t a in e d in

c o n t r a s t t o the t h er ap eu tic in terview , w h e re a su sp icious a ttitud e

the in te rv ie w is thus a m b ig u o u s a nd puts the in t e rv ie w e r in a difficult

to w a rd the p a t ie n t s st a t e m e n t s may be part o f an im p licit t h e r a p e u

situ a tio n b e tw e e n s cie n tif ic and eth ical co n s i d e r a t io n s . S h o u l d she

tic c o n t r a c t , us ing c o n c e a l e d te c h n iq u e s and i n terp r e tin g m e a n in g s

leave the w o m a n s version u n c o m m e n t e d , o r sh ou ld sh e fo l l o w he r

im plying a distrust o f the s u b jects m otiv es in a research in te rv ie w

o w n h u n c h t h a t the w o m a n is d eny ing the re a lities o f th e m a rriag e


and p r o b e fu rt h e r and p o in t o u t to the w o m a n the m a n y i n c o n s is te n

w o u ld raise et hical p ro ble m s.


W h e n a re s e a rc h e r m a k e s i n terp r eta tio n s goin g b e y o n d the se lf-

cies and c o n t r a d ic t i o n s in w h a t sh e tells a b o u t her m a rria g e ? A

u n d er sta n d in g o f the in terview ees, a serie s o f issues are ra ise d: S h o u ld

c o n s e q u e n c e o f the latter co u ld be a radical ch a lle n g e o f the w o m a n s

su bjects be c o n f r o n t e d w ith in t e rp r e ta t io n s o f the m selves, w h ich they

u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f h e rse lf and h e r m a rria g e. T h i s w o u ld have be en part

m ay n o t have asked for? D u rin g the interv iew ? In the co u rs e o f the

o f an im p lic it c o n t r a c t in a t h e r a p e u t ic in terv iew , bu t it is d efinitely

analysis o f the interv iew s? W h e n r e p o rtin g the interv iew s? A nd w hat

b e y o n d the c o n t r a c t o f a n o rm a l re s e a rch in te rv ie w and w as no t

sh ou ld be d o n e a b o u t d is ag r eem e n ts b e tw een the su b je c t s a nd the

a t te m p t e d in this case.

r e s e a r c h e r s i n t e rp r e ta t io n s o f a th e m e ? In therapy the a n s w e r t o such


q u e stio n s is relatively si m p le: P a tien ts have so ug h t therapy and they

L e a d in g Q u e s ti o n s

are paying the therapis t to help th e m ch a n g e, involv in g o fte n painful


ch an g es in self-u n d ers ta n d in g and th a t m ay take place in a d ia log u e
In psy choanalysis, the w o r k i n g

T h e m o s t f r e q u e n t l y ask ed q u e s t io n a b o u t in te rv ie w stud ies tod ay

t h ro u g h o f the p a tien ts resis ta nce to the th er a p is ts in te r p r e ta t i o n s is

p ro b a b ly c o n c e r n s th e ef fe c ts o f leadin g q u e stio n s. T h e issue is s o m e

an ess ential pa rt o f the th e r a p e u tic process. In res ea rch , h o w e v e r , it is

tim es raised in the fo rm o f a q u e s t io n su ch as: C a n the in terv iew

th e in terv iew er w h o has so ug h t o u t the in terv iew ees; they have n o t

results n o t be d ue to leadin g q u e s t i o n s ? T h e very f o r m o f th e q u e s t i o n

ask ed for i n te rp r eta tio n s le ading to f u n d a m en tal ch an g es in the way

i n vo lv es a lia rs p a r a d o x an an s w e r o f Y es , this is a se r io u s d a n g e r

th a t c o n t in u e s ov er m any years.

they un derstand them selves and their worl d. T o em phasiz e the p o in t:

may be due t o the sugge stive fo r m u l a t i o n o f th e q u e s t i o n le a d in g to

In therapy it may be u n ethical if the th e r a p e u tic co n v e r s a t io n s the

this a n s w er. A nd a N o , this is n o t th e c a s e m ay d e m o n s t r a t e th at

p atien t has ask ed f o r, and o fte n paid highly for, do n o t lead t o n e w

le a d in g q u e s t i o n s are n o t th a t p o w e r fu l.

ins ights o r em o t io n a l ch ang es. B ut in a resea rch inte rview , w h i c h the

It is a w e l l- d o c u m e n t e d finding t h a t even a slig ht r e w o r d i n g o f a

inte rview ee has n o t ask ed for, it may be un ethical t o ins tigate new

q u e s t i o n in a q u e s t i o n n a i r e o r in the i n t e r r o g a t io n o f ey e w itn esses

se lf -in te r p re t a tio n s o r e m o t io n a l ch anges.

m ay in f lu e n c e th e a n s w er. W h e n the results o f p u blic o p in i o n polls

An i n h e r e n t c o n t r a d ic t i o n b e tw een pursuing scien tific k n o w le d g e

are pu b lish ed , the p r o p o n e n t s o f a p o litic al part y re c e iv in g low

a n d ethically resp ectin g th e integ rity o f the in terview ee is illu stra ted

su p p o r t are usually q u ick t o find biases in the w o r d i n g o f the p o ll s

in the f o llo w in g e x a m p l e (see F o g , 1 9 9 2 ) . As a therapis t c o n d u c t i n g

q u e stio n s. In a p sy c h o lo g ic a l e x p e r i m e n t o n w itn ess re liab ility , d if f e r

re s earch in terview s, F o g a ddresses the d ile m m a o f the r e s e a r c h e r

e n t su b je c t s w e r e s h o w n the sam e film o f t w o ca rs co ll i d i n g and w ere

w a n tin g th e in terv iew t o be as d eep and pro b in g as po ssible, w ith the

t h e n ask ed a b o u t the c a r s sp e e d . T h e a verag e sp e ed e stim a te in reply

risk o f tresp assing o n the p e rso n , bu t o n the o th e r han d to be as

t o th e q u e s t io n A b o u t h o w fast w ere the ca rs g o in g w h e n they

re spectfu l o f the interview e d per so n as possible and th e r e b y risk

sm a sh ed i n t o e a c h o t h e r ? was 4 1 m ph. O t h e r su b je c t s seein g the

g e t tin g em p irical m ate ria l th a t o n ly scra tc h e s the su rface . Sh e m e n

sa m e film , bu t w ith

sm ashed rep la ce d by contacted in the q u estion

158

Interviews

8c

Q uality o f the Interview

159

P a lm e r,

S k in n e ria n a p p r o a c h in the im ag inary interview o n teasing (C h a p te r

1 9 7 4 ) . P oliticians are well e x p e r i e n c e d in w a rd in g o f f lea d in g q u e s

5 , T h e m a t iz i n g ) . A p r o j e c t s orie n tin g re searc h q u estion s d eter m in e

tio ns fro m r e p o rt e rs ; bu t if lea d in g q u e stio n s 4re p o sed t o su bje cts

w h a t kind o f an sw ers may be o b tain ed . T h e task is, again, n o t to avoid

w h o a rc easily su ggestible, such as sm all c h ild re n , re s e a rch findin gs

le a d in g resea rch qu estion s, but to rec o g n izc the prim acy o f the qu es

may be invalidated, a k ey issue in the c u rre n t f qcu s o n ch il d abu se.

tio n and a t te m p t to m a k e the o r ie n t in g q u estion s e x p licit, thereby

a b o v e gave an avera ge speed estim ate o f 3 2 m p h (L o ft u s

A lth ou gh the w o rd in g o f a q u e s t i o n c a n i n a d v erten tly sh a p e the

p ro v id in g the reader w ith the possibility o f evaluating thei r in fluen ce

c o n t e n t o f an a n s w er, it is o f t e n o v e r l o o k e d th a t leadin g q u e s t io n s are

o n the research findings and o f assessing the validity o f the findings.

a lso ne cessary part s o f m a n y q u e s t i o n in g p r o c e d u r e s ; th e i r use d e

T h e fact th at the issue o f le ading q u e stion s has receiv ed so m uch

pends on the to p i c and p u rp o s e o f the investig atio n. L e a d in g qu e stio n s

a t te n t io n in interview re searc h may be due to a naive e m p iricis m .

may be d elib era tely pose d by i n t e r r o g a t o r s t o o b t a in i n f o r m a t i o n they

T h e r e m ay be a be lief in a neutral ob ser v atio n a l access to an o b je ctiv e

su spect is be in g w ith h eld . T h e bu rd e n o f denial is th en pu t o n the

so cia l re ality in d ep e n d en t o f the inve stig a tor, im plying th at an in t e r

su bject, as w ith the q u e s t i o n , W h e n did you sto p b e a tin g y o u r w i f e ?

v ie w e r co ll e c t s verbal respon ses like a bo ta n ist co lle cts plants in n atu re

Polic e o f f ic e r s and lawyers also sy ste m atic a lly a pply lead in g q u e s t io n s

o r a m in e r u n e arth s p re cio us bu ried m eta ls. In an a lte rnative view ,

t o test the co n s is t e n c y and reliability o f a p e r s o n s st a t e m e n t s . In the

w h ic h fo llo w s fro m a p o s t m o d e rn perspective o n k no w led g e c o n s t r u c

R o r s c h a c h p erson alit y test, leadin g q u e s t io n s are e m p l o y e d by the

t io n , th e interv iew is a co n v e r sa t io n in w h ich the data arise in an

p sy ch olo gist t o test the lim its fo r sp e cific f o rm s o f p e r ce iv in g the

in t e r p e r s o n a l re lationship, c o a u t h o r e d and c o p ro d u c e d by i n t e r

a m b ig u o u s ink blots. In P ia g ets inte rv iew s w ith c h ild re n a b o u t their

v ie w er and in terview ee. T h e decisive issue is t h e n n o t w h e t h e r t o lead

u n d er stan d in g o f physical c o n c e p t s , q u e stio n s lea d in g in w r o n g d i r e c

o r n o t t o le ad , but w here the interview q u estion s sh ould le ad, and

tio ns w ere us ed t o test th e stren g th o f the c h i l d s c o n c e p t o f , for

w h e t h e r they will lead in im p o rt a n t d ire ctio n s, pro d u cin g new , trust

e x a m p l e , w eigh t. In S o c r a t c s d ia log u e o n love, he rep e a te d ly e m

w o r t h y , and intere sting know le d g e.

ployed such leadin g qu estio n s as Sure ly you w ou ld say . . . w o u ld you


n o t ? w ith the i n t e n t i o n o f e x p o s i n g the c o n t r a d ic t i o n s o f A g a t h o n s
u n d ersta n d in g o f love and beau ty.
T h e qu alitative res earch in terv iew is p a rticu larly well su ite d for
e m p lo y in g leadin g qu estio n s to c h e c k rep eated ly the reliability o f the
i n t erv iew ees answ ers, as well as t o verify the i n t e r v i e w e r s i n t e r p r e
tations. T h u s , c o n t r a r y to p o p u lar o p in i o n , leadin g q u e stio n s d o no t
always red uce th e reliability o f in terview s, bu t m ay e n h a n c e it; ra the r
than be in g used t o o m u c h , d elib era tely leadin g q u e s t i o n s a rc tod ay
p ro ba b ly a pplied t o o little in qu alitativ e res ea rch in terview s.
It sh ou ld be n o ted th a t n o t on ly m a y the q u e s t io n s p r e c e d in g an
a n s w er be le adin g, bu t th e i n t e rv i e w e rs o w n verb al a n d b o d ily r e
sp o nses f o llo w in g an a n s w er ca n a ct as po sitive o r negative r e i n f o r c c r s
for the a n s w er given and th e r e b y i n flu en ce the s u b j e c t s an s w ers to
furt her q u e stio n s. T h e t e ch n ica l issue o f using leadin g q u e s t i o n s in an
i nterview has b e e n ra th e r ov e re m p h a s iz e d , bu t the lead in g ef fe c ts o f
p ro je c t- b a se d res ea rch qu estio n s have r ec eiv ed less a t t e n t io n . R eca ll
the d iffere n t kinds o f answ ers o b t a in e d by a R o g c r i a n , F r e u d i a n , and

J--~\------

/row Sf>cecl) to Text

16 1

elud e the visual a sp e cts o f the s itu a tio n , n e it h e r the settin g n o r the
facial and b o dily e x p r e s s io n s o f the pa rticipa nts.
A

videotape recorder will e n c o m p a s s the visual asp e cts o f the

in terv iew . W i th the inclu sio n o f facial e x p r e s s io n s and bodily po sture,


a v i d e o t a p e p ro vid e s rich er c o n t e x t s fo r in te r p r e ta t i o n s th a n does
a u d io t a p e . V i d e o re c o rd in g s o f f e r a u n iq u e o p p o r t u n i t y for analyzing
the i n t e rp e r so n a l i n t e r a c t i o n in an in terv iew , an a sp e ct th at has led to
e x t e n s i v e use o f v ideo s in res ea rch o n , a nd t ra in in g for, th er ap y .
The

w ea lth

o f inform ation

m a k e s vid e o ta p e analysis a tim e-

c o n s u m i n g p ro cess. F o r m o s t in terv iew p r o je c ts , p a rticu la rly th o se

From Speech to T e x t
B e f o r e t urn ing t o the analysis o f the k n o w le d g e c o n s t r u c t e d in the
interview in t e ra c t io n , I will ad dress the tra n s crip tion o f in terview s.
R a th e r than be in g a sim ple clerical task, tra n s crip tio n is itself an
in te rp reta tiv e pro cess . W h e r e a s the in t e ra c t io n o f the in terv iew situ
a tio n has been exten sively treated in the literatu re on m e t h o d , the
t ra n s la tio n f ro m or al c o n v e r s a t io n s to w ritten te x ts has r ec eiv ed less
at te n t io n . T h i s c h a p te r a ddresses th e p ro ce d u re s for m a k in g in terv iew
co n v e r s a t io n s accessible to analysis taping the o ra l in te rv ie w i n t e r
a c t i o n , tra n s crib in g the tapes into w ritte n te x ts, and the use o f c o m
pu te r p ro g ra m s to assist the analysis o f the interviews. T h e p ractical
p r o b l e m s o f tra n s crip tio n raise t h eo retic a l issues a b o u t the d if f e r e n c e s
b e tw e e n or al a nd w ritten langu age, w h ich leads to the ra th e r ne g lected
po sition o f language in in terview re searc h.

w ith m an y interv iew s and w h e r e th e m ain in te re s t is the c o n t e n t o f


w h a t is said , v id e o re c o rd in g s may be t o o c u m b e r s o m e fo r analysis. A
v id e o is useful for the t ra ining o f in te rv iew ers , m a k i n g th e m a w a re o f
th e ir facial and b o dily e x p r e s s io n s during an in terv iew t h a t co uld
c i t h e r inh ib it o r p r o m o t e c o m m u n i c a t i o n . T h e sam e is true o f subtle
w ay s o f r e i n f o r c i n g s p e cific types o f a nsw ers by n o d s , sm ile s, and
b o d ily p o stu re s th at the i n terv iew e r m ay n o t be a w a re o f and th at are
n o t r e c o r d e d o n the a u d io ta p e .
It sh o u ld be n o t e d th a t the inclu sion o f the visual settin g d o e s no t
so lve the issue o f an o b je c ti v e r e p r e s e n ta t i o n o f th e in te rv ie w s it u
a t io n . R e s e a r c h e r s w h o use vid e o ta p e r e c o rd in g s are to d a y ra th e r
sen sitiv e t o the co n st ru c t iv e n a tu res o f th e i r d o c u m e n t a t i o n , w h ich
a rc p ro d u c t s o f the r e s e a r c h e r s m any c h o i c e s o f an g les a nd fra m in g ,
as well as the s e q u e n c e o f sh ots (see, e.g ., H a r d & Iap e r t, 1 9 9 1 ) .
An in te rv ie w may alsb be re c o r d e d t h ro u g h a r e f l e c t e d use o f the
r e s e a r c h e r s su bje ctivit y and

remembering, relying on his o r he r e m

pa thy a nd m e m o r y and th en w ritin g d o w n the m a in a sp e cts o f the


R e c o rd in g In terv iew s

in te rv ie w a f te r the se ssion , s o m e t i m e s assisted by n o te s t a k e n during


the in terv iew . T h e r e are o b v i o u s lim ita t io n s to a re lia n c e o n m e m o r y
for i n t e rv ie w analysis, su ch as the rapid f o rg e ttin g o f details a nd the

M e t h o d s o f r e c o rd in g in terview s for d o c u m e n ta t i o n and later


analysis inclu de a u d io ta p e re c o rd in g , v id eo tap e r e c o rd in g , n o t e t a k
ing, and re m e m b e rin g . T h e usual way o f re c o rd in g interview s tod ay
is w ith a

tape recorder. T h e in terview e r ca n th en c o n c e n t r a t e o n the

to p ic and the d yn a m ics o f the interv iew . T h e w ord s and th e i r to n e ,


pauses, and the like, are rec o rd ed in a p e r m a n e n t fo rm th at c a n be
re t u r n e d to again and again for relistenin g. T h e a u d io ta p e gives a
d e c o n te x tu a li z e d vers ion o f the in terview , h o w ev er: It d o es n o t in-

i n f lu e n c e o f a se le ctive m e m o r y . T h e i n t e r v i e w e r s i m m e d ia t e m e m o r y
w ill, h o w e v e r , i n clu d e the visual i n f o r m a t i o n o f the s it u a t io n as well
as the so cia l a t m o s p h e r e and per so n a l i n t e r a c t i o n , w h ich t o a large
e x t e n t is lost in the a u d io ta p e r e c o rd in g . T h e in t e r v i e w e r s active
lis te n in g and r e m e m b e r i n g m ay ideally also w o r k as a selective filter,
re t a in in g th o se very m ea n in g s th at are ess ential f o r the t o p i c and
p u rp o s e o f th e study.

'62

Interviews

Wliil e r e m e m b e r i n g is tod a y o f t e n d ecried as a su bjective m e th o d

163

From Speech to Text


T r a n s c r ip t io n R eliab ility and V alid ity

re p lete w ith biases, it sh ou ld n o t be o v e r l o o k e d th at th e m ain em p irica l


basis o f p sy c h o a n a ly t ic th e o ry ca m e fro m the th e r a p is t s c m p a t h i c

In terview s are tod ay seld om analyzed directly fro m tape record in g s.

lis te ning t o and r e m e m b e r i n g o f t h e r a p e u t i c in terv iew s. Freu d d e v e l

T h e usual p ro ced u re for analyzing is t o have the taped interviews

op ed his p sy c h o a n a ly t ic a l th e o r y at a tim e w h e n ta pe r e c o r d e r s did not

tra n s c r i b e d into w ritten texts. A lth o u g h this se em s like an apparently

ex ist. H e re f ra in e d f ro m ta k in g n o te s during the t h e r a p e u t i c h o u r s and

sim p le and rea s o n a b le p r o c e d u r e , tran s crip tio n s involve a serie s o f

liste ned w ith an e v e n -h o v e r in g a t t e n t io n , a t te n d e d t o the m e a n i n g o f

m e t h o d ic a l and th e o retic a l pro b le m s. F o r e x a m p l e , on c e the interview

w h a t was said , and first m a de no tes a f te r the t h e r a p e u t i c session

t r a n s c r i p t i o n s arc m ade, they te n d to be re garded as

the solid em pirical

( F r e u d , 1 9 6 3 ) . T h i s fo rm o f re c o l le c ti o n is based o n active lis te ning

d a ta in the in terview p ro je ct. T h e transcripts are, h o w ev er, n o t the

d u rin g the s i t u a t i o n ; it re q u ires sensitivity and t ra in in g , w h ic h in t e r

r o c k - b o t t o m data o f interv iew res ea rch , they are artificial c o n s t r u c

view r e s e a rc h e rs to d a y may f o r g o , tre a t in g the tap es and t ra n s crip ts as

t io n s f ro m an or al to a w ritten m o d e o f c o m m u n ic a t i o n . F.very t r a n

t h e ir real d ata . O n e m ig h t sp e cu la te th at if ta p e r e c o r d e r s had existed

sc r ip tio n fro m o n e c o n t e x t to a n o t h e r involves a series o f ju d g m en ts

in F r e u d s tim e , p sy ch oan a lytica l t h e o ry m ig h t n o t have d ev elo p ed

a nd d ecis ions. I will in tro d u ce the co n stru ctiv e natu re o f transcripts

b e y o n d in fin ite scries o f v e rb a tim q u o t e s f ro m the p a tien ts, and

by t a k in g a elos er loo k at their reliability and validity.

p sy ch oan a lysis m ig h t tod ay have r e m a in e d c o n f i n e d to a sm all V i e n


nese se ct o f p sy ch oa n a lysts lost in a c h a o s o f tapes and tra n s c ri p t i o n s

Reliability. Q u e s t io n s o f in terv iew er reliability in in terv iew r e


s e a r c h a rc frequ ently raised. Y e t in co n t ra s t to so cioling u istic re s earch ,

f ro m th e ir thera pie s.

t ra n s c rib e r reliability is rarely m e n t io n e d for social scien ce interv iew s.

Taping. In the p re sent c o n t e x t , the m o st c o m m o n m e th o d o f r e c o r d

T e chn ically reg a rded , it is an easy ch e c k to have tw o p erson s in d e

ing interview s to d a y a u d i o t a p e r e c o r d in g and s u b s e q u e n t t r a n s c r i p

p e n d en tly type the sam e passage o f a taped interv iew , and t h e n have

t io n will be trea ted m o r e e x ten siv ely . T h e

first r e q u i r e m e n t for

a c o m p u t e r p ro g ram list and c o u n t the n u m b e r o f w o rd s th a t differ

tra n s crib in g a r e c o rd e d interview is th a t it was in fact r e c o r d e d . S o m e

b e tw e e n the t w o t ra nscrip tions, thus p ro viding a q u antified reliability

intervie w ers have painful m e m o r i e s ol an e x c e p t i o n a l interview w h e re


n o t h i n g g o t o n the tape due t o te ch n ica l faults o r , m o s t o f t e n , h u m an

check.
T h e in te rp r e ta tio n a l ch a r a c t e r o f tra n s crip tio n is eviden t fro m the

er r o r. T h e i n terv iew e r may have be en so c a u g h t by the ne w n e ss and

t w o transcripts o f the same tape rec ording in T a b le 9 .1 . 1 he w ord s that

c o m p l e x i t i e s o f the interview situa tion that he o r sh e sim ply f o r g o t to

are d if f e re n t in the t w o tra n s crip tio n s arc italicized.

turn the re c o r d e r o n , o r a sp ecial interview may have b e e n so e n gag in g

w ere m a de by t w o psych ologists w h o w ere instr uct ed t o t ra n s crib e as

that any t h o u g h t o f t e c h n ic a lit ie s w as lost.

a c c u r a t e ly as po ssible. Still, the tra n s crib ers ad op te d d ifferen t styles:

1 he t ra n s c rip t io n s

A se c o n d r e q u i r e m e n t f o r t ra n s c rip t io n is th at the co n v e r s a t io n on

T r a n s c r i b e r A appears to write m o re ve rb a tim , inclu des m o r e w ord s,

the tape is audible. A g oo d ta pe r e c o r d e r and m i c r o p h o n e are basic

and seem s to guess m o re than tra n s crib er B, w h o rec ord s on ly w h a t is

req u irem en ts. S o is finding a r o o m w i th o u t b a c k g r o u n d n o ise su ch as

cl e a r and distinct, and w h o also pro d u ces a m o re c o h e r e n t w ritten

voic es in n e ig h b o r i n g r o o m s and heavy ou tsid e traffic. T o sec u re g oo d

sty le. T h e m ost m arked d is crepan cy b e tw e e n the t w o is ren d e r in g the

re c o rd in g qu al ity it is n ecessary th at the m i c r o p h o n e is clos e en o u g h

i n t e r v i e w e r s q u e stion as b e ca u se you d o n t get g ra d e s? versus o f

to b o th pa rticip a n ts; that th e in t e rv ie w e r is n o t afraid t o ask a m u m

c o u r s e you d o n t like g ra d es? It th er eb y b e c o m e s a m b ig u o u s w ha t

bli ng intervie w ee t o sp eak u p ; and th at the t r a n s c r i b e r s c o m i n g w ork

the s u b je c t 's a n s w er Y es, 1 t h in k t h a t s true . . . refers to.

is kept in m in d , for e x a m p l e by a v o id in g c o f f e e cu p s and the like hittin g

T h e qu ality o f tra nscrip tions can be im proved by clear in stru ctio ns

the table, sen d in g bo lts o f t h u n d er into the t r a n s c r i b e r s ears (see Y o w

a b o u t the p ro ced u re s and purp oses o f the tra n s crip tio n s , prefe rab ly

11 9 9 4 j ar>d P oland [ 1 9 9 5 ] for m o r e e x t e n s iv e t r e a t m e n ts o f the r e c o r d

a c c o m p a n i e d by a reliability ch e c k . Y et even with deta iled typing

ing qu ality o f interviews).

164

T A IH l- 9 .1

I nt e r vi e ws

T w o T r a n s c r ip tio n s o f th e S a m e In te rv ie w P assag e

Prom Speech to Text

T A B L E 9 .2

T w o T r a n s c r ip t io n s o f L e o n a s S to ry o f H e r Puppy

T ran scrip tio n A:

T ra n scrip tio n A:

I: And are you also saying because you d on t get grades? Is that true(

. . . and then my puppy cam e / he was asleep / and he was he was /

S: Yes, I think thats true because if I got grades 1 would w'ork toward the grade as

he tried to get up / and he ripped my pants / and he dropped the o a t m e a l -

opposed to w orking toward . . . itmm, expanding what I know, or, pushing a limit
back in m yself or, something . . . contributing new id e a s . . .

all over him / and / my father cam e / and he said

T ran scrip tio n IS:

Transcription 11:

I: And are you also saying that of course you d o n t like grades?

an then my puppy cam e

S: Yes, I think thats true, because if I got grades 1 would work toward the grade as

he was asleep

opposed to w orking toward expanding what I know or pushing those limits back . . .
(tape unclear) contributing new ideas.

he tried to get up
an he ripped my pants
an he dropped the oatm eal all over him
an my fath er cam e

i n s tr u ctio n s it may he difficult for tw o transcribers to r e a c h full

an he said

a g r e e m e n t o n w hat was said, l istening again to the tape might sh o w


t h a t so m e o f the d ifferen c es are due to p o o r rec o rd in g qu a lit y and

S O llR C I i: F ro m M ish le r ( 1 9 9 1 ).

m is hearin g . O t h e r d ifferen c es, w h ich are o f intere st fro m an interrelatio n a l perspective, may no t be un eq u iv oca lly so lved, as f o r e x a m
ple: W h e r e d o es a se n te n ce en d? W h e r e is there a pause? I l o w lon g

H e r e the story a p p e a r s as a literary to u r de fo rce , yield ing a re m a r k a b le

is a silence b e fo re it b e c o m e s a pause in a co n v e r s a t io n ? D o e s a s p e

na r ra tiv e. N e i t h e r tra n s c r i p t i o n is m o r e o b je c tiv e th a n the o t h e r ; they

cific pause b e lo n g t o the s u b ject o r to the interview er? And if the

a r c , r a t h e r , d if f e r e n t w ritt e n co n s t r u c t io n s fr o m the sam e ora l passage:

e m o t io n a l a sp e cts o f the co n v e r s a t io n are incl uded, for insta n ce tense

D i f f e r e n t t ra n s crip ts are c o n s t r u c t io n s o f d if f e re n t w o rld s, each

v o i c e , g igg lin g , nerv ou s l a u g h te r , and so o n , the intersu bjective

d esig n ed t o fit o u r p a rticu la r t h e o r e t ic a l a ss u m p t io n s and t o a llo w us

reliability o f the tra n s crip tio n co uld d evelo p into a resea rch p r o je c t o f

t o e x p l o r e th e ir i m p l i c a t i o n s ( M i s h le r , 1 9 9 1 , p. 2 7 1 ) .

its ow n.

T r a n s c r i b i n g involv es tran s latin g f ro m an or al la n g u a g e, w ith its


o w n set o f ru le s, t o a w ritten language w ith a n o t h e r set o f rules.

Validity. A scerta in in g the validity o f the interview tra n s crip ts is

T r a n s c r i p t s are n o t c o p ie s o r re p re s e n ta t i o n s o f s o m e o r ig in a l reality,

m o r e c o m p l e x than ass uring their reliability. T h e issue o f w h a t a valid

they a re in te r p r e ta t i v e c o n s t r u c t io n s t h a t are useful t o o ls f o r given

t r a n s crip tio n is may be ex e m p lifie d by tw o d ifferen t tra n s c ri p t i o n s o f

pu rp os es. T r a n s c r i p t s are d e c o n te x tu a li z c d c o n v e r s a t io n s , they are

a stor y told by a 7 - y e a r-o ld A fro -A m e r ic a n pupil (see Table 9 . 2 ) . T h e

a b s tr a c t io n s , as t o p o g r a p h i c a l m aps are a b s tr a c t io n s f ro m th e orig in al

t w o t ra n s c rip t io n s are fro m a seg m en t o f a lo n g er story fro m a

la n d sca p e fro m w h ic h they are derived. M a p s e m p h a s iz e s o m e as pects

c l a s s r o o m e x e r c is e , tra n s crib ed by tw o d iffere n t re s e a rc h e rs and d is

o f the co u n t r y s id e and o m i t o t h e r s , the s e le c t io n o f fe atu res dep en d in g

cussed by M i s h l e r ( 1 9 9 1 ) . T ra nscript A is a verb atim re n d e r in g o f the

o n the i n t e n d e d use. M a p s o f the sam e t o p o g r a p h i c a l a r e a fo r pu rposes

o ra l f o rm o f the sto r y ; the s ch o o l t ea ch er foun d the w h o le story

o f drivin g , a v ia tio n , ag ricu ltu re , and m in in g will ten d t o be rather

d is c o n n e c t e d and ra m b lin g , n o t living up to a cce p ta b le c r it e ria o f

d if f e re n t . An o b j e c t i v e m a p re p re se n tin g , for e x a m p l e , the island o f

c o h e r e n c e and language use. T r a n s c r i p t B is an idealized r ea liz a tio n

G r e e n l a n d d o e s n o t e i i s t : T h e shape d ep en d s o n the se le cte d m od e

o f the sam e story passage, re tran scrib ed into a p o etic f o r m by a

o f p r o j e c t i o n f r o m a cjirv ed t o a flat plane, w h ic h again d epend s on

r e s e a r c h e r fam ilia r w ith the lin guistic p ractices o f b la ck o ra l style.

t h e i n t e n d e d use o f tht| m ap.

166

I liter Vi e ws

C o r r e s p o n d i n g l y , the q u estio n W h a t is the c o r r e c t t r a n s c r i p t i o n ?


c a n n o t he a n s w e re d th e r e is n o tr ue, o b je c ti v e t r a n s f o r m a t i o n fro m

i'rotn Speech In lext

If,7

c u lt u r e is ch a ra cteriz ed by a na ly tic , a b s tract, and ob jectively distanced


f o r m s o f t h o u g h t and exp ress io n .

the oral t o the w ritte n m o d e . A m o r e c o n s t r u c t iv e q u e s t io n is: W h a t

In ter v iew t ra n s crip tio n s are o f t e n b o rin g to read, en nui en sues in

is a useful t ra n s c rip t io n for my research p u r p o s e s ? " T h u s verb atim

face o f the rep etitio ns, the i n co m p lete s e n ten ces , and the m a n y d ig re s

d e s c r i p t i o n s are n ecessary for linguistic an a ly ses ; the inclu sio n o f

sions. The a ppa rently i n c o h e r e n t s tatem en ts may be co h e r e n t with in

pa use s, re p e ti t io n s , and to n e o f vo ice are re le v a n t f o r psy ch o lo g ical

the c o n t e x t o f a living c o n v e r s a t io n , w ith vocal i n t o n a ti o n , facial

i n t e r p r e ta t i o n s o f , for e x a m p l e , level o f a n x ie ty o r the m e a n i n g o f

e x p r e s s io n s , and body language s u p p o r tin g , givin g nu an c es to , o r even

denials. T r a n s f o r m i n g the c o n v e r s a t io n in t o a lit era ry style facilitates

c o n t r a d i c t i n g w hat is said. Su ch d is crep a n cies b e tw e e n w h a t is said

c o m m u n i c a t i o n o f th e m e a n in g o f th e s u b j e c t s sto r ie s t o re aders .

a nd the a c c o m p a n y i n g bodily ex p r ess io n s arc d eli b era tely used in


s o m e f o rm s o f co m ica l and iron ica l statem en ts.
T h e p r o b l e m s w ith interv iew tra nscripts arc due less to the t e c h n i

O r a l an d W r i t t e n L a n g u a g e

ca lities o f tran s crip tio n than to the in h e re n t d ifferen c es b e tw e e n an


oral and a w ritten m od e o f d isco urse. T r a n s c r i p t s are d e c o n te x tu a liz e d

By n e g le c t in g issues o f t ra n s c rip t io n , the in te rv ie w r e s e a r c h e r s


ro a d t o hell b e c o m e s paved w ith tra n s crip ts. T h e i n t e rv ie w is an
e v o lv in g c o n v e r s a t io n b e tw e e n tw o p e o p le . T h e t r a n s c r i p t i o n s are
frozen in tim e a nd a b s tr a cted f ro m th e ir base in a so cial i n t e ra c t io n .
T h e lived f a c e - t o - f a c e c o n v e r s a t io n b e c o m e s fix a te d i n t o transcripts.
A tra n s c rip t is a tra n s g re ss io n , a t r a n s f o r m a t i o n o f o n e n ar ra tiv e
m o d e or al d is co u rse in t o a n o t h e r na rrativ e m o d e w ritt e n dis
co u rs e . T o /rawsscribe m e a n s to

transform, to c h a n g e fro m o n e form

to a n o t h e r . A t te m p ts at ve rb atim in terv iew tr a n s c r i p t i o n s p ro d u c e


hy brids, artificial co n st ru c t s th at are a d e q u a t e to n e it h e r the lived oral
c o n v e r s a t io n n o r the form a l style o f w ritten texts. T ra n scrip tio n s are
tra n s latio n s fro m o n e lang u age t o a n o t h e r ; w h a t is said in the h e r m e
ne utical t ra d it io n o f tra n s la to rs also p e r ta in s to t ra n s c rib e r s:

traduire

traittori tra n s lato rs are traito rs.

m e a n i n g d e p en d s o n c o n t e x t , th en transcripts in iso la tion m a k e an


i m p o v e ris h e d basis for in te rp r e ta tio n . An interview takes place in a
c o n t e x t , o f w hich the spatial, t e m p o ra l, and social d im e n s io n s are
im m e d ia t e ly given to the p a rticipa nts in the fa c e -t o -f a c e c o n v e r s a t io n ,
bu t n o t to the o u t - o f - c o n t e x t read er o f the tra nscript. In c o n t r a s t to a
ta p ed intervie w , a novel will re p o r t the im m ed ia te c o n t e x t o f a
c o n v e r s a t io n , including n o nve rba l c o m m u n ic a t i o n to the e x t e n t the
a u t h o r fin ds it relevan t for the story he o r she w ants to tell. Sim ila r
c o n s i d e r a t io n s hold for jo u rna listic interviews.
T h e t ra n s crip tio n s are d c tc m p o r a l iz e d ; a living, o n g o i n g c o n v e r s a
tio n is fro z en in t o a w ritten te x t . T h e w o rd s o f the c o n v e r s a t io n ,
f le e tin g as the steps o f an im provise d d a n ce , are fix ated in t o static
w r i tt e n w o rd s, o p e n to r ep ea ted public in spectio ns. T h e w o r d s o f the

The d ifferen t rh eto rica l form s o f oral and w ritt e n lang u a ge are
f requ ently o v e r l o o k e d during the tr a n s c r i p t i o n o f so cial sc ie n c e i n t e r
views; o n e e x c e p t i o n is P oland ( 1 9 9 5 ) .

c o n v e r s a t io n s . If o n e accep ts as a m ain pre mise o f i n te rp r e ta tio n that

R e c o g n i z i n g th e so cially

c o n stru cte d natu re o f the tra n s crip t, he discuss es in detail p r o c e d u r e s


for increasing the t ru s tw o rth in e s s o f tra n s crip ts and thus e n h a n c in g
rigor in qu alitativ e resea rch . S o c io lin g u is tic s and e t h n o m c t h o d o l o g y
have b r o u g h t the d iffere n c e s b e tw e e n oral and w ritten la n g u a g e in t o
focu s (O n g , 1 9 X 2 ; T a n n e n , 1 9 9 0 ; T e d l o c k ,

19 X 5). In a histo rical

linguistic study, in part icular o f H o m e r s w o r k , O n g o u t lin e s the


tho ug ht and e x p r ess io n o f a p ri m ari ly oral cu lt u r e as b e in g clos e to
the hum an life w orld, situ ationa l, e m p a th i c and p a rt i c i p a t o ry , a d d i
tive, ag gregativ e, ag on istic, and r ed u n d a n t. In c o n t r a s t , a w ritten

t ra n s crip ts take on a solidity that was no t in tend ed in the im m e d ia t e


c o n v e r s a t io n a l c o n t e x t . T h e flo w o f co n v e r sa t io n , w ith its o p e n h o r i
z o n o f d ir e ctio n s and m eaning s to be follow ed up, is rep la ce d by the
f ix a te d , stable w ri tten tex t.
In a co n v e r s a t io n we n o rm a lly have im m e d iate acc ess to the m e a n
ing o f w h a t the o th e r says. W h e n analyzing the interv iew s, the tape
r e c o r d in g , and in part icular the en suin g tra n s crip t, tends t o b e c o m e
an o p a q u e screen b e tw een the res earcjie r and the orig inal situation.
A t te n ti o n is drawn to the form al r e c o rd e d lan guage and the em p a th ically e x p e r i e n c e d , lived m ea n in g s o f the orig inal co n v e r sa t io n fade
a w a y ; the dried pale flo w ers in the h e rb ar iu m rep la ce the fresh

Interviews

168

/Vow Sftccch to Text

c o lo rf u l flo w ers o f the field. T h e tra nscri pts b e c o m e a kind of f u n d a

is in itself a b e g i n n i n g analysis. The a m o u n t a nd f o rm o f tra n s cribin g

m en tal verbal data for in terview re s earch , ra the r than a m eans to evo ke

d e p e n d s o n su ch f a cto rs as the na tu re o f the m a teria l and the pu rpose

and revive the perso nal in t e ra c t io n o f the interview situation.

o f the in v es tig a tio n , the tim e and m o n e y available, a n d n o t to be

T h e ra the r in terpreta tive basis o f the transcripts is o fte n fo rg o tt e n

f o r g o t t e n the availability o f a reliable and patie nt typist. T ra n scrip

in the analysis, w h e r e the transcripts ten d t o b e c o m e a r o c k - b o t t o m

t io n fro m tape to te x t in vo lv es a se rie s o f t e ch n ica l and in t e rp r e ta t io n a l

basis for th e en su ing in te rp r e ta tio n s. Ig n o ra n ce o f the m any t e c h n ic a l

issues f o r w h i c h , a g ain, there are few stand ard ru le s, bu t ra th e r a serie s

and t h e o r e t ic a l issues o f t ra n s fo rm in g co n v e r sa t io n s in t o te x ts m a y be

o f c h o i c e s t o be m ade.

due to a n e g le ct in social scien ce o f the linguistic m edium o f i n t e rv ie w

It is a useful e x e r c i s e for i n terv iew ers t o type o n e o r m o r e pilot

res earch . So cial sc ientists are tod ay naive users o f the language that

i n terv iew s th e m selv es. T h i s will sensitize th e m to the i m p o r t a n c e o f

th e ir p ro fession a l pra c tice and resea rch rests o n . A lth ou gh m o st so ci al

the a c o u s t i c qu alit y o f the r e c o rd in g , to paying a t te n t io n to asking

scien ce p ro g ra m s tod ay re q uire co u rs es in statistical analysis o f q u a n

cl e a r au d ible q u e s t i o n s and g ettin g equ ally cle a r an s w ers in the

titative data , even a ru d im entary in t ro d u c tio n t o linguistic analysis o f

i n t e rv ie w s itu a tio n . T h e t r a n s crib in g e x p e r i e n c e will also m a k e i n t e r

lin guistic, qu al itativ e data is a rarity.

view ers a w a re o f s o m e o f the m a ny d ecis ion s involv ed in tr a n s fo r m in g

N o t b e in g able to rely o n a c o n c e p t io n o f a stable, u n iversal,


n o n c o n t e x t u a l , and t ra n s p a re n t relation b e tw een re p r e s e n ta t i o n and
reality, and be tw e e n language and m ean in g , c o n f r o n t s r e s e a rc h e rs
w ith se rio us and difficult th eo retic a l and m eth o d o l o g i c a l p r o b l e m s
( M i s h lc r , 1 9 9 1 , p. 2 7 8 ) . N e g le ctin g lin guistic c o m p l e x i t i e s during
tra n s c rip t io n f ro m an oral to a w ritten lan guage may be related t o a
p h ilo so p h y o f naive realism , w ith an im plicit co n s t a n c y h y p o th e sis o f
so m e real m e a n i n g nuggets re m a in in g co n s t a n t by their tra n s fe r fro m
o n e c o n t e x t t o a n o t h e r . In co n t ra s t , p o s t m o d e rn c o n c e p t i o n s o f
k n o w le d g e em pha siz e the co n t e x t u a l i ty o f m e a n in g with an i n trin s ic
re lation o f m e a n in g and f o rm , and focu s on the very ru p tu re s o f
c o m m u n i c a t i o n , the breaks o f m eaning . T he nu a n c es and the d if f e r
en ces, the t r a n s fo r m a ti o n s and d is con tin uities o f m ean in g b e c o m e the
very p o res o f k n o w led g e. P o s t m o d e r n a p p r o a c h e s t o k n o w le d g e d o
no t so lve the m any t e ch n ica l and th e o re t ic a l issues o f t r a n s c r i p t i o n .
T h e e m pha sis o n the lin guistic co n s t itu t io n o f reality, on the c o n t e x
tuality o f m ean in g , and o n k no w le d g e as arising from the tra n s itio n s
and breaks, h o w e v er, involv es a sensitivity to and a focu s o n the o f t e n
o v e rlo o k e d t r a n s crip tio n stage o f interview re searc h.

o ra l s p e e c h to w ritt e n t e x t s , and it will give an im p r ess io n o f the tim e


a nd e f f o r t th e t ra n s c rip t io n o f an in te rv iew req uires.

'Typing. T h e tim e n e e d e d to t ra n s crib e an in te rv iew will d e p en d on


the qu ality o f the re c o rd in g , the typin g e x p e r i e n c e o f the t ra n s c rib e r ,
and the d e m a n d s for detail a n d ex a c t i t u d e . T r a n s c r i b i n g large a m o u n t s
o f in terv iew m a te r ia l is o f t e n a t ir e s o m e a nd stressing j o b ; the stress
c a n be re d u ce d by s ec u rin g re c o rd in g s o f high a c o u s t i c qu ality.
F o r the interview s in the g ra d in g study, an e x p e r i e n c e d se creta ry
t o o k a b o u t 5 h o u r s t o type v e rb a tim an in terv iew o f 1 h o u r. A 1 - h o u r
in te rv ie w results in 2 0 to 2 5 sin gle-spa ce d pages, d e p e n d in g o n the
a m o u n t o f s p e ech and h o w it is set up in typing.

Who Should Transcribe? In m ost st udies the tapes are tran s crib ed
by a s e c r e t a r y , w h o is likely t o be m o r e e f fi c i e n t at t y pin g tha n the
r e s e a r c h e r . In v estig ato rs w h o em p h a s iz e the m o d e s o f c o m m u n i c a t i o n
and lin g uistic style m ay c h o o s e to d o th e ir o w n t r a n s crib in g in or d e r
to se c u re the m a n y d eta ils Relevant t o th e ir s p e cific analysis. S o m e have
a typist d o a first t ra n s c rip t io n o f all the inte rv iew s in a st ud y; then
a f te r re a d in g th e m t h r o u g h , the r e s e a r c h e r g o e s b a c k and rety p e s th o se
i n terv iew s, o r th o se part s o f the in terv iew s, th a t will be su b je c t e d to

T r a n s c r i b i n g Interv iew s

in tensive analysis.

Transcribing the interview s fro m an oral to a w ritten m o d e s t r u c

Style. There is o n e ha$ic rule in t r a n s c r i p t i o n state e x p lic itly in

tures the interview c o n v er sa tio n s in a form a m e n a b le tor clo s e r

th e r e p o r t h o w the tra n s c ri p t i o n s w e r e m a d e . This sh o u ld p re ferab ly

analysis. S tru cturin g the m aterial in t o te x ts faci litates an o v e r v i e w and

be based o n w ritten in s tr u c t io n s to the tra n s crib er s. If t h er e are several

170

Interviews

irotn Speech to Text

171

tra n s crib er s for the interview s o f a single study, ca re sh ou ld b e tak en

ed it ing o f the tra nscription may be desirable. If, h o w ever, the t ra n

t h a t they use the sam e p r o c e d u r e s f o r typing. It this is n o t d o n e , c r o s s

scr i p ti o n s are to serve as m aterial for so cio lin g u istic o r psy ch olo gica l

co m p a r is o n s a m o n g th e interv iew s will be d iffic u lt to m ak e .

analysis, they ne ed to be in a detailed, verb a tim fo rm . F,ven the m an y

A lth o u g h there is n o stand ard form or c o d e for t r a n s c r i p t i o n o f

h m s o f an o rd inary c o n v e r sa tio n , distu rb ing w h en rea d in g a t ra n

re s e a rch in terv iew s, there arc s o m e s tan d a rd c h o i c e s to be m a d e. T h e y

scr ip t, can be re levan t for later analysis: for e x a m p l e , w h e t h e r the

invo lv e su ch issues as: S h o u ld the st a t e m e n t s be t ra n s crib e d v e rb a tim

h m s o f the in terview er selectively follow , and thus r e i n fo r c e , special

an d w o rd by w o r d , inclu ding the o f t e n f r e q u e n t r e p e tit io n s , o r sh o u ld

types o f a nsw ers by the subject . And, if psy ch olo gical i n te rp r eta tio n s

t he in terv iew be t r a n s fo r m e d in t o a m o r e f o rm a l, w ritten style? S h o u ld

a rc to be m ade, the e m o tio n a l tone o f the c o n v e r s a t io n sh ou ld also be

the e n tire in terv ie w be r e p ro d u c e d v e rb a t im , o f sh ou ld the tra n s c r i b e r

inclu d e d . H e r e the very pauses, rep etitio n s , and so fort h m ay yield

c o n d e n s e and su m m ariz e s o m e o f the part s that have little relevan t

im p o r t a n t m ate ria l for in terp retation .

i n f o r m a t i o n ? S h o u ld pauses, em p h a s e s in i n t o n a t i o n , and e m o t io n a l

In J a c o b s e n s ( 1 9 8 I) study o f the un iversity so cia liz ation o f stud ents

e x p r e s s io n s like laug h te r a nd sig hin g be inclu d ed ? A nd if pauses are

o f D an ish and o f m edicine to thei r respectiv e pro fessio n a l cu ltures,

to b e in clu d e d , h o w m uch detail sh ou ld be in d ic ate d ?

the interview s w e re transcribed v erb a tim , including the m a n y h m s,

I he re are n o c o r r e c t , s tan d a rd a nsw ers to su ch q u e s t i o n s ; the

a i n t it t r u e , and die like. J a c o b s e n co u n ted (lie use o f su ch fillers

an s w e rs will d e p en d o n the i n ten d ed use o f the tra n s crip t. O n e

by the stu d en ts o f Danish and o f m ed icin e, re spectiv ely , and fou n d a

po ssible g u id elin e for e d it ing , d o in g justice to the in te rv ie w e e s, is to

m ark e d ly m o re freq u e n t use o f a in t it t ru e by the stud ents o f

im ag in e h o w they them se lv es w ou ld have w a n ted to f o r m u l a t e their

D a n ish . H e i n terp r eted this, t o g e t h e r with o t h e r ind ic atio n s, as be in g

st a t e m e n t s in w riting. T h e t ra n s c rib e r then on b e h a l f o f the su bjects

in line with the cu lture o f the h u m a nities, in w h ich there is an e m pha sis

tra nsla te s th e ir oral style in t o a w ritten fo rm in h a r m o n y w ith the

o n d ia lo g u e with attem p ts to ob ta in co nsen su al validation o f in t e rp r e

s p e cific s u b je c t s gen er al m o d e s o f e x p r e s s io n . T h e e x t e n t o f detail in

t a tio n s, involv in g appea ls to the o th ers, such as a i n t it t r u e . In

a tra n s c rip t io n will d e p en d on its use; reg ard ing pauses, for e x a m p l e ,

c o n t r a s t , the m ed ical p ro fession is m o r e ch a ra cte riz e d by lectu re s as

it m ay be su fficien t for s o m e p u rp o s es sim ply to n o t e a sh o r t p a u se

m o n o l o g u e s a uth orita tively stating n o n d e b a ta b le truths.

o r a lon g p a u s e , w h er ea s for d etailed so c io lin g u ist ic analyses the


length o f a pause will be i n d ic a ted in m illiseco nd s.
D e c is io n s c o n c e r n i n g style o f tr a n s c r i p t i o n d e p end o n the au d ie n ce

The issue o f h o w detailed a tra nscription sh ou ld be is also illus


tra ted by an interv iew se q u e n ce o n c o m p e t i ti o n for grades, w h ich in
D e n m a r k is a negative b e h a v io r that m an y pupils hesitate to a d m it to:

for w hich a t e x t is inte nd ed . F o r the in v e s tig ator, as an aid in r e m e m


bering the interv iew s? F o r the in terv iew su bjects, to c o n f ir m th at their
views are a d e q u a tely re n d e r e d in the interview; and po ssibly a lso as an

I n te r v ie w e r :

D o es it influence the relationship b e tw een the pupils

that the grades are th ere?

inv itation to e x p a n d u p on w hat they have said? F o r a res ea rch gro up

Pupil: N o , n o n o , o n e does no t loo k d ow n o n a n y o n e w h o gets bad

(hat will m ake e xte n siv e analyses o f the interview s, o r for critica l

gra des, that is not d one. I d o not believe that: w ell, it m ay be

c o llea g ues w h o w a nt t o c h e c k the basis on w h ich the r e s e a r c h e r d raw s


his or he r co nclu s io n s ? O r for gen eral rea d ers w h o w a n t so m e c o n c r e t e
illustratio ns from the interv iew s?
T h e d ecis ions a b o u t style o f t ra n s crib in g d epend o n the use o f the
transcriptions. If they are to give s o m e gen er al im p ress io n s o f the
su bje cts views, rephra sin g and c o n d e n s i n g o f st a t e m e n t s m ay b e in
o rder. Also, if the analysis is to be in a form that ca te g o riz e s or
co n d en se s the general m e a n in g o f w'hat is said, a ce r ta in a m o u n t o f

th a t th e r e are so m e w h o do it, blit I d o n t.


In te r v ie w e r :

D o e s th a t m ean the re is n o c o m p e t i ti o n in the class?

P u p il: T h a t s right. T h e r e is no ne.


At face value, this pupil says that on e d oes no t lo o k d ow n on pupils
w'ith lo w grad es and c o n f ir m s the in terv ie w ers i n te rp r e ta tio n that
t h e r e is n o c o m p e t i ti o n for grades in the class. A critica l read ing may
lead to the o p p o site c o n c l u s io n the boy him self i n tro d u ces the

172

Interviews

From Speech to Text

173

p h e n o m e n o n o f loo k in g d o w n o n pupils with bad grades, first d enies

in te rv ie w tra n s crip ts may in vo lv e an u n eth ical stig m a tiz ation o f spe

th a t it o c c u rs , then re p eats the denials with th re e n o s and f o u r n o t s

cif ic p e r so n s o r g r o u p s o f p eo p le.

in the few lin es o f his s t a tem en t. T h i s m any denials o f l o o k i n g d ow n

T h o s e t e a c h e r s in the g ra d in g study w h o had exp ress ed in terest

on o t h e r pupils m ig h t, w ith the qu a ntita tive increases, su d d en ly lead

re ceiv ed a d ra ft o f the b o o k c h a p t e r in w h ich their s ta te m e n ts w ere

t o a qu a lit ativ e c h an g e for the re a d er, and the st a t e m e n t c o m e t o m ean

discu ss ed . A t e a c h e r o f D a n ish , w h o had b e en q u o t e d exten sively ,

the o p p o s i t e o f w h a t was m a nife stly said. If the ab o v e interview

ca lled and ask ed m e t o o m i t o r rep h ra s e his st a t e m e n t s in the b o o k .

st a t e m e n t had n o t been t ranscribed v erb a tim , but re p hrased i n t o a


b r ie fe r fo rm such as O n e d oes no t loo k d ow n

011 o t h e rs

I h e ra t h e r o f f - t h e - c u f f v e rb a tim q u o t e s f ro m his in terv ie w sh o w e d a

with low

very p o o r D a n ish used by a t e a c h e r o f D a n ish , w h ic h he fou n d pe nib le

-grad es n o r c o m p e t e f o r grad es ^1t h e re in tc r p rc t a rio n o f the m a n ife st

in his p ro f e s s io n . At th at tim e I was little a w a re o f the d if f e r e n t rules

m e a n in g o f the s ta te m e n t into its o p p o site co uld no t have tak en place.

for oral and w ritten language and be lieved th a t a ve rb atim t r a n s c r i p

T h e ef fe c t o f m ultiple ne ga tion s c a n ce lin g each o t h e r o u t is used in

t io n o f the interview s was the m o s t loyal and o b je c ti v e t ra n s c rip t io n .

lit e r a tu re , in

1 did,

Hamlet, for e x a m p le :

h o w e v e r , res p ect his re q u e s t and ch a n g e d his q u o t e s in t o a

c o r r e c t w ritt e n f o r m , w h ic h also m a d e th e m m o r e read a ble.


H a m l e t : M a d a m , h o w like you this play?
Q u e e n : T h e lady d oth p ro test t o o m u ch , m eth ink s.
sce n e

(Hamlet, a c t III,

2)

C o m p u t e r Too ls for In terv iew A nalysis

tre a t sensitive to p ics in w h ich it is im p o rt a n t to p ro te ct the

Ethics. T r a n s c r i p t i o n involv es ethical issues. The interv iew s m ay


confiden
tiality o f the su bject and o f person s and institutio ns m e n t i o n e d in the

to facilita te the analysis o f in te rv ie w transcrip ts. T h e y re p la ce the

in terview . A lo n g with the necessar y and sim p ler but s o m e t i m e s f o r

o f pages o f paper with e l e c t r o n i c sc i s s o r s . T h e p ro g ra m s are aids for

g o t t e n tasks goes the ne ed for secure storag e o f tapes and transcrip ts,

st ru c t u rin g the interview m ateria l for f u rth e r an al ysis; the ta sk and

and o f era sin g the tapes w hen they are n o lo n g er of use. In sensitive

re s p on sibility o f i n t e r p r e ta t i o n still rest w ith the re s e a rc h e r.

D u ri n g the past d e c a d e , c o m p u t e r p r o g r a m s have be e n d ev elo p ed


t im e - d e m a n d i n g cu t- a n d -p a st e a p p r o a c h t o analysis o f o f t e n hu n d red s

case s, it may be a d van tag eou s as early as the tran s crip tio n stage to

T h e c o m p u t e r p ro g ra m s serve as t e x t b a s e m a n a g e rs , s to r in g the

mask tile identities o f the interv iew ed su bjects, as well as eve n ts and

o l t c n e x te n siv e in terv ie w tran s crip ts, and allo w for a m ultitu d e o f

pe rson s in the interv iew s that m ig h t be easily rec o g n ize d . T h i s is

a n a ly t ic o p e r a t i o n s (fo r ov erv iew s, se e T e s c h , 1 9 9 0 ; W e i t z m a n &

p articularly im p o r t a n t if a larger research g ro u p is involv ed and sev

M iles, 1 9 9 5 ; M iles &

eral person s will t h e r e fo re have acc ess t o the tra nscripts.

in t r o d u c t i o n t o c h o o s i n g a m o n g c o m p u t e r p r o g r a m s for qu alitative

H u b e r m a n s, 1 9 9 4 , a p p e n d i x gives a s h o r t

consequence o f read ing

analysis). T h e p r o g r a m s a llo w for su ch o p e r a t io n s as w ritin g m e m o s ,

their o w n interview s. T h e verb a tim transcribed oral lang u age may

w ritin g r e f l e c t io n s o n the interview s for late r analyses, c o d i n g , s e a r c h

a p p e a r as in c o h e r e n t and co n fu sed sp e e ch , ev en as ind ic atin g a low er

ing for key w o rd s, d o in g w o r d c o u n t s , and m a k in g g rap h ic displays.

level o f intelle ctu al fu n ctio ning . T h e su bjects may b e c o m e o f f e n d e d

S o m e o f the p r o g r a m s allo w for o n - s c r e e n c o d i n g a nd n o t e ta k in g

and refuse any f u rth e r c o o p e r a t i o n and any use o f w h a t th ey have said.

w h ile re a d in g th e transcripts.

S o m e su bjects may e x p e r i e n c e a s h o ck as a

If the tra n s crip ts a rc to be sent ba c k to the in terv iew e es, re n d e r in g

T h e m o s t c o m m o n f o r m o f c o m p u t e r analysis to d a y is c o d i n g , or

th e m in a m o r e fluent w ritte n style m ig h t be co n sid ered fro m the start.

c a t e g o r i z a t i o n , o f the in te rv ie w st a t e m e n t s . T h e r e s e a r c h e r reads

And il n o t , co n sid e r a c c o m p a n y i n g the tra nscri pts with i n f o r m a t i o n

th r o u g h th e tran s crip ts a n d c a t e g o riz e s the re levan t pass ages; then

a b o u t the natu ral d ifferen c es be tw e en oral and w ritten language styles.

w ith c o d e - a n d -r e tr ie v e p r o g r a m s the c o d e d passag es ca n be re trieved

publication o f in c o h e r e n t and rep etitiv e Verbatim

and in s p e cte d ag a in, w ith o p t i o n s o f r e c o d i n g and o f c o m b in i n g co des.

Be m in dful th at the

174

Interviews

Vrom Speech to Text

175

T h e p o te n ti a l o f s o m e p ro g ra m s t o m a k e c o n n e c t i o n s a m o n g the

pa ss ages for later rep o rtin g can be transcribed . T h e co d e d passages

c a t e g o r i e s t o d e v e lo p h i g h e r - o r d e r co n c e p t u a l stru ctu res is s o m e t i m e s

ca n easily be re trieved for relistenin g, or r ec o d in g and o t h e r fun ctio ns

r e f e rr e d to as th e o r y build ing.

o f the analysis p ro g ram ca n be c o n d u c t e d in this case , by w o r k i n g

C o m p u t e r p ro g ra m s for a naly zing interview te x ts m ay save the

directly with the rec o rd ed interview ins tead o f with tra n scrip tion s.

qu a lita tive r e s e a r c h e r m uch o f the dru d g ery o f analysis and th e r e b y

K ITs advantages include n o t only the saving o f tim e and m o n ey

e n a b le c o n c e n t r a t i o n o n m ea n in g fu l and cre a tiv e i n t e r p r e ta t i o n s o f

sp e n t o n tra n s crib in g al! o f the interv iew s, bu t the speed o f retriev al ,

w hat was said in the in terview s. A f u rth e r a d vanta g e is th a t the p r o

w h e r e the analyst can shift b e tw e e n d iffe re n t passag es in, o r be tw e e n ,

g ra m s f o r c e the r e s e a r c h e r t o m a k e e x p l i c i t c o m m a n d s t o the c o m

the interview s in less than o n e se c o n d . T h e m any m e th o d ic a l and

pu ter, w h ich w h e n r e p o rt e d ca n give the re aders insig ht i n t o w hat

t h e o r e t ic a l p ro b lem s o f t ra n s fo rm in g oral spe ech into w ritten t e x t s are

o f t e n se e m s like a b l a c k - b o x m e th o d o f in terview analysis. T h e use o f

sim ply bypassed w hen the analyst w ork s directly on re c o rd in g s o f the

c o m p u t e r s in qu alitative analysis co u ld , h o w e v e r , r e i n f o r c e e x istin g

live co n v e r sa t io n s. In a d ditio n to the c u rre n t t h e o r e t ic a l r e c o v e ry o f

t re n d s t o w a rd reifyin g the tra nscrip ts and d is reg ard in g th e ir basis in

oral lang u age f ro m the a lie n atio n o f w ritten te x ts, su ch tech n ica l

a lived so cial situ atio n . T h e c u r r e n t e m pha sis on c o d i n g m ay lead to

d e v e lo p m e n t s in analysis may recla im the lived interv iew co n v e r s a t io n

analyses o f iso lated variables abstra cted fro m their c o n t e x t in live in

f ro m the h e g e m o n y o f tra nscripts in interview res earch.

t e r p e r s o n a l in t e ra c t io n s . W ith the tech n ica l case o f c o d i n g and o f a n a


lyzing iso la ted variables, c o m p u t e r s o ftw a re co u l d further a n e g le ct o f

In the n e x t thre e c h a p te r s I ad dress the pre sen t state o f analysis o f

t he c o n t e x t u a l base o f interview st a t e m e n t s in the nar ra tiv es o f lived

i n te rv ie w t e x t s ; first by discussing so m e c o m m o n qu estio n s in in te r

c o n v e r s a t io n s .

v iew analysis today ( C h a p te r 1 0 ), then by o u tlinin g m ain a p p r o a c h e s

There a re tech n ical d e v e lo p m e n t s on the way that m ay c o u n t e r a c t


the c o m m o n i n fa tu a tio n w ith reifie d interview tra nscripts. T o d a y ,
m ost a na ly ses o f in terv iew co n v e r s a t io n s are d o n e on the basis o f
tra n s crip ts, and the o rig in a l tapes are sto r ed s o m e w h e r e bu t seld o m
used d u rin g the analysis. In the past few years , h o w e v e r , a new
g e n e r a tio n o f c o m p u t e r p ro g ra m s is be in g d ev e lo p e d th a t ca n be used
d irectly o n a u d io - and v id e o ta p es, saving the d e to u r o f t ra nscribin g .
T h e d ir e ct lis te ning t o a nd s tru ctu rin g o f the o rig in a l oral sp eech
a llo w s an e m p a th i c lis te ning to w hat was said in the in te rv iew in t e r
action.

KIT is a Windows-b ased pro g ra m that fo llo w s and e x t e n d s the


Texthase AlVIIA (see T c s c h ,
1 9 9 0 ) . T h e new pro gram KIT m ak es transcrip tion red undant by re c o rd

s tru ctures fro m the t e x t analysis p ro g ra m

ing and storin g the s o u r c e interview s an d natu ral s p e ech in t e r a c t i o n s


o n the c o m p u te r its elf in th e ir oral fo rm ( Qualitative

Interview and
Therapy Analysis, d evelo pe d by C a rl V e r n e r S k o u at the C e n t e r o f
Q ua lita tive R e s e a rc h at the U niversity o f A arh us) . T h e tap e r e c o rd in g
is tran s ferre d to a c o m p a c t disk, c o n v e r te d into digital f o r m , and
stored in the co m p u te r . D u rin g replay the spe ech can be c o d e d o n the
m o n it o r , c o m m e n t s on the passages can b e w ritt e n d o w n , and cen tra l

wi

to an alysis ( C h a p te r 1 1 ), and finally by providing s o m e e x a m p l e s o f


i n t e rp r e tin g interv iew state m en ts ( C h a p te r 12 ).

177

The 1,()()()-l}u^c Quest mu

p ro d u c t iv e . In in terv iew r e s e a rc h , t o o m u c h e m pha sis has be en placed

10

o n the in flu e n ce o f leadin g q u e s t io n s in the interview situa tion,


w h e r e a s the le ading in flu e n ce o f q u e stio n s pur to the interview texts
t h r o u g h th e ir an alysis has b e e n ra th e r ne g le cte d . T h e

1,000-p age

q u e s t i o n as it is f o rm u la t e d a b o v e lea ds in the w r o n g d ir e c ti o n it is
c lo s in g and u n p ro d u c t iv e .
A lead f o r the analysis o f the q u e s t io n is ta k en f r o m A n t o n i o n i s
m o v ie

The Reporter. In o n e sc e n e , in w h ich an A frica n s h a m a n is i n t e r

view ed by the w h ite re p o r t e r , the s h a m a n re p lies s o m e t h in g like this


to o n e o f the r e p o r t e r s q u e stio n s: I will n o t a n s w er y o u r q u estio n .
M y an s w e r w o u ld tell less a b o u t me than y ou r q u e s t io n tells a b o u t

The 1,000-P age Question

y o u r s e l f .

O n e may so m e t im e s receive a q u e stio n like this w hen t e a ch in g at


w o r k s h o p s on qu alitat iv e re searc h:

W h a t D oes the 1 , 0 0 0 - P a g e Q u e s t i o n M e a n ?

H o w shall 1 fi n d a m e t h o d t o a n a l y z e t h e 1 , 0 0 0 p ag es o f i n t e r v i e w
tr a n s c r i p t s 1 ha v e c o l l e c t e d ?

The m a teria l

for the pre sen t analysis is the

1 7 w o r d s o f the

1 . 0 0 0 - p a g e q u e s t i o n as f o r m u l a t e d a b o v e . T h e p u rp ose o f the analysis


is t o u n c o v e r the m e a n in g o f the q u e s t i o n , t o m a k e e x p l i c i t its

1 his c h a p te r is a reply lo this 1 , 0 0 0 - p a g e qu estion . It incl udes s o m e

p re s u p p o s it io n s and th e r e b y th e im plicit c o n c e p t i o n s o f qu a lita tive

s u m m a rie s o f the stages o f an interview investig atio n that have alread y

re s e a rch it implies. T he ge n e r a l in terest is p r o p h y l a c t i c ; it is an a t te m p t

b e en co vered and pre p a res the g ro u n d for the analysis stage treated

t o o u t li n e m o d e s o f c o n d u c t i n g in te rv ie w re s e a rch so th a t a r e s e a r c h e r

in m o r e detail in the n e x t tw o ch a p ters.

n e v er get s in t o a s itu a tio n w h e r e he o r she feels c o m p e l l e d t o ask the


1 . 0 0 0 - p a g e q u e stio n . T h e m e t h o d o f an aly z in g the q u e s t i o n will be
d iscu ss ed in the c o n c l u d i n g s e c tio n . T h e g en era l f o rm o f the analysis

D ism iss o r I n t e rp re t the 1 , 0 0 0 - P a g e Q u e s t io n ?

is t o s e le ct 7 key w o rd s f ro m the 1 , 0 0 0 - p a g e q u e s t i o n a nd analyze


th e m sep a ra tely :

A first impu lsive rea ction to the 1 , 0 0 0 - p a g e q u estion is to dismiss


it N e v e r po se that q u e s t i o n ! W h e n an interview p ro je c t has be en
c o n d u c t e d in su ch a way that the

1, 000 -page

q u e stion is a sk ed , the

H o w ( 3 ) shall 1 fi n d a m e t h o d ( 4 ) t o a n a l y z e ( 7 ) t h e 1 , 0 0 0 p a g e s ( 2 ) o f
in terview transcripts (5) I have (1) co llecte d (6) ?

q u estio n ca n n o longer be answ ered . A m o re a d e q u a t e reply w ou ld


th en be: N e v e r c o n d u c t interview resea rch in such a way that you
find y o u r s e l f in a situation w h e re you ask su ch a q u e s t i o n .
T h e p re s e n t a p p r o a c h goes f u rth e r than m erely dismiss ing the
q u e s t i o n ; the c o n c e p t i o n o f qu alitativ e resea rch im plied by the

1, 000 -

1 IA V K T O O I .ATI-.!

T h e a n s w e r is si m p l e the q u e s t i o n is p o sed t o o late.


N e v e r po se the q u e s t io n o f h o w to analyze t ra n s c rip t s

after the

page q u e s t io n will be interp reted by ta k in g a clo s e r loo k at its w ord in g .

in terv iew s have b e e n c o n d u c t e d it is t o o late t o st a rt t h in k in g a fter

T h e q u e s t i o n is n o t on ly pose d t o o late, it is leading. Yet all q u e stio n s

the in te rv ie w in g is d o n e . T h e an s w er h e re p arallels t h a t o f a st atisti

are le adin g: T h e y may be o p e n i n g or closin g, pro d u ctiv e or c o u n t e r

c i a n : C o n s u l t m e about! th e ^ ata analysis b e fo r e you c o ll e c t y o u r data.

176

178

Int ervi ews

179

The 1,00()-I}a}>e Question

T h i n k a b o u t ho w the interview s are to be a na ly z ed b e f o r e they arc

W h e n posed in a m ore assertive vo ice the sam e q u estio n may have

c o n d u c t e d . T h e m e t h o d o f analysis d e cid ed o n o r at least c o n s i d e re d

a n o t h e r m ea n in g . A diligen t you ng sc h o lar has d o n e his em pirica l duty

will th e n d ir e ct the p r e p a ra t io n o f the in terv iew guid e, the in terv iew

and d o c u m e n te d his scien tific attitud e by g ath e rin g large a m o u n t s o f

p ro ce ss , a nd the tr a n s c r i p t i o n o f the interview s. F.vcry stage in an

d a ta . H e n o w aw aits the e x p e r t s praise and advice a b o u t h o w t o tre at

i n t e rv ie w p r o j e c t in volv es d e cis io n s that o f f e r b o th p o ssibilities and

the d ata . The qu estion may he re involve a reversed po sitivism a

c o n s t r a i n ts in later stages o f th e p ro je ct.

q u e st for scien tific respectability by m ir ro r in g the positivist e m pha sis

T h e m e t h o d o f analysis sh ou ld n o t only be pla n n ed in a d v a n c e o f


the in terv iew in g . The analysis m a y also , t o vary ing d eg r e e s, be built

on large q u a n tities o f q u a ntita tive data with large qu a n tities o f qu ali


ta tive data.

in t o the in terv iew situ a tion itself. A c l a r i f ic a t i o n o f the m e a n i n g o f

W h e t h e r pose d in a desp airing or in an assertive vo ice , the f o r m u

w h a t is said m ay th en take the sim p le fo rm o f I u n d e r sta n d t h a t the

la tio n o f the q u estion leads in the w r o n g d ir ectio n . T h e e m phasis is

m e a n i n g o f w h a t you just said is . . . F u r th e r , the r e s e a r c h e r may

o n the q u a n tity

a t t e m p t to c o n f ir m o r re je c t his or he r h y p o th e sis d u rin g th e inte rview ,

q u a lita tiv e m eaning s o f w h a t was said.

1,000

pages ra the r than o n the c o n t e n t a nd the

sim ilar t o a jo b interview w h e r e the i n terv ie w er is co n t in u a l l y te stin g

O n e t ho usa n d pages o f tra nscripts is g enerally t o o m u ch to han dle.

the h y p o th e sis a b o u t w h e t h e r the interview ed a p p l i c a n t is qu alified

The m ate ria l is t o o exten siv e to ov erview and to w ork o u t the depth

for the job .

o f the m e a n in g o f w hat w as said. The analysis is t o o tim e - c o n s u m i n g

In su ch f o rm s o f analysis in t e r p r e ti n g as you g o c o n s i d e r a b l e

and is likely to lead to a su perf ici al p ro d u ct, unfin is hed due t o ex te rn a l

part s o f the analysis are pu shed f o r w a r d in t o the in terv iew situ a tion

tim e co n stra in ts . Sh ou ld there be d efinite re ason s for ne ed in g su ch a

itself. T h e final analysis then b e c o m e s n o t o n ly easier a nd m o r e

large a m o u n t o f interv iew m a terial

a m e n a b le , bu t will also rest o n m o r e sec u re g r o u n d . Put stro n g ly , the

tw e e n 3 0 and 4 0 h o u rs o f interv iew s the reason s for the large q u a n

ideal i n t e rv ie w is alrea d y analyzed by the tim e the ta pe r e c o r d e r is

tity sh o u ld be explicitly f o rm u la ted b e fo re the in terview s a rc c o n

tu rn e d off.

H iere are so cial and ethica l re stra in ts o n h o w far the

d u cted . It may then turn o u t th at few er interviews are su fficien t, or

an alysis o f m e a n i n g can be u n d e r ta k e n d u rin g the in te rv ie w itself, bu t

that the p u rp ose o f the investigatio n is b e tter served by q u estio n n a ires.

this m ay serve as a m e t h o d ic ideal f o r in te rv ie w research .

1,000

pages c o r r e s p o n d t o b e

A rep h ras in g o f the 1 , 0 0 0 - p a g e q u e st io n , involv in g a c h a n g e in

c h a n g in g the t e m p o ra l f o rm :

H ow shall 1 conduct my interviews so


that their meaning can be analyzed in a coherent and creative way ?

H ow do I go about
finding the meaning o f the many interesting and com plex stories my
interviewees told me?

1 ,0 0 0 P A C T 'S " T O O M U C H !

H O W A S K W 11 A T A N D W H Y F I R S T

An a lter n ativ e r e f o r m u la t i o n o f the 1 , 0 0 0 - p a g e q u e s t i o n en ta ils

T h e a nsw er to this q u a n tita tiv e part o f the q u estio n is also si m p l e

1,000 pages o f

t ranscrip ts is t o o m u c h t o h a n dle in a m e a n in g f u l way.

T h e pre cise m e a n in g o f th e q u e s t io n m ay d ep end o n its i n t o n a ti o n .

e m p h a s is fro m qu antity t o m ea ning , co uld be:

D o no t pose the qu estion o f ho w to analyze in terview s b e fo r e the


a n s w e rs to the w hat and the why o f an investigatio n have be en given.
C o n t e n t and p u rp ose p re ce d e m eth od .

W h e n pose d in a despairing v o ic e , it may ind ic a te a s itu a tio n o f b e in g

In a naly zing an in terview , w hat is n o t said may be just as i m p o r t a n t

o v erw h e lm ed by an e n o r m o u s a m o u n t o f qu alitative data , o f b e in g

as w h a t is said. In the q u estion anal yzed h e re, the q u estio n o f h o w

c o m p letely lost in a jungle o f t ra n s crip tio n s . T h e m e a n i n g o f the

is p o sed w i th o u t including the w h a t and the w h y o f the inves ti

qu estion may then be: R escu e me fro m my 1 , 0 0 0 pages, I c a n n o t find

g a tio n . T h e term

my way ou t o f the labyrin th.

no g oal stated, it is difficult t o sh o w the way to it.

m ethod orig inally m e a n t the way to the goal. W i th

180

Interviews

The 1,()()U-Vage Question

181

T h e m o d e o f analysis dep end s o n w h a t is ana lyzed, on the s u b je c t

T h e r e a rc n o sta nd ard m e th o d s o f t e x t analysis th a t c o rre s p o n d to

m a tter o f the interview , and o n the w h y , the pu rpose o f the

the m u ltitu d e o f t e c h n i q u e s available for statis tical analysis. T h i s may

interv iew . T h u s the i n te rp r e ta tio n o f H a m l e t s interview rested o n a

be due in part t o the relativ e no v e lty and the small e x t e n t o f cross -

cla rif ic a t io n o f the to p ic and p u rp ose o f the interview an e x p l o r a t i o n

d iscip lin ary c o m m u n i c a t i o n a b o u t qu a lita tive analy sis in the social

o f the sh a pes o f clou ds o r the te stin g o f a hypothesis about Io l o n i u s s

scie n ce s. T h e la ck o f st and ard t e c h n i q u e s o f qu a lit a tiv e analysis may,

t ru s tw o rt h in e s s ( C h a p te r

8 , H a m l e t s In te rview ).

In g en era l, the t h e o

h o w e v e r , also be due t o the rich n es s and the c o m p l e x i t y o f the su b

retical c o n c e p t i o n s o f w h a t is investigated sh ould pro vide the basis for

j e c t m a tte r. S o m e g en e ra l a p p r o a c h e s t o the analysis o f qu alitativ e

m a k in g d ecis ion s o f h o w the m e th o d t o be used for an a ly zin g the

m a te r ia l in vo lv in g d if f e re n t t e c h n ic a l p r o c e d u r e s d o exist . Five-

c o n t e n t . Thus a psy ch oa n a lytic c o n c e p t i o n o f an interv iew s t a t e m e n t

a p p r o a c h e s t o an aly z in g th e m e a n i n g o f interview s, t o be ou tlin e d in

as an ex p r ess io n o f u n c o n s c io u s force s will invo lve a d if f e r e n t f o rm

th e n e x t c h a p t e r , a re : c a t e g o r i z a t i o n , c o n d e n s a t i o n , n ar ra tiv e s t r u c

o f analysis than a b e ha vioris tic c o n c e p t i o n o f the s t a t e m e n t as an

tu rin g , d e e p e r i n t e r p r e ta t i o n s , and ad h o c tactics for the g e n e r a tio n

el e m e n t in a ch a in o f stimuli and responses. F u r th e r, if a res ea rch study

o f m e a n in g .

pu rp o r ts to test a hy po thesis a b o u t d ifferen c es a m o n g g ro u p s o f

M ethod m ay also be used in th e sense o f o b t a in i n g in tersu bjectively

s u b jects, then the analysis sh ou ld be syste m atic and c o n d u c t e d in the

reliable results. T h e q u e s t io n th en c o n c e r n s h o w d if f e r e n t re ad ers can

s a m e way for each o f the g ro u p s in o r d e r t o test possible d if f e r e n c e s

a rriv e a t the sa m e m e a n in g s w h en analy zing an interview . T h i s may

a m o n g th e m . F o r e x p lo ra t iv e pu rposes it will, on the c o n t r a r y , be

re f le c t the c o m m o n c o n c e r n that qu alit a tiv e re s e a rch lea ds t o as m any

m o r e a p p r o p r i a t e to pu rsue the d if feren t intere sting a sp e cts o f the

i n t e r p r e ta t i o n s as th e r e are res ea rch ers. W h e n using a s p e cific m e th o d

individual interv iew s and to in terp r et th e m in g re a te r d epth.

w ith a s p e cific p u r p o s e for in s ta n ce , c a t e g o r i z a t i o n o f the s u b je c t s

T h e s p e cifica tio n o f the su bject m atter and the pu rp ose o f an

s t a t e m e n t s in o r d e r to c o m p a r e the attitud es o f d if f e r e n t g r o u p s of

interview study co uld be c o n t in u e d , ela b o ra te d furt her, or m a de in

s u b jects t o w a r d an issue th en a high i n tcrs u b je ctiv e re p ro d u c ib ility

o t h e r ways than su gge sted here. W h a t is im p o rt a n t is that the w h a t

o f the c a t e g o r i z a t i o n is d esira b le ; th a t is, the results o f the c o m p a r is o n

and the why o f the investig atio n are cl arifie d b e fo re a m e th o d o f

sh o u ld n o t be in f lu e n c e d by w h o c a t e g o riz e d the a n s w e rs o f the

analysis is c h o se n .

g ro u p s . A strict r e q u i r e m e n t o f in te rs u b je ctiv e reliability for all form s

T h e tech n ical h o w t o e m phasis o f the 1,0 0 0 - p a g e q u e s t i o n can

o f in te rv ie w analysis m ay, h o w e v e r, lead t o a ty ran n y by the low est

H ow do I go about finding out what the interviews


tell m e about what I want to kn ow ?

c a n be f o llo w e d by e v e r y o n e , a c r i t e r i o n that c o u ld lead to a triviali-

be r e f o r m u la t e d to:

po ssible d e n o m i n a t o r : th at an in t e r p r e ta t i o n is o n ly re liable w h e n it
z atio n o f the in te r p r e ta t i o n s . T h i s m ay again involv e a co n se n su a lis t

M E T H O D V ER SU S K N O W L E D G E

c o n c e p t i o n o f tru th : th at an o b s e r v a ti o n o r an i n t e r p r e ta t i o n is on ly
c o n s i d e r e d valid if it can be r ep ea ted by e v e r y o n e , irre s p e ctiv e o f the

T h e m eth o d o l o g i c a l a spe ct o f the 1 ,0 0 0 - p a g e qu estion c a n n o t be

qu ality o f the o b s e r v a ti o n and the a r g u m e n ta t i o n .

answ ered due to the way the q u estion is form u la ted . T h e r e are n o

T h e e m p h a s is o n m e t h o d in the m e a n in g o f sta n d a rd iz e d t e c h

via regia, to arrive at essential m e a n in g s and

n i q u e s o r o f in te rs u b je ctiv e reliability may also in vo lv e a dis reg ard

sta ndard m e th o d s, n o

d eeper im p lication s o f w hat is said in an interview .

o f k n o w le d g e and e x p e r ti s e d u rin g the analysis o f the in terv ie w s. T h e

T h e d em an d for a m e th o d may involve an e m phasis on t e c h n i q u e s

q u e s t i o n m ay in vo lv e an e x t e r n a l i z a t i o n o f the i n t e r p r e t a t i o n o f

and reliability, and a d e-em p h a s is on k no w led g e and validity. T h e

m e a n i n g to fix ed rules and crite ria , ra th e r th a n g o in g b e y o n d m e th o d

search for t e ch n iq u es o f analysis may be a qu est for a t e c h n o l o g i c a l

and d ra w in g u p o n the c ra f t sm a n sh ip o f the r e s e a r c h e r , o n his o r her

f i x to the re s e a rc h e rs task o f analyzing and co n st ru c t in g m e a n in g .

k n o w le d g e and in t e rp r e ta t iv e skills. P s y ch o lo g ica l re s e a rch has o f t e n

182

Interviews

placed a n e m p iristic e m p h a s is o n naive o b s e r v e r s a n d u n p re ju d ic e d

and e x p a n d w hat is ex pressed in the text. T h e m ea n in g s m ay be

i n terp r eter s as a c o n d it i o n for o b t a in i n g o b je c ti v e results. In c o n t r a s t

a p p r o a c h e d as m anife stly exp r ess ed , or, in line w ith a depth h e r m e

t h e r e t o , th e p re se n t p o s itio n e m p h a s iz e s a k n o w le d g e o f th e s u b je c t

n e u t ic s , see k in g t o u n c o v e r m eaning s h id den in the te xts.

m a tte r, an e x p e r ti s e in the field stud ied, as a p re su p p o sit io n for a r r iv


ing at valid in t e rp r e ta t io n s. T h e i m p o r t a n c e o f b a c k g r o u n d k n o w le d g e
lo r o b se r v a tio n s is ev id e n t in a variety o f areas. W h e n a naly zing

T h e alternative to the tra n scrip tion em phasis in the 1 , 0 0 0 - p a g e

H ow do I analyze what my interviewees told me in order


to enrich anil deepen the meaning o f what they said?

q u e s t i o n is:

in terview s with c h e ss players, the r e s e a r c h e r s k n o w le d g e o f ch e ss at


a h ig h er level than th at o f the in t e rv ie w e e s is a p r e c o n d i ti o n for seein g
the so lu t io n s they did no t see. In the psy ch oa n a lytica l t r a d i t i o n , th e r e
has lon g been an e m p h a s is o n the tra in in g a n d the c o m p e t e n c e o f the
analyst for m ak in g p sy ch o a n a ly tical o b s e r v a ti o n s and i n t e rp r e ta t io n s .

C O I.I.E CT E D " VERSUS COAUTHORED


The

i n t e rv ie w e e s st a t e m e n t s are n o t c o ll e c t e d the y a re c o

a u t h o r e d by the interview er.

T h e a lte r n a tiv e t o the m e th o d ic a l e m p h a s is o f the 1 ,0 0 0 - p a g e q u e s

T h e in te r- v ie w is a n in ter-su b jectiv e en ter p rise o f t w o p e r so n s

H ow can the interviews assist me in extending my knowledge


oI the phenom ena I am investigating ?

t a lk in g a b o u t c o m m o n t h em es o f interes t. T h e in terview er d oes no t

tio n is:

m e r e l y c o ll e c t st a t e m e n t s like g a th e rin g small s t o n e s o n a b e a c h . H is


o r he r q u e stio n s lead up to w hat as pe cts o f a to p i c th e su b je c t will

TRA N SCRIP TS BEWARE!

a d d re s s, a n d the in t e rv ie w e rs active lis te ning and f o llo w in g up o n the


a n s w ers c o - d e te r m i n e s the co urse o f the c o n v e r sa tio n .

D o no t c o n c e iv e o f the interv iew s as tran s crip ts: The interview s are


living c o n v e r s a t io n s b e w ar e o f tra nscripts.
T h e tra n s crip ts sh o u ld n o t be the s u b ject m a tt e r o f an interview
st udy, as im plied by the

1, 000 -pag e

T h e r e is a te n d e n cy to take the results o f a social i n t e ra c t io n , w hen


first arr iv ed at, as a given, forg ettin g the orig inal d is cou rse and the
s o c ia l c o - c o n s t r u c t i o n o f the final o u t c o m e s . Su ch a re i f ic a ti o n may

q u e s t i o n , bu t ra t h e r b e m ea n s,

b e st re n g th e n e d by the tra n s crip tio n o f the interview s; the fix ate d

t o o ls , for the in t e r p r e ta t i o n o f w h a t was said d u rin g the interv iew s.

w ritten fo rm ta k es o v e r and the orig inal face -t o -f a c e in t e r a c t i o n o f the

A lth ou gh p r o d u c e d as an o r a l d is co u rse , the in te rv ie w a p p e a r s in the

in te rv ie w situa tion fades away.

fo rm o f a w ritten te x t . T h e tr a n s c rip t is a bas ta r d , it is a hybri d b e tw e e n

A re if ic a tio n o f the joi ntly pro d u ced interview into a t r a n s crip tio n

a n o ral d is co u rse u n f o l d i n g o v e r t im e , face t o face, in a lived situ ation

o f c o ll e c t e d s ta te m e n ts has co n s e q u e n c e s in b o t h a so cial and a

w h e r e w h a t is said is ad dressed t o a s p e cific lis te n er p re se n t and a

t e m p o ra l d im en s io n . So cially , the forg ettin g o f the jo in t social cre a tio n

w ritten t e x t cr e a te d f o r a g e n e r a l, d is ta n t, public.

o f the in terv iew st a t e m e n t s and the ne glect o f th e in t e r v i e w e r s c o n

An e m phasis o n the t ra n s c rip t io n may p r o m o t e a reifyin g analysis

stru ctiv e c o n t r i b u ti o n s to the answ ers pro d u ced m ay lead t o a biased

that red uce s the te x t to a m e re c o ll e c t i o n o f w o rd s o r single m e a n in g s

v iew o f th e interview as m erely re f le c t in g the i n t e rv ie w e e , w ith the

co n c e iv e d as verb al data. T he or ig in ally lived f a c e -t o -f a c e c o n v e r s a

po ssible e x c e p t i o n o f the in fluen ce o f directly le ading qu estion s. T h e

t io ns dis appear in endless transcrip ts, on ly t o re a p p e a r b u t c h e r e d in t o

a l te r n a t iv e a p p r o a c h o f d elib era tely us ing the ro le o f th e i n te rv iew er

f rag m en ted qu o tes. T h e inte rview s b e c o m e clo s e d , they n o lon g er

as a c o p r o d u c e r and a c o a u t h o r o f the interview , and o f r e flectin g on

o p e n up t o a h o riz o n o f po ssible m e a n i n g s , t o be e x p l o r e d and


d evelo ped .

t h e so cia l co n s t itu t io n o f the interview , is then o v e rlo o k e d .


T e m p o r a l l y , fo cu sing o n the transcripts as a c o ll e c t i o n o f sta te m e n ts

An alte rn a tive a p p r o a c h t o w a rd the tran s crip ts in vo lv es en te r in g

m ay freeze th e inte rview into finished entitie s rathe r than t r e a t its pas

dialogue w ith the t e x t , go in g i n t o an im a g in e d co n v e r s a t io n w ith

sages as steppin g s to n es to w a rd a c o n t in u o u s u n f o ld in g o f the m e a n in g

the a u t h o r a b o u t the m e a n in g o f the t e x t . T h e rea d er h e re asks ab o u t

o f w h a t w as said. In the latter case , the analysis o f the transcribed

the t h e m e o f the te x t , g o e s in t o the t e x t se e k i n g t o d e v e lo p , clarify,

inte rv iew s is a c o n t in u a t i o n o f the c o n v e r sa tio n that started in the

into a

1 84

Interviews

The 1,0 0 0 -Page Question

185

interview situation. I he in t e rv ie w e e s an sw ers o p e n Lip to a h o r i z o n

A n ar ra tiv e a lte r n a tiv e to the analysis vers ion o f the 1 , 0 0 0 - p a g e

o f possible m ean in g s to be pursued during the late r co n v e r s a t io n a l

H ow can I reconstruct the original story told


to me by the interviewee into a story I want to tell my audience?

analysis w ith the interview te x t . The focus o f the analysis m o v es fro m

q u estio n t h e n b e c o m e s :

w h a t has already b e en said, goes b e y o n d the im m e d ia tely given, to


w h a t co u ld have be en said.

M e t h o d o f A n alysis

T h e c o n t in u e d d ia log u e with the t e x t may lead to a ren e w e d


co n v e r s a t io n with the interview ee , sh aring and d evelo ping the zon e
o f po ssible m e an in g s in the orig inal interv iew . M o r e o f t e n , the analysis
will be in the fo rm o f an im ag ined dia logue with the te x t , u n f o ld in g
its h o r i z o n o f possible m eanings.

A q u e s t i o n a b o u t in terv iew re s e a rch was pose d in the in t r o d u c ti o n


o f this c h a p te r : H o w c a n I find a m e th o d t o analyze the 1 , 0 0 0 pages
o f in terv iew tran s crip ts I have c o ll e c t e d ?
T h e a n s w e r given w as th a t th e q u e st io n w as posed t o o late to ob ta in

T h e alte rnative to the s t a m p -c o lle c tin g vers ion o f the 1,0 0 0 - p a g e

a sa t is f a c t o ry an s w er and th a t its fo r m u l a t i o n m a d e it d if fic u lt to

q u e s t io n is: How do I carry on the dialogue with the text I have


coauthored with the intervieweef

a n s w er. T h e w o r d i n g o f the q u e s t io n was th en analyzed in d etail with


the p u rp o s e o f b r in g in g its im p licit p re su p p o sitio n s o f in terv iew
re s e a rch into the o p e n , and w ith the g eneral interest o f m a k i n g the
q u estio n su p erflu o u s.

A N A L Y Z E V ER SU S N A R R A TE

N o s t an d a rd ized m e th o d o f analysis was applied to th e q u e s t i o n ;


D o no t let the analysis stage inflate so that it co n s u m e s the m a jo r
p o rt io n o f tim e available for an in terview p ro ject.

r a t h e r, a variety o f a p p r o a c h e s w ere tried in o r d e r t o brin g o u t the


m e a n i n g o f the q u e st io n . T h e g eneral st ru ctu re was t o se le c t 7 key

T h e analysis o f an interview is interspersed b e tw e e n the initial stor y

w o r d s fro m the 1 7 - w o r d s e n t e n c e and analyze th e m in d iv id ually. Y e t

told by the interview ee to the r e s ea rch er and the final st or y told by

the analysis w as n o t en tirely d e c o n t e x t u a li z e d ; the re w e re c o n t in u o u s

analyze m ea n s to sep a ra te s o m e t h in g

ov e rla p p in g s a m o n g the m ea n in g s d ev e lo p e d f ro m the key w o r d s th a t

the re s e a rc h e r to an au d ien ce. T o

into part s o r elem e n ts. T h e tran s crip tio n o f the co n v e r sa t io n and the

p o in te d to c o m m o n th re a d s o f m e a n in g un d erly in g the q u e s t i o n . By

c o n c e p t i o n o f the interview as a c o ll e c t i o n o f sta te m e n ts m ig h t p r o

a n a ly z ing the s e p a ra t e w o rd s, an a t t e m p t was m a d e to b r in g in the

m o t e a f ra g m e n t a tio n o f the story told by the interview ee into sep a ra te

c o n t e x t o f the q u e s t i o n . G u es ses w e r e m a de to find th e im plied

parts, be they single para graphs, sen ten ce s , or words, ll is then easy

m ea n in g s of, for e x a m p l e , vocal i n t o n a t i o n su ch as w h e t h e r the

to forget that in o p e n , no n d irectiv e interview s the interview ee tells a

e m p h a s is o n the

story , o r several storie s, to the re s e a rc h e r, and th a t the tra n s c rip t itself

vo ice. S o m e b r i e f a t te m p t s at an e t y m o lo g ic a l analysis w e r e m a d e,

may t h e n a p p r o x i m a te the form o f a narrativ e text.

1,000

c o n c e r n i n g t e r m s as

p a g e s was in a d espairing o r an ass ertiv e

m ethod and analyze.

T h e stru ctu res and fu n ctio ns o f the narra tiv es o f folk ta les and

T h e orig inal s e n t e n c e Was rep h ra s ed in vario us f o rm s, lea d in g to

literatu re , as w o rk e d o u t in the hu m a n ities , can be used to reflect and

d if f e r e n t d ir e c ti o n s o f mejanings. T h e alterna tive rep h ra s in g s o f the

analyze the narrativ e stru ctures e m p lo y ed by the in terview e e. A n a r

1. 000 -pag e

rative a p p r o a c h to the interview analysis, g o in g back to the orig in al

c o u ld have b e e n said , o p e n i n g up s o m e o f the po ssibilities o f m e a n in g s

stor y told by the in terview ee and an ticip a tin g the final stor y to be

t h a t the or ig in a l f o r m u l a t i o n o f the q u e st io n c lo s e d o ff. It p re su p p o se s

re p orted to an au d ie n ce , may pre vent b e c o m in g lost in a ju n gle o f

a c e r ta in b a c k g r o u n d k n o w le d g e o f in terv iew res e arch t o see s o m e o f

transcripts. A fo cu s on the interv iew as a narrativ e may even m a k e the

the p o ssibilities the q u e st io n leads away fro m . T he analysis t o o k the

interview transcripts better re ad ing, in that the orig in al in terv iew is

f o r m o f an im a g in e d d ia lo g u e , an a t te m p t to a n s w er the o rig in a l

q u e s t i o n sh iftbd the fo cu s fro m w h a t w as said to w h a t

delibera tely c re ated in a story fo rm . A narrativ e c o n c e p t i o n o f i n t e r

1 . 0 0 0 - p a g e q u e s t io n by asking a b o u t its po ssible m e a n in g s . T h e

view research su pports a unity o f form a m o n g the orig inal in te rv iew

analysis res e m b le d th e q u e s t i o n -a n s w e r s e q u e n c e o f an im a g in ed

situation, the analysis, and the final re p ort.

186

In terview s

conversation, resulting in a coauthored story about interview research.


The original w ording of the 1,000-page question led in unproductive
directions. The various rephrasings of the original question attempted
to lead the analysis in directions yielding constructive contributions
to knowledge.

11

The deconstruction of the 1,000-page question involved a destruc


tion of the presuppositions of the question and a construction of
alternative formulations for enriching interview analysis. The inter
pretation focused on the tension between what was said and what was
not said in the question. This interplay of the said and the not-said did
not lead to one, true, objective meaning of the question, but served to
keep the conversation going about the meanings the question opens

Methods of Analysis

up.
It may be objected that the analysis of the 1,000-page question was

M ethods exist that can make the interview analysis more amenable

too brief and superficial, that it was not comprehensive enough to

than as pictured in the reply to the 1,000-page question. They can be

really develop and go into the complex meanings and presuppositions

used to organize the interview texts, to condense the meanings into

of the question. 1 grant that the above analysis could have been

forms that can be presented in a relatively short space, and to work

extended to include further differentiations of the many issues raised

out im plicit meanings of what was said. Five main approaches to inter

by the question.

view analysis will be outlined: categorization of meaning, condensa

The topic o f the original question concerned 1,000 pages o f inter


view transcripts o f questions and answers, and it was postulated that

tion of meaning, structuring of meaning through narratives, interpre


tation of meaning, and ad hoc methods for generating meaning.

this was too much material for undertaking a comprehensive analysis.

In a chapter oil methods of analysis some readers may, however,

The above interpretation of the 17 words of the 1,000-page question

expect to find the magical tool for finally uncovering the treasures of

has required around 3,600 words, which makes the quantitative

meaning hidden in the many pages of opaque interview transcripts.

relation of original text to interpretative text 1:212. A corresponding

The follow ing overview of methods will disappoint them no main

interpretation of the meaning of 1,000 pages would then require

roads to the meanings of the interviews are given here. The techniques

212,000 pages, which amounts to about 1,000 books.

of analysis are tools, useful for some purposes, relevant for some types
of interviews, and suited for some researchers. The central task of
interview analysis rests, however, with the researcher, with the the
matic questions he or she has asked from the start of the investigation
and followed up through designing, interviewing, and transcribing.

Steps o f Analysis

I
The purpose of the qualitative research interview has been depicted
as the description and interpretation of themes in the subjects lived
world. A continuum exists between description and interpretation.

187

188

Interviews

189

Methods of Analysis

Box 11.1 shows six possible steps of analysis. T hey do not neces
sarily presuppose each other chronologically or logically (see Ciorgi

Box 11.1

[1992] and W olcott [1994] for further treatment of the relation of de


scription and interpretation). The first three steps of description, dis

Six Steps o f Analysis

cover, and interpretation during the interview were discussed earlier


(Chapter 8, Interview Quality). In this chapter I treat the fourth step
of analyzing the transcribed interview, then return to re-interviewing

A first step is when subjects describe their lived world

and action in relation to the discussion of validation as com munication

during the interview. They spontaneously tell what they

and action (Chapter 13, Communicative Validity, and Pragmatic


Validity).

experience, feel, and do in relation to a topic. T here is little


interpretation or explanation from either the interviewees
or the interviewer.

Approaches to Interview Analysis

A second step w ould be that the subjects themselves dis

cover new relationships during the interview, see new


meanings in what they experience and do. For example, a

Until recently, interview researchers had to rely on the individual


techniques they could come up with: developing their own hunches
or by chance finding some suggestions in the scattered qualitative
literature. Analysis took place through listening to repeated replaying
of the tapes, or by cutting and pasting selections from the transcribed
pages. The analyses more often terminated because of time limits or
exhaustion, rather than with a feeling of having analyzed the material
sufficiently to have worked out its main structures and meanings;
recall the final phases of the emotional hardships of interview inquiries
depicted earlier (see Box 5.1 in Chapter 5).
During the past decade this state of affairs has changed. There arc
now several books giving overviews of the different methods of
qualitative analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Silverman, 1993;
Tesch, 1990; W olcott, 1994). I will differentiate five main approaches

pupil, describing the effects of grading, comes to think of


how the grades further a destructive competition among
pupils. The interviewees themselves start to see new con
nections in their life worlds on the basis of their spontane
ous descriptions, free of interpretation by the interviewer.
In a third step, the interviewer, during the interview, con
denses and interprets the meaning of what the interviewee
describes, and sends the meaning back. The interviewee
then has the opportunity to reply, for example, I did not
mean that or That was precisely what 1 was trying to say
or No, that was not quite what I tell. It was more like . .
This dialogue ideally continues till there is only one possi
ble interpretation left, or it is established that the subject

to qualitative analysis and use the term analysis for these five ap

has multiple, and possibly contradictory, understandings of

proaches in general, and reserve the term interpretation for the one

a theme. This form of interviewing implies an ongoing

mode o f analysis involving a more in-depth interpretation.


Figure 11.1 provides a graphic overview of the size and form of the

on-the-line interpretation with the possibility of an onthe-spot confirmation or disconfirmation of the inter

outcome of five main approaches to the analysis of the meanings of

viewers interpretations. T he result can then be a self-

interviews. As is evident from the dashes indicating the am ount of text,

correcting interview.

in all approaches except interpretation the outcome of the analysis

In a fourth step, the transcribed interview is interpreted by


the interviewer, either alone or with other researchers.

requires far less space than the original interview text. In contrast to
the text reduction of the other approaches, interpretation will often
involve a text expansion, with the outcome formulated in far more

(continued)

190

I n t e r v ie w s

Box 11.1 Continued

Three parts o f this analysis may be discerned; first, struc

191

Methods o f Analysis

Approaches to
Analysis of Meaning

Interview Text

Outcome of Analysis

Condensation:

turing the often large and complex interview material for


analysis. This is usually done today by transcription and by
programs for computer analysis of qualitative material. The
next part consists of a clarification o f the material, m aking
it amenable to analysis; for example, by eliminating super
fluous material such as digressions and repetitions, distin
guishing between the essential and the non-essential. W hat

Categorization:

is essential or non-essential again depends on the purpose

+/-

o f the study and its theoretical presuppositions. The analy

1- 2

sis proper involves developing the meanings of the inter


views, bringing the subjects own understanding into the
light as well as providing new perspectives from the re
searcher on the phenomena. Five main approaches to the

Narrative:

analysis of meaning are condensation, categorization, nar


Start

rative structuring, interpretation, and ad hoc methods.

Goal

Enemies > Hero < Helpers

A fifth step would be a re-interview. W hen the researcher


has analyzed and interpreted the completed interviews, he
or she may give the interpretations back to the subjects. In
a continuation of a self-correcting interview, the subjects
get an opportunity to comment on the interviewers inter

Interpretation:

pretations as well as to elaborate on their own original


statements.
A possible sixth step w ould be to extend the continuum of
description and interpretation to include action, in that
subjects begin to act from new insights they have gained

Ad hoc:

+ /-

1- 2

during their interview. The research interview may in such


cases approximate a therapeutic interview. T he changes

->

can also be brought about by actions in a larger social


setting such as action research, where the researcher and
the subjects together act on the basis of the knowledge
produced in the interviews.

______________________________ *_______
Figure 11.1.

l ive A p p ro ach es to In terview Analysis

192

Interviews

193

Methods o f Analysis

words than the interpreted statements; for example, the interpretation

will generally stay within the vernacular. Structuring through narra

of a poem by a literary critic.

tives will usually reduce the interview text; it may, however, also

The form of the results will mainly be in words in meaning conden


sation, interpretation, and narrative analyses, possibly with some
figures for narrative structuring. The outcome of categorization is in
numbers, which can be subjected to statistical analysis. The eclectic
ad hoc analysis may involve words and figures as well as numbers. An
overview of the five approaches will be given before outlining them
each in more detail.

expand it by developing the potentialities of meaning in a simple


interview story into more elaborate narratives.

Meaning interpretation goes beyond a structuring of the manifest


meanings o f a text to deeper and more or less speculative interpreta
tions of the text. Examples of meaning interpretation are found in the
humanities, such as in a critics interpretations of a film or a play, and
in psychoanalytical interpretations of patients dreams. In contrast to

Meaning condensation entails an abridgement of the meanings

the decontextualization of statements by categorization, interpreta

expressed by the interviewees into shorter formulations. Long state

tion recontextualizes the statements w ithin broader frames o f refer

ments are compressed into briefer statements in which the m ain sense

ence. The context for interpretation of a statement may, for example,

of what is said is rephrased in a few words. M eaning condensation

be provided by the entire interview or by a theory. In contrast to the

thus involves a reduction of large interview texts into briefer, more

text reduction techniques of categorization and condensation, inter

succinct formulations.

pretations likely lead to a text expansion, such as in the preceding

Meaning categorization implies that the interview is coded into


categories. Long statements are reduced to simple categories such as

interpretations o f H am lets interview (Chapter 8, H am lets Interview)


and of the 1,000-page question (Chapter 10).

indicating occurrence and non-occurrence of a phenom e

Generating meaning through ad hoc methods is an eclectic ap

non; or to a single number on a scale of 1 to 5, for example, to indicate

proach. A variety of commonsense approaches to the interview text,

the strength o f a phenomenon. Categorization can thus reduce and

as well as sophisticated textual or quantitative methods, can be used

structure a large text into a few tables and figures. The categories can

to bring out the meanings of different parts of the material. The

be developed in advance or they can arise ad hoc during the analysis;

outcome of this meaning generation can be in words, in numbers, in

they may be taken from theory or from the vernacular, as well as from

figures and flow charts, and in their combinations.

+ or

the interviewees own idioms.

These five approaches to interview analysis w ill now be exempli

The present outline of five main methodical approaches to qualita

fied, while more extensive treatment of the many techniques are found

tive analysis is in itself a rough categorization of a qualitative diversity

in the literature mentioned above. M eaning condensation will be

of methods of analysis. The perspective here is on how the different

illustrated by a phenomenological analysis of the interview reported

methods generate meaning; other perspectives w ould lead to other

by Giorgi and meaning categorizing by the analysis of the interviews

categorizations. Thus a focus on whether the analysis leads to quali

from the grade study. Narrative analysis and ad hoc analysis will be

tative or quantitative data, or whether the analysis is linguistic or

depicted briefly and literature for more extensive treatments referred

psychological, w ould lead to other categorizations of methodical

to. Interpretation of meaning is also described only briefly here: It will

approaches to interview analysis.

be the m ain topic of Chapter 12.

Narrative structuring entails the temporal and social organization


of a text to bring out its meaning. It focuses on the stories told during
an interview and works out their structures and their plots. If there

M eaning C ondensation

are no stories told spontaneously, a narrative analysis may attempt to


create a coherent story out of the many happenings reported through

G iorgi applied a phqnomenologically based meaning condensation

out an interview. As with meaning condensation, narrative analysis

to the interview on learning reported earlier (Chapter 2, A Research

194

Interviews

Interview on Learning). The thematic purpose (was to try to discover


exactly w hat constitutes learning for ordinary people going about their
everyday activities and how the learning is accomplished (Giorgi,
1975, p. 84). The methodological aim of the study was to use phe

Methods o f Analysis

'
i

T A B L E 11.1

Natural Unit

Central Theme

1. The first thing that comes to m ind is what I

1. Role o f vertical and

necessarily transforming data into quantitative expressions, although

interior-decorating.

room you d o nt usually notice how many vertical


and horizontal lines there are, at least consciously,
you dont notice. And yet, if you were to take

Table 11.1 presents the condensation o f the meanings of the first


i

someone who knows whats going on in the field


of interior decorating, they w ould intuitively feel

of the subjects answers are given in the left-hand column and their

there were the right number of vertical and

central themes are presented in the right-hand column. Five steps are

horizontal lines.

involved in this empirical phenomenological analysis: First, the whole

2. So, I went home, and I started looking at the lines

interview is read through to get a sense o f the whole. Then, the natural
meaning units as expressed by the subjects are determined by the

horizontal lines in

She was telling me about the way you see things.

altered. She told me that when you come into a


'

of ordinary language (pp. 95-96).


passages from the interview on learning. The natural meaning units

learned about interior decorating from Myrtis.

H er view of looking at different rooms has been

the latter has its place. The main point of the study is to demonstrate
how one deals systematically with data that remain expressed in terms

T he N a tu r a l M e a n in g U nits a n d T h e ir C e n tra l T hem es

nom enology in the service of qualitative research: We are interested


in demonstrating how rigor and discipline can be applied w ithout

195

researcher. Third, the theme that dominates a natural meaning unit is

2. S looks for vertical and

in our living room, and I counted the number

horizontal lines in her

of horizontal and vertical lines, many of which I

home.

had never realized were lines before. A beam . . .

stated as simply as possible. The researcher here attempts to read the

I had never really thought of that as vertical before,

subjects answers w ithout prejudice and to thematize the statements

just as a protrusion from the wall. (Laughs).

from her viewpoint as understood by the researcher.

3. I found out what was wrong with our living room

The fourth step consists of interrogating the meaning units in terms

3. S found too many

of the specific purpose of the study. The m ain questions o f the study

design: many, too many, horizontal lines and not

horizontal lines in living

were W hat is learning? and H ow was learning accomplished? The

enough vertical. So I started trying to move things

room and succeeded

around and change the way it looked. I did this by

in changing its

moving several pieces of furniture and taking out

appearance.

themes of the meaning units were addressed with respect to such


questions as, W hat does this statement tell me about learning? In
the fifth step, the essential, nonredundant themes of the entire inter

and . . . it really looked differently to me.

view were tied together into a descriptive statement. The method thus

4. Its interesting because my husband came home

involves a condensation of the expressed meanings into more and


more essential meanings of the structure and style of learning.
Table 11.2 depicts the essential description of the style of learning,

difference not knowing

room; its all different. N ot knowing this, that I

why.

I did. He saw things were moved, but he wasnt

take place? The essential description shows structures of learning in


in relation to the standard psychological theories of learning of the

4. Husband confirms

several hours later and I said Look at the living

had picked up, he didnt look at it in the same way

obtained by answering the researchers question of H ow did learning


everyday situations. These structures were further discussed by Giorgi

several knick-knacks, de-emphasizing certain lines,

able to verbalize that there was a de-emphasis on

the horizontal lines and more of an emphasis on


the vertical. So 1 felt I learned something.

time, which had long neglected the interpersonal context of learning


S O U R C F : From (iin rp i (1975).

that learning is a radically inter-human phenomenon.

196

T A B L E 11 .2

Interviews

Essential D es cr ip ti o n o f Style o f Le ar nin g

Learning for S happened when she obtained from a significant other knowledge and
concrete demonstrations of this knowledge that related to a problem that bothered
her for a long time. When S found she could apply this knowledge to her own
situation in her own way, taking into account all the contingencies that the new
situation offered, she felt that learning had been achieved. Thus S learned by being

197

Methods o f Analysis

Subcategories

Main dimensions

Feeling of injustice

Relationship with teachers

Confidence
Dependency

Relationship to fellow pupils

attentive to another, then applying for herself that knowledge which she received,
w ith approval from a different significant other.

W ithholding criticism
M eaning adjustment

Self-concept

Search for cues

S O U R C E : From G iorgi (1975).

Bluffing

Relations to time

W heedling

Giorgi also outlines how his empirical phenomenological m ethod

Em otional relations

relates to phenomenological philosophy, in particular as this was


developed by Merleau-Ponty (Chapter 3, Phenomenological Descrip

Learning motivation

tion). This concerns fidelity to the phenomena, the primacy of the life
w orld, the descriptive approach, expressing the situation from the

Learning form

viewpoint of the subject, treating the situation as the unit of research,


engaged researchers, and the search for meaning. There is here a unity

Figure 11.2. Dim ensions and Categories o f the G rading Perspective

of content and method, both the interview method and the conception
of learning were based on a phenomenological understanding of the

learning was specified to seven main dimensions, which were them

phenomenon investigated as an intentional meaningful activity in the

selves differentiated into subcategories.

daily life of the subject.

In Figure 11.2 the seven dimensions of the grade perspective on

In conclusion, this empirical phenomenological method may serve

learning are shown in the left-hand column, and the eight subcate

to analyze extensive and often complex interview texts by looking for

gories of one of these dimensions Relationship W ith the Teacher

natural meaning units and explicating their main themes. (For further

in the right-hand colum n. For the other six dimensions, corresponding

developments and applications of the method see Fischer & W ertz,

subcategories with content appropriate to each dimension were also

1979; Giorgi, 1985.) It should be noted that meaning condensation is

made (not included in Fig. 11.2); in all, this came to 42 categories.

not limited to a phenomenological approach and has been applied in

The categories were taken from previous studies of grading and from

other qualitative studies (see Mayring, 1983; Tesch, 1990).

pilot interviews in this project. F.ach category was defined: for exam
ple, Bluffing the pupil attempts to give the impression that he knows
more than he knows, and with the purpose of obtaining better grades,

M eaning Categorization

for example by raising his hand eagerly (cognitive, related to subject


matter, acceptable). Wheedling the pupil attempts to win the sympa

The analysis of the interviews on grades will be used to illustrate


the procedure of categorization. The 30 pupil interviews were cate

thy o f the teacher with the purpose of obtaining better grades (emo
tional, often unrelated to the subject matter, unacceptable).

gorized in order to test the hypothesis that using grades to measure

Every interview was coded as a whole for each of the 42 categories

learning affects both learning and social relations in school. The tran

of attitudes and behaviors in relation to school grades. The categori

scriptions of the 30 interviews came to 762 pages. Based on educa

zations Were done as cjose to the pupils self-understanding as possi

tional literature and pilot interviews, a grade perspective on school

ble, so that in principle the pupils themselves w ould accept the


e

198

In te rvie w s

Methods of Analysis

199

The categorization of the meanings of the pupils statements served


several purposes: (a) The categorizations structured the extensive and
Feeling o f injustice

Bluffing

complex interviews and gave an overview of the occurrence of grading


behaviors among the 30 pupils interviewed. Thus in seven tables, as
shown in Figure 11.3, the main results of 762 pages of interview

D ependency

Confidence

Search for cues

transcription regarding the extent of grading attitudes and behaviors


could be reported, (b) The categorization made it possible to test the
hypothesis that grades influence learning, (c) The quantification of
grading behaviors, such as those shown in Figure 11.3, gives readers

M eaning adjustm ent

a background for judging how typical the quotes used in the accom
panying qualitative analyses were for the interview material as a

W heedling

whole, (d) The categorization made it possible to investigate differ

W ithholding o f critique

ences in grading behavior for different groups among the 30 pupils,


such as boys versus girls and pupils with high versus low grades. In
this study no significant differences were found, (e) Quantification
Figure 1 1 .3 .

Influence o f Grades on P upils Relationship to Teacher

N O T E : N um bers to the right show ho w m any o f the 30 pupils confirm ed occurrences o f a grading
attitude and behavior; negative numbers to the left show how m any disconfirm ed a grading attitude
and behavior. As several pupils had no, or vnguc, statements regarding a subcatcgory, the sum of
direct confirm ations and disconfirinations is less than 30.

also made comparisons to other investigations on the effects of grades


possible, (f) The categorization could itself be checked for coder
reliability and made some checks for interviewer reliability possible;
this w ill be discussed later (see Control of Analysis, below).

categorizations of their statements. The interviews were categorized

The categorization of meanings has long been used for analyzing

independently by two coders and their codings were combined. By

qualitative material. Categorization is in line with, but not limited to,

divergences, a dialogue solution was attempted. In cases where the

a positivist emphasis on quantification of facts in the social sciences.

two coders did not reach a consensus, a third coder was summoned.

Several techniques were developed in the content analysis tradition

Figure 11.3 depicts how many of the 30 pupils confirmed or

during W orld W ar II to analyze enemy propaganda. The different

disconfirmed the eight categories of the dim ension Relationship

techniques will not be reviewed here (see, e.g., Miles & Huberman,

W ith the Teacher. The results in general confirmed the hypothesis that

1994; Tesch, 1990).

grades influence pupils relationships w ith their teachers. This varied


from 23 of the 30 pupils confirming, and none disconfirming, a feeling
of injustice about their grades; to 5 confirm ing and 7 disconfirm ing a

M eaning Structuring T hrough Narratives

w ithholding of critique of their teachers for fear of repercussions on


their grades. Similar degrees of support for the grade hypothesis were

An interview analysis can be treated as a form of narration, as a

found for the six other dimensions of the grade perspective. The

continuation of the story told by the interviewee. A narrative analysis

interviews showed only a weak support for the hypothesis o f an

of what was said leads to a new story to be told, a story developing

increased grade perspective after the introduction of a grade-based,


restricted admission to college introduced the year before. In addition

the themes of the original interview. The analysis may also be a


condensation or a reconstruction of the many tales told by the

to this form of categorization, the grade interviews were also subjected

different subjects into a richer, more condensed and coherent story

to deeper qualitative interpretations, some examples of which will be


discussed in Chapter 12.

than the scattered stories of the separate interviewees.

Interviews

200

Methods o f Analysis

201

The interview used to demonstrate meaning condensation (see

an intelligible story with a sequence understandable to others about

Meaning Condensation, above, & Chapter 2, A Research Interview

what happened. Furthermore, the interviewer can work toward nar

on Learning) started out with a subjects spontaneous story about how

rative forms during the interview, for example by directly asking for

she learned the difference between horizontal and vertical lines when

stories and trying together with the interviewee to structure the

decorating a room. Ciiorgi used the content of the story to develop

different happenings recounted into coherent stories.

essential meanings of learning, and he did not analyze the story as


narrative.

An author starting on a novel may have a main plot in m ind that


will be developed on the way. An interview inquiry, too, may be seen

Mishlers book Research Interviewing Context and Narrative

as leading to a story the researcher wants to tell, where the key points

(1986) is a pioneering study of the use of narratives in interview

he or she want to relate to the readers are kept in m ind from the start.

research. He outlines the many interpretative possibilities o f treating

In both cases the characters may take on their own life during the

interviews as narratives, emphasizing the temporal, the social, and the

writing, developing along lines other than those intended by the

meaning structures of narratives. A narrative contains a temporal

author, follow ing a structural logic of their own. The result may be a

sequence, a patterning of happenings. It has a social dimension,

good story, providing new convincing insights and opening new vistas

someone is telling something to someone. And it has a meaning, a plot

for understanding the phenomena investigated.

giving the story a point and a unity. One of the main social functions

During the analysis the researcher may alternate between being a

of narratives is to maintain social ties: The narratives of a group

narrative-finder looking for narratives contained in the inter

contribute to constituting the groups identity and to holding the

views, and being a narrative-creator m olding the many different

group together (see also Polkinghorne, 1988).

happenings into coherent stories. In both cases the researcher can

The narrative dimension of interviews is often overlooked. Mishler

employ the concepts and the tools worked out in the humanities for

recounts how, in his study of doctor-patient interaction, there was a

the analysis o f narratives, such as the actant model developed by Propp

long story from a patient about his financial situation. Mishler had

on the basis of Russian fairy tales and Labovs narrative model (see

initially perceived it as a long digression and disregarded it in the first

Cortazzi, 1993; Jensen, 1989).

analysis of the interview. Then, through a closer look from a narrative


perspective, the story came to yield essential insight into the nature of
doctor-patient interactions. The verbatim and the narrative transcrip

M eaning Interpretation

tions of Leonoras story about her puppy (Chapter 9, Transcription


Reliability and Validity, and Table 9.2) were taken from an article by

Although analysis and interpretation have been used interchange

Mishler (1991) in which he discusses the narrative structure of the

ably throughout this book, I here reserve the latter term for more

story and calls attention to the need for linguistic competence to

extensive and deeper interpretations of meaning, inspired by herme

discover and develop narrative structures.

neutical philosophy (Chapter 3, Hermeneutical Interpretation). The

The interview researcher may pay attention to narratives during

researcher has a perspective on what is investigated and interprets the

both interviewing and analyzing, as well as at the reporting stage.

interviews from this perspective. The interpreter goes beyond what is

W hen spontaneous stories appear during interviews, the interviewer

directly said to work out structures and relations o f meaning not

can encourage the subjects to let their stories unfold. The interviewer

immediately apparent in a text. This requires a certain distance from

may also help the subjects to produce a coherent story, which can be

what is said, which is achieved by a methodical or theoretical stance,

illustrated with an analogy: A small child comes running to his parent,

recontextualizing what is said in a specific conceptual context.

trying to tell about some dramatic event it has experienced, but is too

The jinfluence o f different conceptual frameworks during interpre

excited by the event itself and needs assistance from someone to create

tation is illustrated injScheflens article Susan Smiled: O n Explana

202

In terv iew s

Methods o f Analysis

203

tions in Family Therapy (1978). It is cast in a story form with a group

W hen discussing the six therapists interpretations of Susans smile,

of therapists watching and com menting on! a therapy session. At one

Scheflen (1978) does not side with any one model: These are usually

point the daughter, Susan, had smiled in an enigmatic way. The

presented as opposing truths in different doctrinal schools, but they

discussion among the observers about the meaning o f this nonverbal

are all valid from one point of view or another. And, accordingly, they

statement, leading to six different interpretations, can also highlight

are all tactically useful at some point or another (p. 59). The various

issues of interview interpretation.

modes of explanation can be used deliberately as tactics throughout a

O ne therapist suggested that the smile was sarcastic, thus invoking

therapy, can be tactically employed to alter habitual tendencies to

an expressional paradigm, where a persons actions are attributed to

deny, ignore, project, and blame: In the course of family therapy our

something within the person. Then one member of the group offered

clients can learn multiple approaches from us and end up with a more

a second interpretation by pointing out that Susan had smiled just after

flexible and comprehensive strategy for viewing and making sense of

her father had turned to her, held out his hands, and said I think

their experiences (Scheflen, 1978, p. 68). The issues of multiple

Susan loves us. W e certainly love her. The smile is now seen as a

interpretations raised by this case will be addressed again in Chapter

response to her fathers statement. A further observation led to a third

12 and the pragmatic approach to validating interpretations according

interpretation: After Susan had smiled, her mother turned to her and

to their usefulness in Chapter 13.

said: You never appreciate what we try to do for you. The smile was

Interpretations of meaning are sometimes steeped in a mistrust

now interpreted as a provocation, as a stimulus for the m others

toward the meanings directly expressed. A critical distance in inter

reprimand.
In these three explanations Susans smile was interpreted as an

pretation is found in the form of a hermeneutics of suspicion to


what a person directly says and a text manifestly expresses, interpret

expression, as a response, and as a stimulus. The first focused on Susan

ing the meaning to be something else than is directly said, being

in isolation, the second brought up the preceding context and the

suspicious of some hidden intention or plot. Thus H am lets interview

father-daughter relationship, and the third included the succeeding

was interpreted earlier as an expression of a pervasive distrust of the

context and the mother-daughter relationship. A fourth interpretation

words and the acts of others, leading to conversations of per indirec

followed from a closer focus on the interpersonal interaction, noticing

tions find directions out (Chapter 8, H am lets Interview). In the

that the three members of the family often acted and reacted to each

social sciences a hermeneutics of suspicion is pronounced in psycho

other by withdrawal: W hen Susan smiled her father turned his face

analysis and Marxism, where the interpreter looks for meanings

away and fell silent, and when the mother began her reprimand Susan

behind or beneath what is directly expressed in psychoanalysis as

reacted in a similar way. A fifth interpretation followed when the tape

manifestations of unconscious forces, and in Marxism as manifesta

was played back and the therapists looked for incidents similar to the

tions of an ideology concealing the basic contradictions of the social

sequence in which Susan smiled. There had been two previous ex

and economical forces at work.

changes where the father approached, Susan smiled, and the mother
reprimanded. This indicated a programmed interaction in this fam
ily, the actors follow ing an unwritten script and interacting according
to a preexisting scenario. In this interpretation, moving from an
individual-centered to a cultural interpretation, Susan smiled because
this was the part she was expected to play in the family drama. A sixth
interpretation argued that although Susans smile was a response to
her fathers approach, it was not a response in kind. In Batesons
language, the smile was meta to the fathers statement, her metacommunication derailed her fathers offer of involvement.

A d H o c M e a n in g G e n e ra tio n
The most frequent form of interview analysis is probably an ad hoc
use of different approaches and techniques for meaning generation.
In contrast to the above condensation and categorization of meanings,
in this case no standard method is used for analyzing the whole of the
interview material. There is instead a free interplay of techniques
during the analysis. Thus the researcher may read the interviews

204

Methods o f Analysis

In te r v ie w s

205

through and get an overall impression, then go back to specific

The Pervasiveness of Interpretation. Analysis is not an isolated stage,

passages, perhaps make some quantifications like counting statements

but permeates an entire interview inquiry. For the six steps of analysis

indicating different attitudes to a phenomenon, make deeper interpre

in Box 11.1, a continuity of description and interpretation was out

tations of specific statements, cast parts of the interview into a

lined for an entire investigation. The extensiveness of the interpreta

narrative, work out metaphors to capture the material, attempt a

tion was also emphasized for the seven stages of an interview design

visualization of the findings in flow diagrams, and so on. Such tactics

(Chapter 5) as well as in answering the 1,000-page question (Chapter

of meaning generation may, for interviews lacking an overall sense at

10). M eaning clarification and interpretation were suggested through

the first reading, bring out connections and structures significant to

out the interview situation, and it was postulated that the ideal

the research project.

interview would be interpreted by the end of the interaction (Chapter

Thirteen such tactics for generating meaning in qualitative texts are

8). The transformation from oral speech to written text was depicted

discussed and exemplified by Miles and Huberman (1994). They are

as a translation and an interpretation, illustrated by the different

arranged roughly from the descriptive to the explanatory, and from

transcriptions of the story of I.eonas puppy (Chapter 9, Transcrip

the concrete to the more conceptual and abstract:

tion Reliability and Validity, and Table 9.2). The role of interpretation
will continue during verification and reporting of the interviews

N oting patterns, themes (1), seeing plausibility (2), a n d clustering (3) h e lp

(Chapters 13 8c 14). A recognition of the pervasiveness of interpreta

the analyst see w h a t goes w ith w h a t. M aking metaphors (4 ), like the

tion throughout an entire interview inquiry may counteract a common

p re ce d in g three tactics, is a way to achieve m ore in te g ra tio n a m o n g

overemphasis on methods of analysis as the one way to find the

diverse pieces o f data. C o un tin g (5) is also a fa m ilia r w ay to see w h a ts

meaning of interviews.

th e re .

M aking contrasts/comparisons (6) is a pervasive tactic th a t sharpens

Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis. An ideological dichotomi-

u n d e rs ta n d in g . D iffe re n tia tio n som etim es is needed, to o , as in p artitio n

zation of quantitative and qualitative methods in the social sciences

ing variables (7).


W e also need tactics fo r seeing things a n d th eir re la tio n s h ip s m o re

was discussed earlier (Chapter 4, Qualitative and Quantitative Re

abstractly. These in c lu d e subsum ing particulars under the general (8);

search). During the concrete analyses of the grading interviews, m u l

factoring (9 ), an an a lo gu e to a fa m ilia r q u a n tita tiv e te c h n iq u e ; noting

tiple interactions of quantitative and qualitative approaches took

relations between variables (1 0); a n d finding intervening variables ( I I ) .


f in a lly , h o w can we system atically assemble a co h e re n t u n d e rs ta n d

place. Three instances will be m entioned: qualitative development of

able o f data? T h e tactics discussed are building a logical chain o f evidence

categories for quantification, qualitative differentiation of categories

(1 2) a n d m aking conceptual/theoretical coherence (1 3 ). (p p . 24 5- 2 46 )

through quantification, and the problem of quantification of a com


plex phenom enon as denials.

During the analysis of the grade interviews, several ad hoc techniques

It was a presupposition for the quantification of the grading behav

were tried out, and one example concerning grades and talkativity will

iors that the categories had been developed qualitatively on the basis

be taken up in Chapter 12.

of previous literature and pilot interviews. The requirement that the


interview statements be coded in an either/or manner required
precise definitions of the categories. W hen testing the categories in

Issues o f A nalysis

pilot interviews, this led to further qualitative differentiations of


grading behaviors, such as dividing com petition into refined cate

Some principal issues of analysis will now be raised: the pervasive

gories with clearly different meanings for the pupils, such as com

ness of interpretation, quantitative and qualitative analysis, and theo

parison oriented, grade jealousy, sportsmanlike com petition,

retical presuppositions.

and destructive com petition. This quantitative scoring procedure

206

I nt e rV ie w s

207

Methods of Analysis

presupposed a qualitative development of the categories, and it con

1990). The field studies here involve observations as well as informal

tributed to a qualitative differentiation of these categories. The very

or formal interviews. There is a continual coding and recoding of the

development and differentiation of categories is m ainly a qualitative

observations, as the researchers insight grows during an investigation,

endeavor, and the creation o f appropriate categories may be just as

working toward an empirically grounded theory.

significant a contribution of knowledge as the number of observations


made for the different categories.

In the present discussion of design the example of teasing was used


to illustrate how different theoretical conceptions would lead to

From a purely quantitative viewpoint, one might expect that the

different forms of questioning (Chapter 5, Designing), a issue taken

more frequently a form o f grading behavior was confirmed or discon-

up again with the demonstration interview about grades (Chapter 7,

firmed the more certain the categorization w ould be. In some cases,

An Interview About Grades). Freudian, Rogerian, and Skinnerian

however, problems with such a quantitative approach to coding could

approaches to the understanding of such phenomena as teasing and

arise, such as with the interpretation of many denials o f com petition

grades will likewise lead to different forms of analysis of the interview

as possibly meaning a confirm ation (Chapter 9, Transcribing Inter

texts, emphasizing different aspects and contexts of the phenomena.

views). Following the categorization procedure based on the level of

O n a metatheoretical level there are contrasting conceptions of the

the pu p ils self-understanding, this statement was coded as indicating

meanings to be reported through analysis, such as with the postmod

non-occurrcnce of competition. W ith a deeper interpretation, leading

ern, hermeneutical, phenomenological, and dialectical perspectives to

to a confirm ation of com petition, this example points to a principal

interview research discussed in Chapter 3. This includes meaning

lim itation of the quantification of qualitative interview material. It

finding versus meaning construction, as indicated by the miner and

w ould be foolhardy to give an exact quantitative measure of how many

the traveler metaphors of interview research. In the miner approach,

nos are needed before they can come to mean yes. Deciding when

the analyst uncovers and purifies the meanings more or less buried in

a quantitative increase in negation turns around and becomes a

the interviews. In the traveler approach, the analyst co-creates with

confirmation requires a critical qualitative interpretation o f the lin

the subjects the meanings he or she reports, and through interpretation

guistic style, the pauses, and the intonation of the statement. For such

constructs elaborate stories.

complex, ambiguous, and contradictory interview statements an exact


quantitative scoring is in principle impossible; it is not feasible to give
an exact quantitative criterion of how many denials are required

C o n tr o l o f A nalysis

before the denials become an involuntary confirmation.


Control is a key issue for the analysis of large amounts o f complex

Theoretical Presuppositions. The theoretical basis of an investiga

interview material. In contrast to the readers of a critics analysis of a

tion provides the context for making decisions about how interviews

poem, the readers of an interview report will not have access to the

will be analyzed. Different techniques of analysis arc means for

tape recordings and the often many hundreds of pages of interviews

answering different thematic questions. The analysts theoretical con

that the researchers interpretations are based on. Nor do the inter

ceptions of the subject matter influence how he or she analyzes the

view texts pose the same am ount of resistance to the interpreter as a

interviews. The analysis of the interviews may be part of generating a

patient w ould do in a therapy situation. The reader of an interview

theory, as well as an application or a testing of theories.

study has to depend on the researchers selection and contextualiza-

In the grounded theory approach developed by Glaser and Strauss,

tion of interview statements. Two approaches to control the interview

there is an attempt through the analysis of the data to develop a

analysis will be mentioned here: the use of multiple interpreters and

theoretical interpretation of what is seen and heard (Strauss & Corbin,

the explication of procedures.

208

In terview s

Multiple Interpreters. The analysis of interviews is often undertaken


by the researcher alone, and the reader is left with little material for
evaluating the influence of the researchers perspective on the o u t
come of the analysis. By using several interpreters for the same
interviews, a certain control of haphazard or biased subjectivity in
analysis is possible. Several coders are frequently used for categoriza
tion and could be used more often for interpretations o f the deeper
meanings of the interviews.
W hen categorizing the interviews in the grade study, both a dialogical and an arithmetical approach to intersubjective agreement
were included (Chapter 4, Objectivity in Qualitative Research). Coder

reliability was checked on a sample of the interviews; here the two


coders independently had the same scorings for 39% of the instances
and different scorings for 61%. For the latter, the two coders reached

Methods of Analysis

209

analysis by including m ultiple perspectives. The discussions about the


different interpretations can lead to a conceptual clarification and
refinement of the issues in question, such as in the interpretation of
Susans smile (see M eaning Interpretation, above).

Explication of Procedures. An alternative or a supplement to a


m ultiple interpreter control of analysis is that the researcher present
examples of the material used for the interpretations and explicitly
outline the different steps o f the analysis process. In G iorgis phenom
enological analysis, the researchers cards were put on the table for
inspection. The readers could then retrace and check the steps of the
analysis. Giorgi (1975) acknowledges that another investigator, look
ing at the data differently, could write a different general description,
though hardly wholly different:

agreement through discussion for 60% , and for the remaining 1% a


third coder was called in to have the final word. The intersubjective
agreement obtained by the categorizations indicates that other coders,

C o n s e q u e n tly , the c o n tro l co nies fr o m the researchers c o n te x t o r p e r


spective o n the d a ta . O n c e the c o n te x t a n d in te n tio n beco m es k n o w n ,
the div erg en ce is u su a lly in te llig ib le to all even if n o t u n iv ersa lly agree

using the same coding procedure, would be likely to arrive at the same

able. T h u s the c h ie f p o in t to be re m e m b e re d w ith this ty pe o f research

categorizations of the interviews. A further check was made to sec if

is n o t so m u c h w h e th e r a n o th e r p o s itio n w ith respect to the d a ta c o u ld

I, the project leader, would more often get my own categorizations

he a d o p te d (th is p o in t is g ra n te d b e fo r e h a n d ), b u t w h e th e r a reader,

accepted instead of those o f the paid student assistants. This was found

a d o p tin g th e sam e v ie w p o in t as a rtic u la te d by th e researcher, c a n also

not to be the case.


Furthermore, the categorization made some checks on interviewer

reliability possible whether the pupils descriptions of the effects of


grading were influenced differently by the four interviewers in the
study. A significant difference was found between two interviewers on
am ount o f grading behaviors reported. A check revealed that one had
followed the interview guide very conscientiously and taken care to
have the pupils cover the many themes in the interview guide, whereas
the other had more often pursued the many interesting leads that came
up during the interviews.
W hen different meanings are found by different analysts, they may
be worked together into a dialogue leading to an intersubjective
agreement. O r the different meanings found can be reported side by
side, accompanied by the reasons for the divergent interpretations,
such as by the majority and minority votums in official committees.
The use of several analysts may not only serve as a control of a random
or prejudiced subjectivity, it may also lead to an enrichment of the

see w h a t th e researcher saw , w h e th e r o r n o t he agrees w ith it. T h a t is


th e key c r ite rio n fo r q u a lita tiv e research, (p . 96)

In the next chapter I will attempt to lay my cards on the table


through the interpretation of interview statements on grades, in order
to make it possible for the reader to follow the steps of the interpre
tative process.

The Plurality nf Interpretations

12

211

There are multiple questions that can be posed to a text, with different
questions leading to different meanings of a text. A hermeneutic
question-answer dialectic is not only a matter of the questions the
reader poses to a text, but also of an openness to the questions with
which the text confronts the reader.
An interpreters presuppositions enter into the questions he or she
poses to a text. These questions codetermine what meanings can be
found in the text. Some hermeneutic distinctions of types of questions
to texts now follow. A first question concerns the relation of the
authors and the readers meaning. Is the purpose of a text interpre

The Plurality of Interpretations


O ne approach to interview analysis will now be treated in some detail
extensive and critical interpretations o f tKe meanings o f interview
statements and supplemented by some ad hoc techniques. First a
plurality o f interpretations and the hermeneutic primacy o f the ques
tion w ill be discussed. Then interview reports about grades are inter
preted w ith respect to different questions and contexts, and validation
o f the m ultiple interpretations will be related to the questions raised
and to the communities o f validation. In conclusion, a modern quest
for meaning is contrasted with a postmodern deconstruction o f sub
stantialized meanings.

tation to get at the authors intended meaning of the text what Ibsen
really meant to say with his play Peer Gynt or does it concern the
meaning the text has for us today? The interpretation of an interview
involves a related distinction is the purpose to analyze, for example,
interviews about grades in order to arrive at the individual pupils
understanding of their grades? O r is the aim for the researcher to
develop, through the pupils descriptions, a broader interpretation of
the meaning of grades in the educational system?
Another issue in interpretation concerns whether it is the letter of
the text or its spirit that is to be interpreted in, for example, a legal
text. Is what matters to get at the expressed meaning or at the intended
meaning? In interview studies, this becomes a question of the level on
which the interpretations should take place: Should the interviews be
analyzed on a manifest level? O r is the purpose to get at latent mean

T h e P rim acy o f the Q u e s tio n

ings that are not explicitly conscious for the subject, as in the depth
hermeneutics of psychoanalysis?
A third issue implies the principal question of whether there exists

A com m on objection to interview interpretations goes like this:


Different interpreters find different meanings in the same interview,
the interview is thus not a scientific m ethod.
Dissimilar interpretations of the same interview passages do occur,
though probably less than is com monly assumed. The above objection
involves a demand for objectivity in the sense that a statement has only
one correct and objective meaning, and the task of interpretation is to
find this one and only true meaning. Contrary to such a requirement
of unequivocality, hermeneutical and postmodern modes of under
standing allow for a legitimate plurality of interpretations (see Chapter
3, Hermeneutical Interpretation; and Postmodern Construction).
210

one correct interpretation of a literary text or of a Bible story; or


whether there is a legitimate plurality of interpretations. Can the gos
pels of the New Testament thus be said to have one correct interpre
tation, or are they essentially ambiguous, open to different interpre
tations? If the principle of a legitimate plurality of interpretations
through interview analyses is accepted, it becomes meaningless to pose
strict requirements of interpreter consensus. W hat then matters is to
formulate explicitly the evidence and arguments that enter into an in
terpretation, so that the interpretation can be tested by other readers.
A fourth issue involves the question of what aspects of a theme
should be interpreted, and in what larger context. Hermeneutical text

212

Interviews

7 he Plurality o f hiterfiretations

213

interpretations, psychoanalytical studies, and also psychological inter

codetermining the range of answers, is in the final analysis an issue of

view investigations, have often involved an individualistic and ideal

power. In law it is the politically appointed Supreme Court that has

istic focus on the experiences and intentions of individuals. There has

the final decision about the legitimate context for the interpretation

been a neglect o f the social and material context the persons live in;

o f a legal text.

see Sartre s (1963) critique of the psychoanalyzing of Robespierres


reasons for his political behavior (Chapter 3, Dialectical Situating).
The interview method as such does not, however, need to be idealistic

Q u e s tio n s Posed to an Inte rv iew T ext

or individualistic. It is mainly the contexts in which it has been used


that have given the interview method this characteristic.

The relationship between questions posed to, and answers from, a

In current interview research the variety of interpretations is not

text w ill be illustrated w ith interpretations of interview statements

the main problem, but rather the lack of explicit formulation of the

about grades. One question concerns the context of interpretation.

research questions to a text. We may distinguish between a biased and

Another question is whether the interviewee is considered an inform

a perspectivai subjectivity by differences of interpretation (see also

ant or a representative. A third question concerns interview statements

Chapter 4, Objectivity in Qualitative Research). A biased subjectivity

in which the inform ation is empirically invalid, but that may provide

simply means sloppy and unreliable work; researchers noticing only

valuable knowledge about production and consequences of the invalid

evidence that supports their own opinions, selectively interpreting and

knowledge.

reporting statements justifying their own conclusions, overlooking any


counterevidence. A persj>ectival subjectivity appears when researchers
who adopt different perspectives and pose different questions to the
same text come up with different interpretations of the meaning. A
subjectivity in this sense of multiple perspectivai interpretations is a
specific strength of interview research. W hen the readers different
perspectives on a text are made explicit, the different interpretations

T H R E E C O N T E X T S O F IN T E R P R E T A T IO N

I k n o w th a t so m e b o d y w ill say th a t it is w h e e d lin g ( ap p le p o lis h in g ) if


o n e seems to be m o re interested in a subject m a tte r th a n is u su al an d
says:' T h is is really in te re s tin g , asks a lo t o f q u e stio n s, w a n tin g expla. n a tio n s . I d o n t th in k it is . . .

should also become comprehensible (see C iorgis criterion o f qualita

In re lig io u s in s tru c tio n , w h e re w e get grades (fro m th e teac h er), b u t

tive research in Chapter 11, Control of Analysis). W ith an explication

d o n o t have an e x a m in a tio n at th e e n d o f the sc h o o l year, there is p le n ty

o f the perspectives adopted toward an interview text and a specifica


tion of the researchers questions posed to an interview passage,
several interpretations of the same text will not be a weakness, but a
richness and a strength o f interview research.
W hen different interpretations appear arbitrary, this may in part
be because the questions asked of a text are not explicitly stated. The
issue is here not only that of making the researchers questions to a
text explicit, but also of what questions can legitimately be put to a

o f tim e to ta lk a b o u t a n y th in g else. W e ll, p e o p le d o th e ir h o m e w o r k


d u r in g these lessons, a n d th e n w e so m e tim e s , p erh ap s tw o o r th ree o f
us, discuss so m e th in g in te re s tin g w ith the teacher. A n d th e n , afterw ards,
it s o m e tim e s h a p p e n s th a t s o m e o n e rem arks: W e ll, w e ll, s o m e b o d y
seems to be w h e e d lin g .

(Later on in the interview, ab o ut other pupils): S o m e tim e s we d o n t


k n o w w h e th e r th ey d o it in o rd e r to w h e e d le o r n o t, b u t at o th e r tim es
it seems very o p p o r t u n is tic . (In a tense voice) I t s ra th e r u n p le a s a n t . . .
It isn t easy to figure o u t w h e th e r p e o p le w h e e d le o r w h e th e r th e y re just
interested.

text. In interpretations of legal texts this may be of vital interest, such


as whether it is justifiable in the interpretation of a law to ask about

This high school girls statement is rich in inform ation about

the intentions of the original lawmakers, or whether it is only the letter

gradings influence on the relationships between teachers and pupils.

of the law as it stands today that can be taken into account when

It is, However, not quite clear what her remarks mean. In order to

deciding a case. Decisions about what questions to a text are allowable,

explicate their meaning, several types of questions will be asked of the


*

Z l 'l

In terv iew s

The Plurality of Interpretations

215

TABLE 12.1 Contexts of Interpretation and Communities of Validation

subjects themselves, be critical of what is said, and may focus on either

Contexts o f Interpretation

Communities o f Validation

the content of the statement or on the person making it. The interpre

Self-understanding

The interviewed si .bjcct

earlier (Chapter 9, Transcribing Interviews; Chapter 11, Issues of

Critical commonsense understanding

The general public

Analysis) thus went beyond the pupils self-understanding to include

Theoretical understanding

The research com m unity

a critical commonsense reading o f the many denials as possibly mean

tation of the statement with the denials of competition mentioned

ing a confirmation.
By including general knowledge about the content of the statement
statement. A first line o f inquiry addresses the meaning o f the text in

it is possible to amplify and enrich the interpretation of a statement.

three different intcrprctationa! contexts: self-understanding, a critical

For the question W hat docs the statement express about the phe

commonsense understanding, and a theoretical understanding.

nom enon of wheedling? the girls statement may be interpreted as a

Contexts of interpretation arc presented in the left-hand colum n in

manifestation of a basic ambiguity in the tcacher-pupil relationship

Tabic 12.1, and the corresponding communities for validation in the

created by grading. W ithin a dom inating grade perspective, the subject

right-hand colum n. I will first interpret the statement about wheedling

matter and the human relationships in school are instrumentalized :

in the three contexts of self-understanding, a critical commonsense

They become mere means toward the goal o f the highest possible grade

understanding, and theoretical understanding and thereafter bring up

point average. In the classroom it may appear ambiguous whether an

the corresponding communities of validation.

expressed interest in a topic is genuine, or whether it is just a means


to twist the teacher in the interest of improving ones grades.

Self-Understanding. The interpreter here attempts to formulate in

The questions put to the text may also center on the person, asking

a condensed form what the subjects themselves understand to be the

what a statement expresses about the interviewed subject. Thus in the

meanings of their statements. The interpretation is more or less con

earlier interpretation of Ham lets interview the question to the inter

fined to the subjects self-understanding: a rephrased condensation of

action was changed from the manifest content, that is, the shape o f a

the meaning of the interviewees statement from their own viewpoints

cloud, to the person of Polonius and his trustworthiness (Chapter 8,

as these are understood by the researcher. The meaning condensation

H am lets Interview). In the pupils statement above, the question

used by Giorgi, and also the categorization o f the grade interviews,

W hat does it express about the pupils own relation to wheedling?

took place within the context of the subjects self-understanding

may lead to an interpretation that this girl employs two standards:

(Chapter 1 I, M eaning Condensation; and M eaning Categorization).

The same activity of talking interestedly with the teacher is evaluated

This pupil is interested in religion and enjoys discussing it with the

more positively when conducted by herself than when carried out by

teacher, but she experiences that other pupils may regard this as

others. The topic involves a conflict for her; her voice is tense, and a

wheedling. In other situations, she has difficulty determ ining whether

speculative interpretation might be that she belongs to that group of

the other pupils wheedle or whether they are actually interested in the

pupils w hom the others accuse of wheedling.

subject matter. She experiences this ambiguity as rather unpleasant.

Theoretical Understanding. In a third context, a theoretical frame


Critical Commonsense Understanding. The interpretation here goes

for interpreting the meaning of a statement is applied. The interpre

beyond reformulating the subjects self-understanding what they

tations arc then likely to go beyond the subjects self-understanding

themselves experience and mean about a topic while remaining

and also to exceed a commonsense understanding, such as when

within the context of a commonsense understanding. The interpreta

incorporating a psychoanalytic theory of the individual or a Marxist

tions may includc a wider frame o f understanding than that o f the

theory of society.

216

Interviews

In a somewhat speculative interpretation, the psychoanalytical


concept of projection may be used: At an unconscious level the pupil

The Plurality o f Interpretations'

217

the text. N ot only the questions to the interviewees, but also the
questions to the interview texts co-constitute the answers obtained.

projects her own nonacceptable wheedling behavior onto other pupils,


while denying it for herself.

I IIK 1 T , C O M M U N I T I E S ()|- V A L ID A T IO N

In a Marxist theory about the school as socializing to wage labor,


with grades as the currency of the school system (Bowles & Gintis,

Different communities of validation correspond to the three inter

1976; Kvale, 1972), the statement about apple polishing may be

pretational contexts outlined above the interviewed subject, the

interpreted as an expression of learning at school having a com

general public, and the research community.

m odity character. The pupils learn through the grading of their


learning how to distinguish between the use value and the exchange

The Interviewee. W hen the interviewees own understanding of a

value of their work. Their questions to the teacher may be led by a

statement is asked for, the validity of the researchers interpretations

utility interest in obtaining a better understanding of the knowledge

is, in principle, decided by the subject. The pu p ils yes or n o to

presented. The questions may also be part of an instrumental exchange

the interpretation that she herself does not wheedle but believes that

relation; the knowledge about which they ask interested questions has

other pupils maybe do, is here the criterion for validity. W ith in the

no intrinsic use value for the pupils, the questions only serve the pur

context of self-understanding applied by the categorization of the

pose o f making a positive impression on the teacher an impression

grade interviews, the girls statement was cautiously classified as not

that can be exchanged for a higher grade. At school the pupils thus

confirm ing an occurrence of wheedling. It is seldom possible in the

learn to subordinate the use value of their work to its exchange value.

actual analysis of many interviews to present every single interpreta


tion to the interviewees for confirmation or disconfirmation. The

Interrelatedness of lnterpretational Contexts. The three interpretational contexts derive from different explications of the researchers

researcher then tries to keep his or her interpretations within the


interviewees context of understanding as seen by the researcher.

perspective and lead to different interpretations. The contexts may be


further differentiated, and they may also merge into each other. The

The General Public. The interpretation is made within the under

instrumental attitude toward learning knowledge as a mere means

standing of a general public. The deliberations of a jury in court is one

to high grades which was discussed above in a conunonsense con

example of a critical com m on sense of understanding. The criterion

text, also follows from sociological and Marxist theories about edu

for validity is then whether a consensus may be obtained that an

cation. At the same time, this means-ends thinking may be part of the

interpretation is reasonably documented and logically coherent. I he

everyday consciousness of school. For some of the Danish pupils, such

statement on wheedling was interpreted above as an expression of a

an instrumental attitude was an open part of their self-understanding:

basic ambiguity in the teacher-pupil relationship due to grading. It is


here up to lay readers to judge whether the interpretation is reasonably

M y interests have tak en m e very far fro m th a t w h ic h takes place at h ig h

documented and argued. The validity of interpretation does not, in

s c h o o l. I go here w ith the e x p licit p u rp ose o f g etting as g o o d an

this case, depend on the acceptance of the subject interpreted, but

e x a m in a tio n as possible, w ith the least possible effort.

upon the fact of whether the documentation and the argumentation


arc convincing to members of the general public.

The contexts of interpretation suggested above serve to makeexplicit the questions posed to a statement. One pupils description of

The Theoretical Conimunity. W hen a statement is interpreted

wheedling has given rise to a number of interpretations. The various

within a theoretical context, the validity of the interpretation will

interpretations are, according to the present perspective, not hap

depend oh whether the theory is valid for the area studied, and

hazard or subjective, but follow as answers to different questions to

whether the specific interpretations follow logically from the theory.

218

In terview s

The Plurality of Interpretations

219

An evaluation of the validity of a theoretical interpretation presup

The pupils participating in the grade interviews were, from one

poses a specific theoretical competence. Thus, in contrast to a lay jury

viewpoint, informants: They provided information about the influ

testing the validity o f critical coinmonsensC interpretations, theoreti

ence of grades on the learning and work situations at high school. The

cal interpretations arc validated by a com munity of researchers.

pupils were witnesses observer substitutes o f the classroom in

The validity of the interpretation of wheedling as an expression

teraction. Their task was to report as reliably as possible what they

of th e com m odity character of schoolwork will thus depend on a


judgment of whether M arx s economic com modity theory is still valid

had experienced about the grades influence on their own and other

today, whether it can be generalized from the economics dom ain to

reading of the statements, the focus is on the content of the subjects

pupils behavior. In this first perspective, which involves a veridical

the field of education, and whether the specific interpretation involves

observations and experiences. In a second perspective involving a

a reasonable use o f the commodity categories. The validity o f the

symptomatical reading, the subjects own relations to the phenomena

interpretation w ill, in this case, depend on a dialogue am ong theoreti

they describe are the topic of interest. The pupils interviewed are

cally competent persons with a knowledge of the current position of

representatives of pupils in general, they are objects subjected to the

Marxist theory.

effects of grading, their statements represent the effects that grades


have on pupils. In this approach the pupils own relationships to the

IN T E R P R E T A T IO N O F C O N T E N T O R O F P ER SO N

phenomena are of interest, such as resistance toward talking about


specific aspects of grading, hesitance when describing wheedling,

Until now I have focused on the validity of the researchers inter


pretation of the interviewees statement. Validity also pertains to the

denial of grades influence on the school situation, or a distinct


exaggeration of the grades influence.

content of the subjects statements. W hat the subjects tell may be true

The different questions of validity raised by a veridical or a symp

or false, they can be a reliable or unreliable witness about their own

tomatical reading can be illustrated in relation to the following

behavior and that of others.

statement:

As one approach to the validity of a subjects statement, a distinc


tion between two perspectives toward the interviewee w ill be made:

Grades are often unjust, because very often very often they are only

as an informant, a subject, a witness; or as a representative, as an object

a measure for liovv much you talk and for how m uch you agree w ith the

of analysis. H am lets interview of Polonius may again be used (C hap

teachers opinion.

ter 8, H am lets Interview). From an inform ants perspective on what


the cloud looks like, the content of Poloniuss answers is, due to

The interview context for this statement was presented earlier (Chap

H am lets leading questions, worthless. From a representative perspec

ter 1, Conversation as Research). In a veridical reading of the state

tive, the indirect message about Poloniuss credibility is for Ham let a

ment above, the pupil gives a rather precise form ulation of two beliefs:

matter of life or death.

Grades arc very often only a measure for (a) how much you talk, and

In the interview by Socrates and the one reported by Giorgi, the

(b) how much you agree with the teachers opinion.

subjects were regarded as informants, providing conceptual kno w l

Both assertions can, in principle, be empirically verified or falsified.

edge on love and beauty and empirical knowledge of the nature of

A triangulation may be used here. This means that the same phe

learning, respectively (Chapter 2). In the therapeutic interview re

nom enon is investigated from different angles to determine its exact

ported by Rogers, the content of the clients accusations of the

location, in the present context by including different informants and

therapist hating her were likely distorted (Chapter 2). The probably
false accusations represented, however, something im portant about

methods to determine its precise meaning and validity. Concerning


informant-triangulation, several other pupils when interviewed also

the client making the accusations, which she, assisted by the therapists

pointed to a connection between am ount of speech and grades ob

reflections of her statements, eventually realized herself.

tained, as well as that an adaptation to the teachers opinions led to

220

InterV icw s

higher grades. W hen the two assertions were presented in a question


naire to a larger sample of pupils, a majority confirmed the first
assertion and rejected the latter (see Box 5.4 in Chapter 5). Both beliefs
were rejected by the teachers interviewed. The assertions are not new;
for example, one or both have been put forward earlier by another
inform ant the rector at the University of Copenhagen, Ludvig
Llolberg, who in a speech in 1736 criticized the universitys examina
tions for primarily rewarding the students verbal fluency.
By applying an ad hoc method-triangulation, an indirect support
for the veridicality o f the first talkativity statement was found. W hen
reading through the interviews from the 30 pupils it was striking how

The Plurality of Interpretations

221

P R O D U C T IO N O F A N IN V A L ID U N D E R S T A N D IN G

In the grade interviews there were several statements that in a


veridical reading had to be incorrect in content. In the passage on
wheedling quoted above, the other pupils, but not the interviewee,
wheedled. O f the 30 pupils interviewed, no one said that they them
selves wheedled, but 8 reported directly, included in Figure 11.3, and
8 others indicated that other pupils wheedled. From an informant
viewpoint, the pupils reliability as witnesses on the presence of
wheedling must thus be questioned, because a large number of the
statements were obviously invalid, either in their reports about others
or about themselves.

the interviews varied in number of pages, even though one school hour

Yet in a symptomatic reading the empirically incorrect statements

had been set aside for each interview. Following a hunch, 1 ranked the

on wheedling may provide im portant knowledge about the psycho

interviews according to number of pages, then correlated that to the

logical situation in which the pupils are placed by the grading system

pupils grade point averages. The resulting correlation was 0.65, with

why they were led to produce a distorted understanding. W heedling

a chance probability of p < .0 0 1. There is thus a significant connection

appears to Danish high school pupils to be an unacceptable behavior

between how much the pupils talked during the interviews and their

that they w ould rather not recognize in themselves, but that some

grade point averages. The connection, however, is open to several

believe is necessary to achieve high grades. It refers to a basic am bi

interpretations: D o the pupils get high grades because they generally

guity in the teacher-pupil relationship; the pupils may experience the

talk a great deal? O r are pupils who get high grades more reflected on

same activities in themselves as a genuine interest in the subject matter

the issues of grading, and more at ease with talking with an interviewer

and in the others as a deliberately calculating exchange attitude in

about grades?

order to maximize grades. In this situational analysis, grade behavior

In the present method context it may be noted that an ad hoc

is deindividualized and interpreted as the pupils subjective attempts

approach to meaning generation led to a significant quantitative

to solve the contradictory demands of a school situation where their

relationship, which raises questions for further qualitative interpreta

learning is graded.

tions. To conclude from an informant perspective, an inform ant and

The symptomatic reading concerns the origin of an invalid under

a method triangulation provide some, but not conclusive, support for

standing in the conditions of the subjects life w orld that produce and

the empirical validity of the pupils assertion of a connection between

sustain an inadequate conception of social reality. In his development

talkativity and grades.

of psychoanalysis, Freud was shocked to discover that a number of the

Even if the statement in a veridical reading had been strongly

patients stories about being exposed to sexual seduction in childhood,

falsified on an empirical level, it could, in a symptomatic reading,

which he had regarded as valid, turned out to be imaginary according

represent im portant knowledge about the effects of grading on the

to new in form atio n. The false stories about sexual seductions had

pupils. Two questions for a symptomatic reading, going in different

been an im portant basis of a sexual theory on the origin of neuroses.

temporal directions, arc: (a) H ow does a partly invalid understanding

The discovery that maily of the patients stories were empirically false

of the basis for grading arise, how is it produced? (b) W hat are the

led to a crisis of psychoanalytic theory, until Freud performed a

consequences of a partly invalid understanding of the basis for grading

Coperpican reversal : the decisive point for the development of a

for everyday life at school?

neurosis was not the seixual events themselves, but the fantasies about
the sexual events.

Ill

'

In te rvie w s

The Plurality of Interpretations

223

A related reversal from a veridical to a symptomatic reading of

of a class average of 8. The pupils belief is invalid according to the

distorted stories is found in an English study by Hagan (1986).

official Danish rules on grading, and also according to the teachers

M others who lived in slum areas were interviewed about their expe
riences with the social welfare system. They had many stories of

interviewed.
Although the pupils belief that there has to be a given grade

hum iliating encounters with social workers. 15y including other evi

average in a class-in all likelihood is empirically false, it is part of

dence, Hagan found that some of the episodes told about harsh and

their social reality and may have consequences for their actions at

degrading treatment by the staff had to be exaggerated and distorted.

school. Several pupils reported that the belief that the class was graded

H er first reaction was to reject the interview method, as it provided

on the curve led to a destructive competition ranging from passive

unreliable inform ation about the staffs behavior. She adopted another

omission of helping others to active attempts at obstructing other

perspective, however, and read the biased accounts as expressions,

pupils, for fear o f others improving their grades with the consequence

symptoms, of the mothers degrading life situations. Their self-respect

of ones own position on the grade scale deteriorating.

was strongly threatened by having to live on welfare. The distortion

Although the content of the statement about a fixed grade average

of their interaction with the welfare personnel could be seen as one

is in a veridical reading likely to be invalid, it provides in a consequen

means of sustaining the welfare clients self-respect vis-a-vis the inter


viewer and possibly also for themselves.

behaviors as a destructive competition for grades. In sociology, the

tial reading important knowledge about the background for such pupil

None of the above interpretations are definitive. Thus Freuds

phenom enon that empirically false beliefs may have real social conse

retraction o f the childhood seduction theory o f neurosis has later been

quences is termed the Thomas theorem if people believe ideas are

criticized by feminist scholars. They see his reinterpretation as a flight

real, they arc real in their consequences.

from his earlier provocative discoveries o f sexual abuse in a Victorian


society and toward a more innocuous theory of fantasies more accept

Q U E S T IO N S PUT T O TEXTS

able to a bourgeois society.


I have shown above how different questions put to interview texts
TI IK C O N S E Q U E N C E S O F A N IN V A L ID U N D E R S T A N D IN G

lead to different answers. Thus one type of question led to an

experiential reading of the pupils statements, clarifying the under


F^mpirically false interview statements can have real consequences

standing the pupils themselves had of grading. Another type of ques

for the subjects behavior. In the following statement, the number 8

tion led to a veridical reading, investigating the validity of the pupils

stands for the average grade on the Danish grading scale:

inform ation about the effects of grades, here regarding the pupils as
witnesses or informants. The questioning also involved a symptomatic

You m ight take 8 as the average grade in a class. A nd then, if you w ant

reading, focusing on the pupils themselves and their reasons for

more than 8, you have to make yourself more noticed by the teacher

making a ccrtain statement. There was finally a consequential reading,

than the other pupils. So, in order to deserve a higher grade, it almost
unavoidably has to be done at the expense o f others.

addressing the consequences of the pupils beliefs about grading for


the school situation. The questions drew on different contexts of

This pupil and several others were convinced that there had to be
a certain grade average in a class and that the teacher then had only a
limited number of high grades to distribute among all the pupils. If
one pupil got a higher grade, then another pupil iu the class must
automatically get a lower grade in order to m aintain the assumption

interpretation in which the validation o f the answers involved differ


ent communities, such as the interviewed pupils themselves, the
general public, and the research community.
A first point to be made here is the length of the analysis; the inter
pretations fill more than 10 times as many pages as the pupils original

224

Interviews

statements; see also the earlier interpretations of H am lets interview

The Plurality of Interpretations

225

T he Q u e s t for T h e R eal M e a n in g

and of the 1,000-page question. These analyses entail an expansion of


the original interview text, which is hardly feasible for every one of

A com mon question asked of interview researchers goes something

several hundred pages of interview texts. In the present case, the many

like H o w do you know you get to know what the person really

hundred remaining pages served as a background context for the

means? A tem pting reply: W hat do you really mean by really

above interpretations of selected statements on wheedling, instrumen

means ? w ill probably not lead anywhere.

tal m otivation, talkativity and grades, and competition.

Guessing at the meaning of the real m eaning question suggests

A second point is that the interview quotes selected here are not

a belief in the existence o f some basic meaning nuggets stored some

typical of the interviews as a whole, but contain particularly poignant

where, to be discovered and uncovered, uncontam inated, by the

and complex descriptions of phenomena reported less vividly by other

objective techniques o f an interviewer understood as a miner digging

pupils. They were selected from a theoretical perspective in that they

up precious buried metals. The real m eaning question is a leading

point to key issues for the understanding of the impact of grading for

question, in this case leading to endless pursuits of an undefined and

the pupils.

fictitious entity. The quest for real, true meanings came to an end in

A third point is that several of these theoretically interesting state

philosophy some years ago. Interview researchers might still go on

ments were very difficult to categorize unequivocally with respect to

w ild goose chases, hunting the real meanings of their subjects expe

their meaning. The vagueness, ambiguities, and contradictions of such

riences. Psychotherapists might still be digging for real meanings in

statements were sources of error in the attempt to obtain categoriza

the deep interior o f their patients unconscious psyches. Both conceive

tions with a high intcrsubjective reliability, yet from an interpreta-

of truth as found, not as made.


A meaning storage conception involved in the question of real

tional perspective they point to essential aspects of the phenomena


studied.
A fourth point is that different interpretations of the same interview
passage need not be the result of haphazard or biased subjectivity, but

meanings raises issues of where the meanings are stored and also of
w ho owns the meanings o f a statement. An imagined dialogue can
illustrate the issue of ownership of meanings:

result from different research questions. W hat then becomes im por


tant is to formulate explicitly the questions put to a text, and in some
cases also to argue the relevance and legitimacy ol these questions. In
the above interpretation this concerns, for example, the legitimacy of
applying an economic commodity perspective to school learning.
A fifth point is that the questions posed to the pupils statements,
and the distinctions made, do not belong to some fixed interpretational scheme. They were developed during the analysis o f the grade

A: Did you really mean that?


15: N o , th a t is n o t w h a t I said.

A: O h yes, you said it and you did mean it!


B: I know what I wanted to say, and I know that I did not mean what
you say I meant!
A: i know you, and 1 know what you really mean!

interviews and are content and context specific. They arose from the
nature of the interview topic the social context of grading as well

In this interchange, two things are disputed: the true meaning of a

as from a hermeneutical approach to meaning interpretation and from

statement is explicitly disputed, and, somewhat more im plicitly, who

the specific theoretical perspectives adopted. The questions posed


here to the grading interviews may be relevant for interpretations of
other types of interviews, but likely in other forms that are adapted
to their specific research topic and research questions.

has the right and the power to determine the real meaning of the
statement the speaker of the original statement or the interpreting
partner. An interrelational approach would regard the meanings of
the conversation as belonging to neither, but existing between the
subjects, in their inter-action. An interrelational interpretation of the
*

226

Interviews

111

The Plurality o f Interpretations

conversation sees the interchange as a powqr game, a contest for who

view. A critical reading demystifies via a hermeneutics of suspicion;

in the relationship possesses the right to attribute the definite meaning


to a statement.

The reader assumes the role of the emancipator o f self and/or other,

it seeks deeper truth underlying the hegemonic discourse of the texts.

A miner metaphor o f interview research entails a belief in the world

seeking a truth beyond ideologies and false consciousness. The reader

as objectively given in meanings or numbers to be uncovered by

calls attention to larger social, political, and economical issues, assum

scientific research. The search for real-meaning nuggets leads to a

ing an advocatory role, with the danger of attempting to speak for

reification of the subjective rather than to an unfolding, a differentia

others, of saying what they want and need. A deconstructive reading

tion, and an enrichment o f the subjective. In an intcrrelational con

proliferates, destabilizes, and denaturalizes. The text is read as docu

ception, the interviewer is a traveling reporter who reports stories in

mentation for its unconscious silences and unspoken assumptions. A

which meanings are created through conversational interactions.

deconstructive reading makes use of drawing, artistry, literary prac

A postmodern approach forgoes the search o f true fixed meanings

tices, and blurs the fact/fiction distinction. These different readings

and emphasizes descriptive nuances, differences, and paradoxes.

suggested by Lather (1995) involve different questions posed to the

There is a change from a substantial to a relational concept o f meaning,

text and lead to different answers about the meaning of the text.

with a move from the modern search lor (he one true and real meaning

W ith a transition from an individual storage conception of meaning

to a relational unfolding of meanings. Different interpreters construct

to an intcrrelational constitution o f meaning in the original interview

ing different meanings o f an interview story is then not a weakness,

conversation and in the readers conversations with the interview

but a strength of the interview method. Meanings and numbers are

text the social and power relationships of subject and researcher

constructions o f a social reality. The interview gives no direct access

become more obvious. Does the interviewer ow n the meanings con

to unadulterated provinces of pure meanings, but is a social produc

structed in and on an interview, interpreting it within his or her

tion of meanings through linguistic interaction: The interviewer is a

selected contexts? O r should the original authors of the interview

co-producer and coauthor of the resulting interview text. In this

statements have their say in the interpretation and communication of

intcrrelational conception the interviewer docs not uncover some

their stories? This is not only an issue of validity of interpretation, but

preexisting meanings, but supports the interviewees in developing

of ethics and power, of the right and the power to attribute meaning

their meanings throughout the course of the interview.


From a postmodern perspective, Lather (1995) has discussed the

to the statements of others.


In the imagined meaning dialogue above, the partners appeared to

intcrrelational construction of meaning during the reading of texts.

be on an equal social level, while contesting who was in power. If the

We read within a range of conventions, and she addresses the question

m eaning interpreter had the status o f a professional expert, the

o f how we can learn to read our ow n ways o f reading. Rejecting any

original speaker might more humbly have accepted the real mean

simple analytical frame, her goal is to proliferate, juxtapose, and create

ings attributed to him or her. The expert might, as the great inter

disjunctions am ong different ways of reading, working toward a

preter, appropriate the meaning from the subjects world and recon-

multilayered data analysis. Inspired by van M aanens (1988) accounts

tcxtualize

of different ethnographic genres in Tales of the Meld (see Chapter 14,

theoretical schemes. These can be meaningful and legitimate as new

W riting as Social Construction), Lather outlines different readings of

stories told by the interpreter, but if reified as the real meaning of the

the same text. Although her portrayal of reading styles pertains to a

interview subject, or as the real unconscious meaning of the patient,

textbook, the styles may well be transposed to the reading of interview

they become more problematic. Interview research involves the dan

texts. In a realist reading there is a search for the natives point of

ger of an expertification of meanings where the expert expropriates

view and of finding the texts essence and truth. The reader assumes

the meanings from the subjects lived world and reifies them into his

an observational and descriptive role, adopting a gods eye point of

or her categories to express some more basic reality. It should here

the

original

intcrrelational

meanings

in

his or

her

228

interviews

not be overlooked that the implicit, or unconscious, meanings attrib


uted to interviewees and patients may often simply be the explicit and
conscious theories of the expert interpreter.
Eco (1990, 1992) has addressed the vicissitudes of interpretation
in academic texts and in his novels. The Name of the Rose (1984) can

13

be read as a parody of the modern meaning hunters; as a critique of


the modern quest for true and objective meanings, o f an insane
passion for truth expressed in the intellectual dogmatism of the
scholastic disputes at the university of Paris; as well as o f the empiricist
protagonist detective searching for the objective truth while at
tempting to solve a mystery that turns out to be very much o f his own
making.
In his later novel Foucaults Pendulum (1989), the caricatures are
turned toward the relativism of the New Age, with its unlim ited inter
pretations where everything can mean everything, as in the following
passage on the interpretation of quantitative measurements:
T ruths? Aglie laughed . . . Still, am id all the nonsense there are
some unim peachable truths. Gentlem en, w ould you follow me to the
w in d o w ?

The Social Construction


of Validity
I now turn to the issue of how to get beyond the extremes of a
subjective relativism where everything can mean everything, and an
absolutist quest for the one and only true, objective meaning.
Verification of knowledge is com monly discussed in the social
sciences in relation to the concepts of reliability, validity, and gener-

H e threw open the shutters dramatically and pointed. A t the corner

alizability. The main emphasis in this chapter will be on validation,

o f the narrow street and the broad avenue, stood a little w ooden kiosk,

treating the interdependence of philosophical understandings of truth,

where, presumably, lottery tickets were sold.


G entlem en, he said, I invite you to go and measure that kiosk. You
will see that the length o f the counter is one hundred and forty-nine

social science concepts of validity, and the practical issues of verifying


interview knowledge. Classical conceptions of truth will be included

centimeters in other words, one hundred-billionth o f the distance

as well as a postmodern approach leading to validity as social con

between the earth and the sun. The height at the rear, one hundred and

struction. The ensuing practical consequences for interview research

seventy-six centimeters, divided by the w idth o f the w indow , fifty-six

involve an emphasis on the quality of the craftsmanship of research

centimeters, is 3.14. The height at the front is nineteen decimeters, equal,

and on communicative and pragmatic forms of validation.

in other words, to the num ber o f years o f the Greek lunar cycle. The
sum o f the heights o f the tw o front corners and the tw o rear corners is
one hundred and ninety times two plus one hundred and seventy-six
times tw o, which equals seven hundred and thirty-two, the date o f the
victory at Poitiers. The thickness o f the counter is 3.10 centimeters, and
the w id th of the cornice o f the w in d o w is 8.8 centimeters. Replacing the
numbers before the decimals by the corresponding letters o f the
alphabet, we obtain C for ten and H for eight, or C io H s, w hich is the
form ula for naphthalene.
Fantastic, I said. You did all these measurements? (Kco, p. 288).

The T rinity o f G eneralizability,


Reliability, and V alidity
In modern social science the concepts of generalizability, reliability,
and validity have reached the status o f a scientific holy trinity. They
appear to belong to some abstract realm in a sanctuary of science far
removed from the interactions of the everyday world, and to be
worshipped with respect by all true believers in science.

229

230

I n te r V i e w s

The Social Construction of Validity

231

As an introduction to the multiple contexts and discourses of

Some qualitative researchers have a different attitude toward ques

verification and the social construction of kriowledge, I will: start with

tions of validity, reliability, and generalizability. These are simply

a history of my own encounters with the poncept of validity. As a

ignored or dismissed as some oppressive positivist concepts that

student of psychology in Norway in the 1960s, I read heavy texts on

hamper a creative and emancipatory qualitative research. Other quali

the importance of validity, reliability, and generalizability in scientific

tative researchers Lincoln and Cuba (1985), for instance have

research. I tried to memorize the definitions o f predictive validity,

gone beyond the relativism of a rampant antipositivism and have

concurrent validity, content validity, and face validity, and struggled

reclaimed ordinary language terms to discuss the truth value of their

to understand the concept o f construct validity. The very terms

findings, using concepts such as trustworthiness, credibility, depend

validity and reliability did not belong to the Norwegian vernacular,

ability, and confirmability.

but were foreign English-Latin terms. The psychometric discussions

From a postmodern perspective issues of reliability, validity, and

o f validity appeared abstract and esoteric, as if belonging to some

generalizability are sometimes discarded as leftovers from a modernist

distant philosophical universe together with Kants transcendental a

correspondence theory of truth. There are multiple ways of knowing

prioris and the like.

and m ultiple truths, and the concept of validity indicates a firm

As a student I dared to ask some natural scientists on campus about

boundary line between truth and nontruth. In contrast hereto, Lather

these fundam ental scientific concepts, and was somewhat bewildered

(1995), from a feminist post-structural frame valorizing practice,

to find that the very terms of the methodological holy trinity of

addresses validity as an incitement to discourse, a fertile obsession,

psychological science were often unfam iliar to natural scientists. The

and attempts to reinscribe validity in ways that use the postmodern

concepts were, however, very real to us students of psychology;

problematic to loosen the master code of positivism.

generalizability, validity, and reliability were frequently used as ex

I will return to external critiques of the trustworthiness o f interview

am ination topics to differentiate between students w ho had, and those

findings in the books conclusion, Chapter 15. In the present chapter

w ho had not, pledged allegiance to the scientific trinity of psychology.

I w ill attempt to conceptualize generalizability, reliability, and validity

W hen later traveling in the United States I learned other meanings

in ways appropriate to qualitative research. The discussion represents

for the terms validity and reliability; for example, when told while

a rather moderate postmodernism; although rejecting the notion of

cashing a check in the supermarket that my European drivers license

an objective universal truth, it accepts the possibility of specific local,

was not valid as identification, or in an academic discussion that my

personal, and community forms of truth, with a focus on daily life and

argument was not valid. O r that the inform ation about the used car I

local narrative (Kvale, 1992; Rosenau, 1992). The present approach

was looking at was not reliable, the car dealer was known to be an

is not to reject the concepts of reliability, generalizability, and validity,

unreliable person. Here the terms valid and reliable belong to the

but to reconceptualize them in forms relevant to interview research.

vernacular, im portant to the ongoing interactions of everyday life.

The understanding of verification starts in the lived world and daily

W hen I became engaged in qualitative research, the positivist trinity

language where issues of reliable observations, of generalization from

emerged again, now employed by mainstream researchers to disqualify

one case to another, of valid arguments, arc part of everyday social

qualitative research. The stimulus qualitative research interview

interaction.

appeared automatically to trigger conditioned responses like: The


results are not reliable, they are produced by leading interview ques
tions ; The interview findings cannot be generalized, there are too

Generalizability

few interview subjects ; and The results are not valid, they are only
based on subjective interpretations.

A persistent question posed to interview studies is whether the


results are generalizable. In everyday life we generalize more or less

232

I ii t e r V i e w s

The Social Construction of Validity

23 3

spontaneously. From our experience with one situation or person we

M ore often, interview subjects are not selected at random but by

anticipate new instances, we form expectations of what will happen

other criteria, such as typicality or extremeness, or simply by accessi

in other similar situations or with similar persons. Scientific knowledge

bility. For example, an interview sample of wom en who have turned

also lays claim to generalizability; in positivist versions, the aim of

to a help center for victims of violence are a self-selected and not a

social science was to produce laws of human behavior that could be

random sample from the population. Their strong motivation for help

generalized universally. A contrasting humanistic view implies that

may lead to valuable knowledge on the nature of being subjected to

every situation is unique, each phenomenon has its own intrinsic

violence. The findings of the self-selected sample cannot, however, be

structure and logic. W ithin psychology, universal laws o f behavior

statistically generalized to the population at large.

have been sought by natural science-oriented schools such as behav

Analytical generalization involves a reasoned judgment about the

iorism, whereas the uniqueness of the individual person has dominated

extent to which the findings from one study can be used as a guide to

in humanistic psychology. In a postmodern approach the quest for

what might occur in another situation. It is based on an analysis of the

universal knowledge, as well as the cult of the individually unique, is

similarities and differences of the two situations. In contrast to spon

replaced by an emphasis on the heterogeneity and contextuality of

taneous naturalistic generalization, the researcher here bases the gen

knowledge, with a shift from generalization to contextualization.

eralization claims on an assertation.il logic. There are several forms of


assertational logic, such as the legal form of argumentation in court

Forms of (icneralizability. The issue of qualitative generalization

and arguments for generalization based on theory. By specifying the

has been treated particularly in relation to case studies. Stake (1994)

supporting evidence and making the arguments explicit, the re

provides this definition: Qualitative case study is characterized by the

searcher can allow readers to judge the soundness of the generalization

main researcher spending substantial time, on site, personally in

claim (sec also Yin, 1994, on inductive generalization).

contact with activities and operations of the case, reflecting, revising

In her article, Generalizing From Single Case Studies in system

meanings of what is going o n (p. 242). Three forms of generalizabil

evaluation, Kennedy (1979) argues for establishing rules for drawing

ity will be outlined based on Stakes discussion of generalization from

inferences about the generality of qualitative findings from a case

case studies naturalistic, statistical, and analytic.

study, rules o f inference that reasonable people can agree on. Whereas

Naturalistic generalization rests on personal experience: It develops

the scientist tends to study specific cases in order to draw inferences

for the person as a function of experience; it derives from tacit

about the general case, the practitioner draws on knowledge o f the

knowledge of how things are and leads to expectations rather than

general case to form interpretations o f and actions in the specific case.

formal predictions; it may become verbalized, thus passing from tacit

As one point of departure, Kennedy turns to practical situations in the

knowledge to explicit propositional knowledge.

legal and the clinical fields.

Statistical generalization is formal and explicit: It is based on sub

In case law it is the most analogous preceding case, the one with

jects selected at random from a population. W ith the use of inferential

the most attributes similar to the actual case, that is selected as the

statistics the confidence level of generalizing from the selected sample

most relevant precedent. The validity o f the generalization hinges on

to the population at large can be stated in probability coefficients.

the extent to which the attributes compared are relevant, which again

W hen the interviewees arc selected at random and the interview

rests upon rich, dense, thick descriptions of the case. Kennedy outlines

findings quantified, the findings may be subjected to statistical gener

criteria for relevant attributes of comparison in legal and clinical cases,

alization. Thus for the correlation found between talkativity and grade

the latter instance encompassing precision of description, longitudinal

point average it was possible to state that there was only 1/ 1,000

inform ation, and multidisciplinary assessment.

probability that this was a chance finding limited to the 30 randomly


chosen pupils of the grade study (Chapter 12, Questions Posed to an
Interview Text).

In case law, the court decides whether a previous case offers a


precedent that can be generalized to the case being tried:

234

Interviews

The Social Construction of Validity

235

Thus it is the receiver o f the info rm atio n wh(> determines the applicabil

whereby M arx s analysis of wage labor became increasingly gcner-

ity o f a finding to a new s itu a tio n .. . . Like generalizations in law , clinical

alizable to the situation of workers at large.

generalizations are the responsibility o f the receiver o f info rm atio n


rather than the original generator o f info rm atio n, and the evaluator must
be careful to provide sufficient inform ation to make such generalizations
possible. (Kennedy, 1979, p. 672)

A third target of generalization is what could be locating situ


ations that we believe are ideal and exceptional and studying them to
see what goes on there. As examples, Schofield mentions school classes
w ith unusual intellectual gains and also well-functioning racially

Researcher and Reader Generalization. There is an issue here of who

desegregated schools. In constructivist and postmodern approaches

should conduct the analytical generalization from the qualitative

the emphasis on the could be is extended from preconceived ideals

research case the researcher or the reader and the user? H o w much

to more open forms. Donmoyer (1990) thus advocates the use of case

should the researcher formalize and argue generalizations or leave the

studies to teach readers to envisage possibilities, to expand and enrich

generalizing to the reader? In science, it has com m only been the

the repertoire of social constructions available to practitioners and

researcher who builds up and argues for the generality of his or her

others. We may here add the interest in ethnographic studies as cases

findings through statistical procedures or by an assertational logic.

demonstrating the rich varieties of human behavior, also indicating

For the legal and the clinical cases discussed by Kennedy, it is the judge

possible ranges for our own society. Gcrgen (1992) depicts the con

or the clinician w ho makes the judgment o f whether a previous case

struction of new worlds as one potential of a postmodern psychology.

was sufficiently analogous to be used as a precedent for the present

Rather than telling it like it is, the challenge is to tell it as it may

case. In both instances it is paramount that sufficient evidence is

become. A generative theory is designed to unseat conventional

provided by the researcher for the analytic generalizations to be made.

thought and thereby open new and desirable alternatives for thought

An example of a reader generalization that can be mentioned is Freuds

and action. Rather than mapping only what is, or predicting future

therapeutic case stories, where his descriptions and analyses have been

cultural trends, research becomes one means of transforming culture.

so vivid and convincing that readers today still generalize many of the
findings to current cases.

Reliability and V alidity of Interviews

Targets of Generalization. Schofield (1990) has suggested three


targets for generalization. The first is studying ivhat is attempting to

T hroughout this book I have emphasized that issues of verification

establish the typical, the com m on, the ordinary. One seeks to m axi

do not belong to some separate stage of an investigation, but should

mize the fit between the research case and what takes place more

be addressed throughout the entire research process. As an introduc

broadly in a society. A second target is what may be here the aim of

tion to conceptual issues of validity and truth, some concrete issues of

generalizing is not what is, but what may be. Schofield mentions a

the reliability and validity of interview inquiries from previous chap

study of the use of computers in school that did not select average-

ters will be briefly recapitulated.

representative schools, but schools at the leading edge of integrating


computers in teaching. This was done on the assumption that the most

Reliability. Reliability pertains to the consistency of the research

advanced cases might provide findings generalizable to the future role

findings. Issues of reliability during interviewing, transcribing, and

of computers in schools. A historical example may be added here at

analyzing have been treated in the previous chapters. Interviewer

the time when M arx analyzed the situation of the wage laborers and

reliability was in particular discussed in relation to leading questions,

the contradictions of the use versus the exchange value of labor, wage

which when they arc not a deliberate part of an interviewing tech

laborers made up only a small percentage of the working population.

nique may inadvertently influence the answers, such as in the exam

Decades later, wage labor became the dom inating form o f labor,

ple of different wordings of a question about car speeds leading to

236

Interviews

The Social Construction of Validity

237

different answers (Chapter K, Leading Questions). Interviewer reli


ability in the grade study was discussed on the basis of the categoriza

Box 13.1

tions o f the subjects answers (Chapter 11, Control of Analysis). Under


transcription of interviews, *n example was given of the intersubjec-

V a lid a tio n at Seven Stages

tive reliability of the transcripts when the same passage was typed by
two different persons (Chapter 9, Transcription Reliability and V alid
ity). D uring categorization of the grading interviews, percentages were
reported for the intersubjective agreement between two coders for the
same interviews (Chapter 11, Control of Analysis). Though increasing
the reliability of the interview findings is desirable in order to coun
teract haphazard subjectivity, a strong emphasis on reliability may
counteract creative innovations and variability.

Validity. Although validation is treated in this chapter as a separate


stage, it concerns all seven stages of an interview investigation. In the
present approach, the emphasis on validation is moved from inspec
tion at the end of the production line to quality control throughout
the stages of knowledge production.

1. Thematizing.

The validity o f an investigation rests on

the soundness of the theoretical presuppositions of a study


and on the logic of the derivations from theory to the
research questions o f the study.
2. Designing.

The validity of the knowledge produced

depends on the adequacy of the design and the methods


used for the subject matter and purpose of the study. From
an ethical perspective, a valid research design involves
beneficence producing knowledge beneficial to the h u
man situation while m inim izing harmful consequences.
3. Interviewing.

Validity here pertains to the trustworthi

Box 13.1 gives an overview of validity issues throughout an inter

ness o f the subjects reports and the quality of the inter

view investigation. Before turning to conceptual issues o f validity,

viewing itself, which should include a careful questioning

including validation as social construction, a brief outline of generali


zation by qualitative studies will be given.

as to the meaning o f what is said and a continual checking


of the inform ation obtained as a validation in situ.
4. Transcribing.

The question of what constitutes a valid

translation from oral to written language is involved in the


V alid ity in M o d e r n an d P ostm odern C o nte x ts

choice o f linguistic style for the transcript.


5. Analyzing.

Ascertaining validity involves issues of truth and knowledge. I will

This has to do with whether the questions

put to an interview text are valid and whether the logic of

first discuss some meanings of validity, then include classical concep

the interpretations is sound.

tions of truth, and thereafter discuss postmodern conceptions of


knowledge. The practical implications for interview research arc then

6 . Validating. This entails a reflected judgment as to what


forms o f validation are relevant to a specific study, the

treated with respect to validity as craftsmanship in research, as com

application of the concrete procedures of validation, and a

munication and action.

decision on what the appropriate com m unity is for a dia


logue on validity.

In ordinary language dictionaries, validity refers to the truth and


correctness of a statement. A valid argument is sound, well grounded,

7. Reporting.

justifiable, strong, and convincing. A valid inference is correctly

given report is a valid account of the main findings of a

derived from its premises. In social science textbooks one finds both

study, as well as the role of the readers of the report in

a narrow and a broad definition of validity. In a positivist approach,

validating the results.

scientific validity became restricted to measurements: for instance,

This involves the question of whether a

Interviews

The Social Construction of Validity

239

Validity is often defined by asking the quesnon: Arc you measuring

expressed as its degree of correspondence with an objective reality.

what you think you are measuring? (Kerlinger, 1979, p. 13j8). Q u a li

The coherence criterion has been strong in mathematics and herme

tative research is then invalid if it does not result in numbers. In a

neutics. The pragmatic criterion has prevailed in pragmatism and to

broader concept, validity pertains to the degree that a method inves

a certain extent in Marxist philosophy. The three truth criteria can be

tigates what it is intended to investigate, to the extent to which our

regarded as abstractions from a unity, where a comprehensive verifi

observations indeed reflect the phenom ena or variables of interest

cation of qualitative research findings will involve observation, con

to us (Pervin, 1984, p. 48). W ithin this wider conception of valid

versation, and interaction.

ity, qualitative research can, in principle, lead to valid scientific


knowledge.

The belief in an objective world has been the basis of a modernist


understanding of truth and validity. In a positivist philosophy, know l

Textbook presentations have been based on positivist epistemologi-

edge became a reflection of reality: There is only one correct view of

cal assumptions with a correspondence theory of truth. Th standard

this independent external world, and there is ideally a one-to-one

definitions of validity have been taken from the criteria developed for

correspondence between elements in the real world and our know l

psychological tests as formalized by Cronbach and Meehl in 1955. In

edge of this world. In a postmodern era, the foundations of true and

psychology, validity became linked to psychometrics, where the con

valid knowledge in a medieval absolute G od or a modern objective

current and predictive validity of the psychological tests were declared

reality have dissolved. The conception of knowledge as a mirror of

in correlation coefficients, indicating correspondence between test

reality is replaced by knowledge as a social construction of reality.

results and some external criteria. These psychometric tests, such as

Truth is constituted through a dialogue; valid knowledge claims

intelligence tests, have frequently been applied to predict school

emerge as conflicting interpretations and action possibilities are dis

success. The external criterion was here simple grade point average

cussed and negotiated among the members of a community.

in later schooling. W ith a further questioning about what the school

In science the decisive point is the conversation in the community

grades measure, the issue becomes more complex. Grades have been

of researchers about the relation among the methods, the findings,

found to predict later grades in school, but success after graduation to

and the nature of the phenomena investigated. The move from knowl-

a lesser extent. The issue of predictive validity is here not merely an

cdge-as-observation to knowledge-as-conversation was illustrated in

empirical issue, but raises such normative questions as what should

a recent television program on the development of the natural sci

the criteria of success be position in the occupational hierarchy,

ences. After showing the newest technical advances in microscopes for

income, contributions to the community?

cell studies and giant telescopes for the investigation of space, the

The issue of what is valid knowledge involves the philosophical

camera suddenly shifted to a room with elegant 18th-century furni

question of what is truth. W ithin philosophy, three classical criteria

ture. The transition was accompanied by a voice saying something to

of truth are discerned correspondence, coherence, and pragmatic

the effect that: It is not by the techniques of these instruments and the

utility. The correspondence criterion of truth concerns whether a

resulting observations that the truth of the new scientific knowledge

knowledge statement corresponds to the objective world. The coher

is determined, but through discussions about the observations among

ence criterion refers to the consistency and internal logic o f a state


ment. And the pragmatic criterion relates the truth o f a knowledge

the scientists, such as in this room of the British Royal Society of

statement to its practical consequences.

Sciences.
The social construction of valid knowledge is brought out in the

Although the three criteria of truth do not necessarily exclude each

concept of construct validity, which was originally introduced by the

other, they have each obtained strong positions in different philo

psychometricians Cronbach and Meehl for psychological tests. It

sophical traditions. The correspondence criterion has been central

pertains to the measurement of theoretical constructs such as intel

within a positivist social science where the validity of knowledge is

ligence and authoritarianism by different measures; construct valid-

240

Interviews

The Son.

( instruction of Validity

241

ity involves correlations with other measures of the construct and

Justification of knowledge is replaced by application, knowledge

logical analysis of their relationships. Cronbach (1971) later extended

becomes the ability to perform effective actions. Criteria of efficiency

the concept of construct valjdity to qualitative summaries as well as

and their desirability become pivotal, raising ethical issues of right

numerical scores; it is an open process in which to validate is to

action. Values do not belong to a realm separated from scientific

investigate validation is more than corroboration; it is a process for

knowledge, but permeate the creation and application of knowledge.

developing sounder interpretations of observations (p. 443).

Implications of the above discussion for interview research will now

Cherryholmes (1988; see also Tschudi, 1989) has argued that

be addressed in relation to validation as craftsmanship, as com m uni

construct validity is a discursive and rhetorical concept. A construct

cation, and as action. This does not lead to new, fixed criteria replac

and its measurement are validated when the discourse about their

ing the psychometric Concepts of validity, nor does it secure unam bi

relationships is persuasive to the com munity of researchers. A con

guous knowledge. Rather, it extends the frames of reference for asking

structive conception of validity goes beyond the original discourse of

about the validity of knowledge in social research Post-modern

psychological testing and experimental design, and opens in Cherry-

social science presumes methods that m ultiply paradox, inventing ever

holmess analysis to multiple discourses, such as phenomenological,

more elaborate repertoires of questions, each of which encourages an

interpretative, critical, and dcconstructive analyses. T his radicali/.a-

infinity of answers, rather than methods that settle on solutions

tion of construct validity brings it close to a postmodern emphasis on

(Rosenau, 1992, p. I 17).

the social construction of knowledge.


Some implications of the above discussion for validation of quali
tative research will now be discussed. First, when giving up a corre

V alidity as Q u ality o f Craftsm anship

spondence theory of truth as the basis for understanding validity, there


is, following Popper, a change in emphasis from verification to falsi

I will here attempt to demystify the concept of validity, to bring it

fication. The quest for absolute, certain knowledge is replaced by a

back from philosophical abstractions to the everyday practice of

conception of defensible knowledge claims. Validation becomes the

scientific research. W ith an alternative concept of validity going

issue of choosing among competing and falsifiable interpretations, of

from correspondence with an objective reality to defensible know l

examining and providing arguments for the relative credibility of

edge claims validity is ascertained by examining the sources of

alternative knowledge claims (Polkinghorne, 198.5). Validation here

invalidity. The stronger the falsification attempts a proposition has

comes to rest on the quality of craftsmanship in research.

survived, the more valid, the more trustworthy the knowledge. V ali

Second, a modern belief in knowledge as a mirror of reality recedes

dation comes to depend on the quality of craftsmanship during

and a social construction of reality, with coherence and pragmatic

investigation, continually checking, questioning, and theoretically

criteria of truth, comes to the foreground. M ethod as a guarantee of

interpreting the findings.

truth dissolves; with a social construction of reality the emphasis is on

The concept of validity as quality of craftsmanship is not lim ited to

the discourse of the community. Communication of knowledge be

a postmodern approach, but becomes pivotal w ith a postmodern dis

comes significant, with esthetics and rhetorics entering into a scientific

missal of an objective'reality against which knowledge is to be mea

discourse.

sured. The craftsmanship and credibility o f the researcher becomes

Third, with a modern legitimation mania receding, there is an

essential. Based on the quality of his or her past research in the area,

emphasis upon a pragmatic proof through action. The legitimation of

the credibility o f the researcher is an im portant aspect of fellow re

knowledge through external justification by appeals to some grand

searchers ascribing validity to the findings reported. Validity is not only

systems, or meta-narratives, and the modern fundamentalism of secur

a matter of the methods used; the person of the researcher (Salner,

ing knowledge on some undoubtable, stable fundament, lose interest.

1989), including his dr her moral integrity (Smith, 1990), is critical

242

Interviews

The Social Construction of Validity

243

for evaluation of the quality of the scientific knowledge produced.

the more attempts at falsification an interpretation has survived, the

Three aspects of validation as investigation w ill now be outlined

stronger it stands.

checking, questioning, and theorizing the knowledge produced.


To Validate Is to Question. W hen ascertaining validity, the ques
To Validate Is to Check. The researcher adopts a critical outlook on

tions of what and why need to be answered before the question

the analysis, states explicitly his or her perspective on the subject

of ho w : The content and purpose of an investigation precedes the

matter studied and the controls applied to counter selective percep

m ethod. Discussing the question D o photographs tell the truth?

tions and biased interpretations, and in general plays the devils

Becker (1979) makes the general question Is it true? specific in Is

advocate toward his or her own findings.

this photograph telling the truth about what? And to decide what a

Various modes o f checking the findings have been suggested by


writers on qualitative research. An investigative concept of validation

picture is telling us the truth about, he suggests that we should ask


ourselves what questions it might be answering.

is inherent in the grounded theory approach of Glaser and Strauss

A common critique of research interviews is that their findings are

(1967). Validation is here not some final verification or product

not valid because the subjects reports may be false. This is a possibility

control; verification is built into the research process w ith continual

that needs to be checked in each specific case (see Dean & Whyte,

checks on the credibility, plausibility, and trustworthiness of the

1969). The issue of validity again depends on the what o f the

findings. Miles and Huberman (1994) emphasize that there are no

researchers questions. In hermeneutical interpretations, the questions

canons or infallible decision-making rules for establishing the validity

posed to a text become all-important. In the grading study, the

of qualitative research. Their approach is to analyze the many sources

primacy of the question posed to an interview statement was dem on

of potential biases that might invalidate qualitative observations and

strated by the interpretations of pupils statements about competition,

interpretations; they outline in detail tactics for testing and confirm ing

talkativity, and wheedling (Chapter 12, Questions Posed to an Inter

qualitative

checking for repre

view Text). Different questions posed to interview texts led to differ

sentativeness and for researcher effects, triangulating, weighing the

ent answers. Thus one type of question led to an experiential reading

evidence, checking the meaning of outliers, using extreme cases,

o f the pupils statements. Another type of question led to a veridical

findings. These tactics include:

follow ing up on surprises, looking for negative evidence, making

reading, regarding the interviewees as witnesses or informants. The

if-then tests, ruling out spurious relations, replicating a finding, check

questioning also involved a symptomatic reading, focusing on the

ing out rival explanations, and getting feedback from informants

interviewees themselves and their reasons for making a given state

(p. 26.?).

ment. The forms of validation differ for the different questions to the

Runyan (1981) discussed the validation of multiple interpretations

interview texts. In the grade study they varied from a critical follow-up

in psychobiography in relation to the episode of van Gogh cutting off

in the interview of the pupils statements, to statistical analysis to

his left ear and giving it to a prostitute. M ore than a dozen explana

verify a pu pils postulated connection between talkativity and grades,

tions of this act have been proposed in the literature, ranging from

to the coherence of interpretations about the production and the

inspiration by newspaper accounts of Jack the Ripper, to visits to

consequences o f beliefs about grading.

bullfights in Arles, to aggression turned inward and a reawakening of

Richardson (1994) has taken issue with the geometrical concept of

Oedipal themes. Runyan discusses in detail the credibility and strength

triangulation, which was applied above in the validation of a veridical

of the different interpretations. This includes checking the empirical

reading of a pupils postulate of a connection between talkativity and

evidence for and against an interpretation, examining the theoretical

grades (Chapter 12, Questions Posed to an Interview Text). Richard

coherence, and critically evaluating and comparing the relative plausi

son rejects the use of a rigid, fixed, two-dimensional triangle as a

bility of the different interpretations given for the same act. In general,

central image for validity for postmodern texts, because it contains

244

Interviews

The Social Construction o f Validity

245

assumptions of a fixed point or object that can be triangulated:

is decided through the argumentation of the participants in a dis

Rather, the central image is the crystal, which combines symmetry

course. In a hermeneutical approach to meaningful action as a text,

and substance with an infinite variety of shapes, substances, transmu

Ricoeur (1971) rejects the position that all interpretations of a text

tations, multidimensionalities, and angles of approach (p. 522). She

are equal; the logic of validation allows us to move between the two

then outlines how crystallization by means of postmodern mixed-

limits of dogmatism and skepticism. Invoking the hermeneutical circle

genre texts provides us with a deepened, complex, and partial under

and criteria of falsifiability, he describes validation as an argumenta

standing of the topic. The multiple questions to, and readings of, the

tive discipline comparable to the juridical procedures of legal inter

pupils statements about grades may be seen as crystallizations opening

pretation. Validation is based on a logic of uncertainty and of quali

to continual transformations of the meaning of grades.

tative probability, where it is always possible to argue for or against


an interpretation, to confront interpretations and to arbitrate between

To Validate Is to Theorize. Validity is not only an issue of method.

them.

Pursuing the methodological issues of validation generates theoretical

A communicative approach to validity is found in several ap

questions about the nature of the phenomena investigated. Deciding

proaches in the social sciences. In psychoanalysis the validity o f an

whether a method investigates what it intends to investigate involves

interpretation is worked out in a dialogue between patient and thera

a theoretical conception of what is investigated. In the terms of

pist. It is also im plied in evaluation studies of social systems; House

grounded theory, verifying interpretations is an intrinsic part of the

(1980) has thus emphasized that in system evaluation, research does

generation of theory.

not mainly concern predicting events, but rather whether the audience

The inconclusive results in the grade study of the attempts at an

of a report can see new relations and answer new but relevant

informant-triangulation of a pu pils belief in a connection between

questions. Cronbach (1980) has advocated a discursive approach

talkativity and grades need not merely indicate a problem of method;

where validity rests 011 public discussion. The interpretation o f a test

it also raises theoretical questions about the social construction of

is going to remain open and unsettled, the more so because of the role

school reality. Pupils and teachers may live in different social realities

that values play in action based on tests; the aim for a research report

with regard to which pupil behaviors lead to good grades. It is possible

is to advance sensible discussion and, The more we learn, and the

that pupils, in a kind of superstitious behavior, believe in a connec

franker we are with ourselves and our clientele, the more valid the use

tion where there is none; or it may be that teachers overlook or deny

of tests will become (p. 107). In a discussion of narrative research,

a relation that actually exists. Ambiguity of the teachers bases for

Mishler (1990) has conceptualized validation as the social construc

grading, and contradictory beliefs by pupils and teachers about which

tion of knowledge. Valid knowledge claims are established in a

behaviors lead to good grades, appear to be essential aspects o f the

discourse through which the results of a study come to be viewed as

social reality of school. The complexities of validating qualitative re

sufficiently trustworthy for other investigators to rely upon in their

search need not be due to an inherent weakness in qualitative methods,

own work.

but may on the contrary rest 011 their extraordinary power to picture
and to question the complexity of the social reality investigated.

W hen conversation is the ultimate context within which knowledge


is to be understood, as argued by Rorty (Chapter 2, Interviews in
Three Conversations), the nature of the discourse becomes essential.

C om m unicative V alidity

There is today a danger that a conception of truth as dialogue and


communicative validation may become empty global and positive

Communicative validity involves testing the validity of knowledge

undifferentiated terms, w ithout the necessary conceptual and theoreti

claims in a dialogue. Valid knowledge is constituted when conflicting

cal differentiations workjed out. Some specific questions concerning

knowledge claims are argued in a dialogue: W hat is a valid observation

the how, why, and w ho 6 f com munication will now be raised.

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pi i edin<T'

vers

h e d i r e c t i o n in r e s e a r c h a n I h a v e th- s u b j i . >; list' i

con

ni o n ' h e r e s e a r c h e r s c o n v c r . a i o n s ; v > u t th.eii i n t e r v i e w s .

iwl legal iiw -ipietaticns ! 1 a courtroom , in a n.uw tive

c.i: > tring a.i indiencc, and in a humanistic therapy encounter based

on positive feelings and reciprocal sympathy.

nteipei -

ig ne v; in the n a tu ra 1 science.;

characterized by a rational argumentation. The participants are

com

.u n ity h is been tl ic last, u ltiir - tc c r ite r io n fc*

obliged to 'est statement" about the truth and falsity of propositions

tru t

o f a p i o ' o s itio n

i' .lie basi:

argunit : " i is.

ii the social

here r

s< oial

c o n te x t,

i lacing1

I irce

disco !

ion <i

! argued points of vie.., and the oi


- ideal'
. er take

a form of vi/nentati<
, the on

rm o f p>

bett

uinen .

o x im

>

stion

oncern

^no'

. W ha:

. the aim'

led;
y of

. rtna
! I he i !

cal. 1

''9 9 1 ) !

' :''7 ') dis


!

'

.' crit.i;
h" *

>urse

.'.ocat

, pos
theor

at uni
: ; .dilative

see

. d ati

n r

he

pr

! c re;

tr-

an .

of

hnL

ike
i.st

.fid e n c e

.i,;.c

ids.

kno

the-

\lit

'd

The

here

as

isens

1 ia tio n !

.he i

iion, i:.

, . etatioi .

itio.,.

uion ai

,,iit (p. 1 i ) I'rom a post modern ; rspec-

n ie n tai.

i .npet

> aers

ahn tio n

; :d mem::

oi nn

, I.y o t. c. ^ 1984) nas argued tnat consensus is only a *im;c in a

- adc

r.

the

)je<.

un

nc

IO

pre

th<

W'

lica*

S1

L* V3

, iith.

ana

iati<

'lin e r :

Vow et i,

ilh a

i et

n g it

stru c t k n o w i.Ctl^C (.Hi

,a

gl
ii)je

it

p an-!

. sit! t dev' '

<

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id w l. i

nle
io n

ity

;he

; >ly a lac.

i t,o n s ib ih

riv, v;

om

lie C o n m
ere

ii i

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vvor

vali ' 1 Mss as

rch

! ite (

bo'

ce c

i.e h a s ."

. f; the

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w:

. \he avy

n 1

n*

ascert. i

ion:

1oc

t .m e

-s a

XI iVC

1;' . o la

-tig a ti

,gl

rivi :

. i tr u t h r

ipha*

a> 1 ;h a n ; ,

nno'

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--. out

poc

dui

m un

'iy.

-!y ne >v ; q

\
\h it is reii

tcnsii 'r o f

lie -.ubjccP
ij

and

:da' in through negotiations of the i a.invmity of scholars is

n o t!

Philosophical discourses, such as the dialogues of Socrates, are

i< n: o f

s e n , 1^87), we might a l s o r o

la l h i t e t a c t i o n ( A i r . !

iial

i 1
sill v, a.i

i cts

v t

so

is
- a

'e i

i i.
.

ti

Tl-

e v

ch

i.iscussion, ami not its goal, which he posits as paralogy to create

1 . o fe s sio n s have the i .gii to d c c Y c

a l.at is v; ' i ! ' i.ow le c.h c ./i J i i n a

new ideas, new differentiations, new rules lor the disc

fie ld , su :n a* h e a lth , . :.)i e x a m j K

u r th e r m o r e , th e re is the .s pecific

i yotarci, m course is a p. mc be.

i, ad vers t< !

rathei ..

To
dia

logue between parti es.

ue t .1 .

. - iecul

H) is a

the in te i P'-et u iv e ( o m m n n ity .

- '
1

n n m it y to ina ke d e cisio n s a b o u t i

Who. The concept of c:m m unicative validity r i.ses the .pi -stion of

crucial for the results in mat.

ent

V irim a i'

: 1er o f

1 * s e c tio n o ! '^ m b e rs o i i!
tit , o f trn i i ,i; v a lu e

co ii

>co il idere;

vscs, such rs in the se le c tio n o i

who communicates . hi' whom. W h o is a leg:t:i.-i.ac partiu . in a dia

members o f a. jury, o r <

logue about true knowledge? Three interpret'!' e comir.tuvties were


brought in by the validation o f the interviews oi >lading. The member

or of an academic appointment : urmittcc.


Habermass consensus theory of truth is ha- -d on the ideal of a

of the interpretative com munity validating an imerpretarion could be

dominance-free dialogue, which is a deliberate abstraction from the

the subject interviewed, x'ur general public intc. p in in g within a critical

webs of nom-r relationships within real-liifc discourses, and again in

common sense understanding analogous to a jury, or the scientific

contrast w iili I.yotaid's postmodern understanding of a scientific con

community of scholars possessing methodical anti theoretical compe-

com nr"-e to examine a doctor -1 candidate,

248

IiucrVicws

vcrsation as a game of power. M ore generally, scientists are not pur


chased to find truth, but to augment power: 1'he games of scientific
language become the games of the rich, in which whoever is wealthiest
has the best chance of being right. An equation between wealth,
efficiency and truth is thus established (Lyotard, 1984, p. 45).

The Social Construction of Validity

249

conditions investigated. Also, system evaluation goes beyond the


correspondence criterion to include pragmatic validity: The ultimate
tests of the credibility o f an evaluation report is the response of deci
sion makers and inform ation users to that report (Patton, 1980,
p. 339).
W e may discern between two types of pragmatic validation

Pragmatic V alidity

whether a knowledge statement is accompanied by action, or whether


it instigates changes o f action. In the first case, validation of a subjects
verbal statement is based on supporting action that accompanies the

Pragmatic validation is verification in the literal sense to make


true. To pragmatists, truth is whatever assists us to take actions that
produce the desired results. Knowledge is action rather than observa
tion, the effectiveness of our knowledge beliefs is demonstrated by the
effectiveness of our action. In the pragmatic validation of a knowledge
claim, justification is replaced by application. M arx stated in his

statement. This concerns going beyond mere lip service to a belief, to


follow ing it up with action. Thus in investigations of racial prejudice,
comprehensive inquiries go beyond a subjects mere verbal statements
against racial segregation,and investigate whether the statements are
also accompanied by appropriate supportive actions.
The second, stronger, form of pragmatic validation concerns

second thesis on Feuerbach that the question of whether hum an

whether interventions based on the researchers knowledge may insti

thought can lead to objective truth is not a theoretical but a practical

gate actual changes in behavior. Freud did not rely on the patients

one. M an must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power o f his

self-understanding and verbal com m unication to validate therapeutic

thinking in practice. And his 1 ltli thesis is more pointed; the philoso

interpretations; he regarded neither the patients yes nor n o to

phers have only interpreted the world differently, what matters is

his interpretations as sufficient confirm ation or disconfirmation; the

changing the world.

yes or n o could be the result of suggestion as well as of resistance

A pragmatic concept of validity goes farther than com m unication;

in the therapeutic process. Freud recommended more indirect forms

it represents a stronger knowledge claim than an agreement through

of validation, such as observing the patients reactions to an interpre

a dialogue. Pragmatic validation rests on observations and interpreta

tation, for example in the form o f changes in the patients free

tions, with a com mitm ent to act on the interpretations Actions

associations, dreams, recall of forgotten memories, anti alteration of

speak louder than words. W ith the emphasis on instigating change,

neurotic symptoms (Freud, 1963, p. 279). Spence (1982) has followed

a pragmatic knowledge interest may counteract a tendency of social

up on the emphasis on the pragmatic effects of interpretations: N ar

constructionism to circle around in endless interpretations and a

rative truth is constructed in the therapeutic encounter, it carries the

plunge of postmodern analyses into infinite deconstructions.

conviction of a good story, and it is to be judged by its aesthetic value

A pragmatical knowledge interest in helping patients change is

and by the curative effect of its rhetorical force.

intrinsic to the therapeutic interview, where com munication of inter

In collaborative action research, investigators and subjects together

pretations serves to instigate changes in the patient. For naturalistic

develop knowledge of a social situation and then apply this knowledge

inquiry, Lincoln and Guba (1985) have gone farther than consensual

through new actions in the situation, thus testing the validity of the

validation and pointed to action-oriented quality criteria for qualita

knowledge in praxis. Reason (1994) describes a study of health

tive research, such as an inquiry enhancing the level of understand

workers that was based on participatory inquiry with a systematic

ing of the participants and their ability to take action, empowering

testing of theory in live-action contexts. The topic was stress that came

them to take increased control of their lives. Action research goes from

from hidden agendas in their work situation, such as suspicions of

descriptions o f social conditions to actions that can change the very

drug taking and of chilc^ abuse in the families the health workers

250

Intervi ews

The Social Construction of Validity

251

visited. The coresearchers first developed knowledge through discus

Who. The question of w ho involves the researcher and the users

sions am ong themselves, by role playing, and thereafter by raising their

of the knowledge produced. Patton (1980) emphasizes the credibility

concerns directly with their client families. Reason discusses the

of the researcher as an important criterion of whether a research

validity in this cooperative inquiry, and emphasizes the need to get

report is accepted or not as a basis for action. The question of w ho

beyond a mere consensus collusion where the researchers might band

also involves ethical and political issues. W ho is to decide the direction

together as a group in defense of their anxieties, which may be

of change? There may be personal resistance to change in a therapy

overcome by a continual interaction between action and reflection

as well as conflicting vested interests in the outcome of an action study.

throughout the participatory inquiry.

Thus, regarding audience validation in system evaluation, who arc the


stakeholders that will be included in the decisive audience: the funding

How. The forms o f pragmatic validation vary: There can be a


patients reactions to the psychoanalysts interpretation of his or her

agency, the leaders of the system evaluated, the employees, or the


clients of the system?

dreams, or a clients responses to a behavior therapists interventions


to change the reinforcement contingencies of his or her problem

Power and Truth. Pragmatic validation raises the issue of power and

behavior. There are the reactions o f an audience to a system evaluation

truth in social research: Where is the power to decide what the desired

report, and the cooperative interaction of researcher and subjects in

results of a study will be, or the direction of change; what values are

action research.

to constitute the basis for action? And, more generally, where is the
power to decide what kinds of truth seeking are to be pursued, what

Why. A scientific discourse is, in principle, indefinite; there is no

research questions are worth funding? Following Foucault we should

requirement of immediate action; new arguments that could alter or

here beware of localizing power to specific persons and their inten

invalidate earlier knowledge can always appear. In contrast to the

tions, and instead analyze the netlike organization and multiple fields

uncoerced consensus of the scientific discourse, practical contexts may

of power-knowledge dynamics.

require actions to be undertaken and decisions to be made that involve


a coercion to consensus. T his includes the proceedings of a jury, the
negotiations of a dissertation committee, decisions about therapeutic
interventions, and decisions about institutional changes in action
research.
A pragmatic approach implies that truth is whatever assists us to

Validity of the Validity Q uestion


I have argued here for integrating validation into the craftsmanship
of research, and for extending the concept of validation from obser
vation to also include communication about, and pragmatic effects of,

take actions that produce the desired results. Deciding what the

knowledge claims. The understanding of validity as craftsmanship, as

desired results are involves values and ethics. The moral normative

communication and action, does not replace the importance of precise

aspect of validation is recognized in system evaluation, where the

observations and logical argumentation, but includes broader concep

validity of an evaluation depends upon whether the evaluation is true,

tions of the nature of truth in social research. The conversational and

credible, and normatively correct (House, 1980, p. 255). The im por

pragmatic aspects of knowledge have within a positivist tradition been

tance of values in validation follows through a change of emphasis in

regarded as irrelevant, or secondary, to obtaining objective observa

social research from primarily m apping the social world with respect

tions; in a postmodern conception of knowledge the very conversation

to what is, to changing the focus to what could he. Thus Gergens

about, and the application of, knowledge becomc essential aspects of

(1992) postmodern conception of generative theory (see General-

the construction of a social world. Rather than providing fixed crite

izability, above) involves research that opens new possibilities of

ria, communicative and pragmatic validation refer to extended ways

thought and action as a means of transforming culture.

of posing the question of validity in social research.

252

Interviews

1 have further attempted to demystify the concept o f validity,

14

m aintaining that verification o f information and interpretations is a


normal activity in the interactions of daily life. Even so, a pervasive
attention to validation can be counterproductive and lead to a general

invalidation. Rather than let the product, the knowledge claim, speak
for itself, validation can involve a legitimation mania that may further
a corrosion of validity the more one validates, the greater the need
for further validation. Such a counterfactuality of strong and repeated
emphasis on the truth of a statement may be expressed in the folk
saying, Beware when they swear they are telling the truth.
Ideally, the quality of the craftsmanship results in products with

Im proving Interview Reports

knowledge claims that are so powerful and convincing in their own


right that they, so to say, carry the validation with them, like a strong
piece of art. In such cases, the research procedures would be transpar

W hen the understanding o f validation and generalization is extended

ent and the results evident, and the conclusions of a study intrinsically

to include com m unication with readers, the writing of reports takes

convincing as true, beautiful, and good. Appeals to external certifica

on a key position in an interview inquiry. Reporting is not simply

tion, or official validity stamps of approval, then become secondary.

re-presenting the views o f the interviewees, accompanied by the

Valid research would in this sense be research that makes questions of

researchers viewpoints in the form of interpretations. The interview

validity superfluous.

report is itself a social construction in which the authors choice of


w riting style and literary devices provide a specific view on the
subjects lived world. The writing process is one aspect o f the social
construction of the knowledge gained from the interviews, and the
report becomes the basis for the research com m unity to ascertain the
validity o f the knowledge reported. The current focus on conversation
and rhetorics in social research, as well as what is termed a crisis of
representation, leads to an emphasis on the presentation of research
findings.
Interview reports are often boring to read. Some ways o f im proving
standard modes of reporting interviews will be outlined and some
ethical issues of reporting interviews pointed out. Finally, after dis
cussing w riting as a social construction, modes of enriching interview
reports are suggested.

Boring Interview Reports


Some three thousand years ago, Odysseus returned to Greece from
his research inquiry ip distant countries. H om ers oral tale o f the

253

In terv iew s

254

Improving Interview Reports

255

voyage, later written down, was cast in a form that still engages today.

texts that any personal perspective on the interviews is lost. The

Freuds soon hundred-year-old therapeutic case stories still provoke

researcher may strongly identify with the interview subjects, go

heated controversies. Current interview studies may not be that long

native and be unable to retain a conceptual and critical distance from

lived; reports need to be read to have a life after publication. Some

the subjects accounts. The fear of subjective interpretations may lead

impressions from reading current interview reports will be offered.

to reports that consist of a tiresome series of uninterpreted quotes,


refraining from theoretical interpretations as if from some dangerous

Tiresome Interview Findings. Interview studies are often tedious to

form of speculation. The page inflation of interview reports may

read: They are often characterized by long, obtuse, verbatim quotes,

sim ply be due to researchers not know ing what story they w ant to

presented in a fragmented way, with primitive categorizations, and

tell, and they therefore are not able to select the main points they

not seldom at inflated length. Hundreds o f pages with quotes from

want to get across to their audience. W itho ut knowing the w hat and

the interview transcripts, interspersed with some comments and a few

the w hy o f the story, the how the form of the story becomes

tables with numbers from categorizations, seldom make interesting

problematic.

reading. The subjects often exciting stories have through the analyz
ing and reporting stages been butchered into atomistic quotes and

Method as a lilack Box. If readers actually find the interview results

isolated variables.
This style of reporting interviews may have been influenced by a

of interest, they may want to know about the design and the methods

qualitative hyperempiricism, with the many interview quotes made to

encounter a black box. The readers will have to guess about the social

serve as basic facts. Extensive verbatim transcripts are regarded as

context of the interview, the instructions given the interviewees, the

rock-bottom documentation of what was really said in the interviews.

questions posed, and the procedures used during transcribing and

The different rhetorical forms of oral and written language arc over

analyzing the interviews. For a reader who wants to evaluate the

looked in the construction of verbatim interview transcripts, with their

trustworthiness of the findings, to reinterpret or apply the results,

tiresome repetitions, fillers, and incomplete sentences.

inform ation on the methodic steps of an investigation is mandatory.

After having endured the reading of a series of interview reports,


one may long for some dramatic therapeutic case histories with nar

that have produced this intriguing knowledge. They are then likely to

In interview reports, however, the link between the original conver


sations and the final report is often missing.

ratives that can both be entertaining and carry provocative new in

Qualitative interviews can contain detailed descriptions of the

sights. O ne may even look forward to reading about laboratory

subjects life situations, their experiences and actions, but may be

experiments with their neat logical rigor, elegant designs, clear pres

virtually devoid of descriptions of the interview situation and of the

entations, and stringent discussions of the findings and considerations

researchers actions used to obtain the information reported about the

of possible sources of error that could invalidate the findings.

subjects. Though the strengths of qualitative studies are their detailed

Dreary impressions of qualitative reports are not new:

descriptions and the use of the researcher as an instrument, depictions


of the researchers own activities while producing the knowledge are

For 30 years, 1 have yawned my way through num erous supposedly'

conspicuously absent.

exemplary qualitative studies. Countless numbers o f texts I have aban

One reason for the neglect of method may be that an interview

doned half read, half scanned. Ill order a new bo ok w ith great anticipa
tio n the topic is one Im interested in, the author is someone I w ant to

study hardly follows discrete, formal procedures; much is left to

re a d - o n ly to find the text boring. (Richardson, 1994, pp. 516-517)

There may be several reasons for colorless interview reports. The


writer may be so overwhelmed by the extensive and complex interview

improvisation and the intuition of the interviewer and interpreter. A


further reason may be that there are no established common conven
tions for reporting qualitative studies. Rather than leading to a silence
on method, the unique nature of an interview study should in fact pose

256

In terview s

Improving Interview Reports

257

a challenge to the researcher to describe as precisely as possible the


specific steps, procedures, and decisions taken in the specific study.

Box 14.1

A possible reason for the neglect of method in interview reports


may be as a counterreaction to the positivist idolatry of methods that

Investigating W ith
the Final Report in M in d

equated science with formalized bureaucratic procedures. W e may


further speculate that the interview researcher has a bad methodic
conscience that his or her study does not live up to established
canons of social science research. This methodic insecurity may then
lead to om itting any mention o f method the procedures applied are
simply swept under the carpet. Freely applying psychoanalytic defense

1. Thcmatizing.

The earlier and clearer that researchers

keep the end product o f their study in sight the story they
want to tell the easier the w riting of the report will be.

mechanisms, one may invoke a repression of method due to anxiety

2. Designing.

and guilt from not living up to the ruling method ideals.

procedure as a basis for the method section of the final


report. Have the final form of the published interviews in

Keep a systematic record of the design

m ind when designing the study, including the ethical guide

Investigating W ith
the Final Report in M in d
The aim of a report is to inform other researchers and the general
public of the importance and the trustworthiness of the findings. The
report should contribute new knowledge to the development of a field,
and be cast in a form that allows the conclusions to be checked by the
reader. The interview report is the end product of a long process; what

line of informed consent with respect to later publication


of the subjects stories. Under the ethical ideal that research
should serve to enhance the hum an situation, com municat
ing the findings to the scientific and general communities
is of prime importance.
3. Interviewing.

The ideal interview is in a form com

municable to readers at the m om ent the tape recorder is


turned off.

is worth communicating to others from the wealth of interview

4. Transcribing.

conversations is to be conveyed in the limited number of pages o f an

published should be kept in m ind during transcription, as


well as the protection of the subjects confidentiality.

article or a book, presenting the main aims, methods, results, and

The readability of interviews that will be

implications of an interview inquiry. The writing of the report is here

.5. Analysis.

presented as the last of the seven method stages of an interview study.

reporting of an interview merge and result in a story to be

As one approach to making interview reports more readable, I will

told to the readers. In other forms of analysis, too, the

suggest taking the final report into consideration from the very start

presentation of the results should be kept in m ind, with the

of an inquiry. In the story of the five hardship phases o f an interview

analysis of the interviews becoming embedded in the w rit

project, reporting w'as depicted as the final phase of exhaustion

ing of the findings.

(Chapter 5, Openness and Emotions in Interview Studies). As a


countermeasure it was recommended that an interview project be

6. Verification. W ith a conception of validation as com


m unication and action, how a study is reported becomes a

directed from the start toward the final report; that the researcher

key issue.

In a narrative analysis, the analyzing and

keep in m ind throughout the stages of the investigation the original

7. Reporting.

vision of the story he or she wants to tell the readers. In Hox 14.1, a
consistent directedness toward the final report is envisaged through

start of an interview study should contribute to a readable


report of methodologically well-substantiated, interesting

out the seven stages of an interview study.

findings.

W orking toward the final report from the

258

In terview s

W riting for the Readers

259

Improving Interview Reports

its expression and style. In literature, the content and form of Shake
speares dramas still capture us today, while little is known about the

Until recently there has been little interest in how to communicate


the results of interview studies. The writing of an interview report has

dramas origins or of Shakespeares methods of writing.


In contrast, in a report to a court, say from interviews by a

often been regarded as merely re-presenting what was done and found,

psychologist about child abuse, eloquence and style are not essential

with little regard for the readers and their use o f the report.

to the report. There will be an intense cross-examination from the

In contrast thereto, researchers in system evaluation and market

prosecution and the defense, critically trying to find weak points in

research have been well aware of the effects of the form of their reports

the interviews and their interpretations. The procedures w ill be under

on their intended audiences such as the length o f a report or the

scrutiny and attempts made to undermine the reliability o f witnesses;

differential impact of quantitative and qualitative data. Patton (1980)

of the forms of interrogation, such as the influence of leading ques

thus mentions that an extensive, well-documented, and formally

tions; and the logic of the interpretations drawn.

elegant evaluation report may end up in the recipients waste basket.

An interview report should ideally be able to live up to artistic

A face-to-face com m unication, perhaps including a few pages o f report

demands of expression as well as to the cross-examination of the court

summaries, may have a far stronger impact on the recipients and their
decision making.

with regard to scientific criteria of rigor and artistic criteria of ele

For market research, it has been posited that lower-level managers

gance, some moral issues involved in publishing interviews w ill be

often want extensive quantitative data in order to legitimize their

room. Before turning to possible ways to improve interview reports

addressed.

decisions and thereby give them an alibi if things should go wrong.


Upper-level managers, who arc responsible for the future o f the
company, may be more open to qualitative methods with creative and

Ethics of Reporting

new interpretations: Those who really want the help o f an investiga


tion in order to solve concrete issues are more susceptible to consider

The publication of a research report raises moral questions about

a qualitative investigation, whereas the alibi-seekcrs rather choose

what kinds o f effects a report leads to. Thus psychological research

quantitative studies (Osiatinsky, 1976, p. 58).

should ideally both produce scientific knowledge and contribute to

The closeness of interview studies to ordinary life, with their often

am eliorating the human condition (see Chapter 6). This involves

lively descriptions and engaging narratives, makes an interview report

com m unicating the findings in a form that is both scientifically sound

potentially interesting to the general public. In some cases, this may

and readable to the potential users of the knowledge reported. The

entail a conflict between the demands of the scientific and the general

publication should further be in line with the ethical guidelines of

communities, between presenting the results in a scientifically docu

informed consent, confidentiality, and consequences.

mented and controllable form or in an illustrative and engaging po p u


lar form. The dilemma o f presenting captivating stories versus formal

Informed Consent. As discussed earlier, care should be taken before

documentation of method and findings may be envisaged by two

the interview situation to have a clear understanding with the inter

contrasting scenes for the report the art gallery and the court room.

viewees about the later use and possible publication of their inter

In art it is the end product a painting or a sculpture that is

views, preferably with a written agreement (Chapter 6, Ethical G uide

essential, and not the methods of the production process. The painting

lines; Chapter 8 , The Ethics of Intervitwing).

techniques employed may be of interest to fellow artists and to art


historians, but the techniques are not the reason for taking a piece of

Confidentiality. In order to protect the subjects privacy, fictitious

art seriously. A painting carries its own message, it convinces through

names and sometimes changes in subjects characteristics are used in

260

I ntervi ews

Improving Interview Reports

261

the published results. This requires altering the form of the inform a

w ould be easily grasped by the readers. At the time of publication,

tion without making major changes of meaning. Yet disguising subjects

however, a public discussion had started about the relevance of

is not w ithout hazards.

keeping French as a subject in Danish high schools. The teacher now

A misleading camouflage can be illustrated by an interview study

feared that his descriptions o f using grades to motivate his pupils to

of refugees adaptation to the Danish culture. At the suggestion of her

learn the unpopular French could be used in the public debate as an

advisor, myself, a student had changed the names as well as the

argument for om itting French as a school subject. The negative con

nationalities of the refugees she had interviewed and quoted at length

sequences did not directly concern the teacher himself, but rather his

in her masters thesis. The external examiner pointed out a serious

profession with regard to the public image of French as a school sub

lack of understanding in the thesiss analysis of the social and psycho

ject. I concurred with his request and changed French to English

logical situation of a refugee from Chile. O n closer examination it

in his statements and thereby lost some of their expressive value.

turned out that the Chilean refugee was a disguised Polish refugee.

Other decisions about whether to change a report due to antici

The student, herself an immigrant, had not taken into account that

pated consequences may not be so easily solved. Glesne and Peshkin

Polish refugees in Denmark in the 1970s tended to be strongly

(1992) raise a general question:

anticom m unist and Chilean refugees to be equally strongly socialist


or communist. Disguising names and nationality had brought about
marked changes in the meaning of the social situations and identity of
the subjects, whereby several of the interpretations made little sense.
The example points out the problems of concealing inform ation

W h a t obligations does the researcher have to research participants w hen


publishing findings? If the researchers analysis is different from that of
participants, should one, both, or neither, be published? Even if respon
dents tend to agree that some aspect o f their com m unity is unflattering,
should the researcher make this info rm atio n public? (p. 119)

without substantially changing its meaning, a decision that requires an


extensive knowledge of the phenomena investigated.

The intended result of the grade study was to docum ent the effects

The particular problems of privacy in the writing stage of a quali

of grading in contrast to official Danish curricular goals, such as

tative inquiry have been discussed by Cilesne and Peshkin (1992), who

prom oting the pupils independence and their creativity, cooperation,

mention several well-known social science studies in which, despite

and interest in lifelong learning. I had believed that this w ould have

the use o f fictitious names and the like, reporters and others have been

an emancipatory effect through leading to public knowledge about,

able to track down the actual persons. Among the more easily resolved

and possible changes in, the new grade-based restricted admission to

issues of confidentiality are the interviewees who do not want to be

the universities. The study had no such consequence: By the time the

anonymous subjects: They have engaged themselves strongly in a

book was ready for publication, public interest in the issue had waned.

project and want to be responsible for their statements with full names.

Furthermore, the book was written in an academic style, heavily


documented with quotations, and contained extensive methodical

Consequences. It may be difficult for a researcher to anticipate the

discussions. I had attempted to refrain from interesting but more

potential consequences of an interview report. One unintended con

speculative interpretations in anticipation of the comrnon critiques of

sequence of the grade study will be mentioned. A teacher of French,


who had received a copy of the chapter containing the results from

qualitative interview research. The result was that the lived reality of
the pupils school situation was lost, and the book had no appeal to

his interview, called and asked me not to use his statements in my

either the pupils or the general public. I here were a few reviews of

book. In high school, French was an unpopular subject for many pupils

the book: Those in conservative newspapers were critical of the

and this teacher was keenly aware of and eloquent about his use of

results, m aintaining that they were based on too few subjects, may

grades to motivate his pupils to learn French. His statements were

have been provoked by leading questions, and that the speculative

highly illustrative of the use of grades as a motivational device and

interpretations were biased by the authors leftist views,

262

I n t e r v ie w s

263

Improving Interview Reports

Im prov ing Standard M odes of Reporting


Box 14.2
Readers of an interview report can adopt a m ultitude of perspec
tives to the text: Are the results interesting, do they give new know l

Structuring an Interview Report

edge, novel insights, provoke new perspectives on the topic o f the


study? W hat are the theoretical implications of the findings? Docs the
new knowledge support or go against current theories in the area?

I. Introduction: Thematizing

From a methodic stance questions also arise: H ow trustworthy are the

The general purpose of the study is stated, the conceptual

findings? W hat is the methodical base for the results reported? And

and theoretical understanding of the investigated phenom

from a practical viewpoint still other questions arise: W hat are the

ena is outlined, a review of the relevant literature on the

practical consequences of the study? Are the findings sufficiently

research topic is provided, and the specific research ques

trustworthy to act on? In this section standard formats for reporting

tions for the investigation are formulated.

interviews will be outlined, and in a later section modes of enriching


the interview reports will be suggested.
S T A N D A R D ST RU C T U R E O F A R E P O R T

In Box 14.2, the seven stages of an interview investigation are

II. M ethod: Designing, Interviewing, Transcribing, and

Analyzing
The methods applied throughout the study are described
in sufficient detail for the reader to ascertain the relevance
of the design for the topic and purpose of the investigation,

placed under the standard headings of a scientific report: introduc

to evaluate the trustworthiness of the results, and, in prin

tion, m ethod, results, and discussion (see, e.g., American Psychologi

ciple, to be able to replicate the investigation.

cal Association, 1989). The reporting of the methods and the results

III. Results: Analysis and Verification

of interview studies will now be treated in more detail.

The results are reported in a form that gives a clear and


well-structured overview of the main findings, and with the

M ETHOD

The reader of an interview report needs to know the methodical


procedures in order to evaluate the trustworthiness of the results.
Knowledge of specific details of method may also be required for a
reinterpretation or for an application of the findings o f a study. And,
in rare cases, the reader may be interested in the method for replicating
or extending the original study. Box 14.3 lists some of the inform ation
that a reader not satisfied with a black box in the method section can

reliability, validity, and generalizability of the findings


critically evaluated.
IV. Discussion
The overall implications of the results are discussed. This
involves the relevance of the findings to the original re
search questions and the theoretical and practical im plica
tions of the findings.

look for.
RESULTS

texts for the reader. In contrast to engaging and well-structured, rich,


and em inent literary texts, some interviews may be boring to read,

In contrast to a critics interpretation of a literary text where the

trivial, redundant, with little inner connections or deeper significance.

poem or novel will either be known by or available to the reader the

It is up to the researcher to provide the perspectives and contexts that

interview interpreter will have to select and condense the interpreted

render the interviews engaging to the reader.

In terview s

Improving Interview Rep

265

simple computer program provided eight graphic options for present


ing the number1 |V i though th. . are n< inn trable s'.i.niard foi i.i

Box 14.3

for presenting qualitative interview studies, there are several options


a v .ib b ! . The ii . 1a11' xle o f pi .ruing inii.

a Que* i !</.., A b o u t M etiiods

1 l" !
>ns
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teed n. ;

t ,nirt

ri e studies used in the pre'cnt book are

tiiiJ' .
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.1 cal j-i.-i . to su>

, 1975; ii

S ii i.. n. 197.;' l*< cIkm: e. , ..s may i.i .ii !c to |


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. .hies ... lire,,. . ne

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in the form of short artid ^e.g., G ior

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Qualitative investigations i.i themselvc

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I ant

<s of rc en: ental

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i.s :r arc m . tai i.nnd ani