Methodology Chapter: In-Depth Interviewing as a Methodology

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¶ … Interviewing as a Methodology

The interview coordinates a conversation aimed at obtaining desired information. He or she makes the initial contact, schedules the event, designates its location, sets out the ground rules, and then begins to question the interviewee. Questions elicit answers in more or less anticipatable format until the interviewer's agenda is completed and the interview ends. Gubrium & Holstein discuss in their writing that the interview is a viable procedure useful in securing knowledge. Individuals have not always been viewed as important sources of knowledge about their own experiences. Particular forms of questioning have been around for a while. The style of interviewing can be traced back to parents and children, prisoners and lawyers etc. The basic interview changed after World War II, here began the use of the standardized survey interview.

The long interview is one of the most powerful methods in the qualitative armory. For certain descriptive and analytic purposes, no instrument of inquiry is more revealing. The method can take us into the mental world of the individual, to glimpse the categories and logic by which he or she sees the world. It can also take us into the life world of the individual, to see the content and pattern of daily experiences. The long interview gives us the opportunity to step into the mind of another person, to see and experience the world as they do themselves (McCracken & McCracken, 1988).

Interview practices have been developed through the practices associated with surveys, in-depth, life story, and focus group interviews to postmodern trends, which include virtual interviewing, auto ethnography, and poetic representation. The research continues by explaining the significance between the interview type and the theoretical issues in question; these factors determine what form of interviewing is best suited for a given situation. Plakhotnik & Rocco (2006), continue by explaining that there are initial concerns that had to be addressed. These concerns included selecting and training interviewers, pretesting, and securing respondents. The influence of developments in social sciences and methodology on aspects of the survey interview is presented to avoid a simplistic how-to approach. For example the co authors present information concerning interviewer recruitment and selection, by explaining that they are drawn from results of several empirical studies and one meta-analysis of hundreds of studies investigating the impact of interviewers' age, race, gender, and class on the responses they obtain from interviewees.

The first step of the long qualitative interview begins with an exhaustive review of the literature. Literature reviews...are not simple exercises in data collection. They are...critical undertakings in which the investigator exercises a constant skepticism. They are, in fact, a kind of qualitative analysis. They search out the conscious and unconscious assumptions of scholarly enterprises. They determine how these assumptions force the definition of problems and findings. The good literature review is a critical process that makes the investigator the master, not the captive, of previous scholarship...[It is a] review and "deconstruction" of the scholarly literature. (McCracken, 1988, p. 31)The literature:

helps define the problems to be studied and helps assess data

Aids in the construction of interview questions.

The second step involves self-examination. The object of this step is to give the investigator a more detailed and systematic appreciation of his or her personal experience with the topic of interest. It calls for the minute examination of this experience. The investigator must inventory and examine the associations, incidents, and assumptions that surround the topic in his or her mind. (p. 32) the cultural review:

helps identify cultural categories and relationships that become the basis of question formation

prepares the investigator for the "rummaging" that will occur during data analysis

"Distances" the investigator. "Only by knowing the cultural categories and configurations that the investigator uses to understand the world is he or she in a position to root these out of the terra firma of familiar expectation. This clearer understanding of one's vision of the world permits a critical distance from it...The investigators experiences and biases are the "very stuff of understanding and explication" (p. 32).

The third step involves developing a questionnaire. The final questionnaire...will consist in a set of biographical questions followed by a series of question areas. Each of these will have a set of grand-tour questions with floating prompts at the ready. It will also consist in planned prompting in the form of "contrast," "category," "special incident," and "auto-driving" questions. With this questionnaire in hand, the investigator has a rough travel itinerary with which to negotiate the interview. It does not specify precisely what will happen at every stage of the journey...but it does establish a clear sense of the direction of the journey and the ground it will eventually cover. (p. 37) Begin an interview by demonstrating that the interviewer is a "benign, accepting, curious (but not inquisitive) individual who is prepared and eager to listen to virtually any testimony with interest" (p. 38). Once the preliminaries are completed, deploy grand-tour questions followed by "floating prompts." Follow this with planned prompts:

contrast category special incident auto-driving

Be alert for impression management

topic avoidance deliberate distortion minor misunderstanding outright incomprehension

The fourth and final phase of the long interview is the most demanding. It is the analysis of the data. The object of analysis is to determine the categories, relationships, and assumptions that inform the respondent's view of the world in general and the topic in particular. The investigator comes to this undertaking with a sense of what the literature says ought to be there, a sense of how the topic at issue is constituted in his or her own experience, and a glancing sense of what took place in the interview itself. The investigator must be prepared to use all of this material as a guide to what exists there, but he or she must also be prepared to ignore all of this material to see what none of it anticipates. If the full powers of discovery inherent in the qualitative interview are to be fully exploited, the investigator must be prepared to glimpse and systematically reconstruct a view of the world that bears no relation to his or her own view or the one evident in the literature. (p. 42)

Plakhotnik & Rocco (2006), discuss further the information gathered from the literature they reviewed. It is explained that in-depth interviews are viewed as a social form and their goals and purposes in the context of the meaning of the word deep before moving onto procedural issues of identifying informants, conducting the interviews, and following interview ethics. Interviews are deep when they reveal "understandings . . . held by real-life members of or participants in some everyday activity . . . which go beyond commonsense explanations . . . can reveal how ones commonsense assumptions, practices, and ways of talking partly constitute ones interests and how they are understood, while allowing the interviewer to grasp and articulate the multiple views of, perspectives on, and meaning of some activity, event, or cultural object" (pp. 106 -- 107).

(McCracken, 1988)There are several areas of controversy within qualitative research methodology. One of these concerns the way in which the qualitative research community has fashioned, or refused to fashion, a relationships to the several social sciences and alternative methods of social scientific study. The second compelling question concerns the relationship between the researcher and his or her own culture. The third concerns the relationship between the researcher and the data. The key question here is: how can the researcher collect data that are both abundant and manageable? The forth concerns the relationship between the researcher and the respondent; how is this delicate relationship best constructed and construed?

In 1997, Ritchie reported that traditional scholarship dismissed oral history interviews for not being as objective (or true) as other forms of documentation or as scientific as questionnaire-based interviewing. Then as various disciplines began rethinking the concept of an objective reality, they confronted the subjective (or biased) nature of all sources of information and reexamined the forms and motivations of verbal expression. As they have embraced their subjectively, many scholars using interviews as a research tool have moved closer to oral history methodology, whether they know it or not.

Ritchie, continued to discuss that a psychologist by the name of John T. Chirban, wanted to improve interviewing in psychological therapy and the health professions through what he terms an interactive-relational (or I: R) approach. Traditional psychological interviews required interviewers to maintain an observational posture that discouraged personal interactions, in order to collect impartial empirical data. Behavioral psychology reduced the interviewee's role to that of "subject." Wanting to pump vitality back into these interviews, stimulate more communication, and provide more depth. Chirban focuses on the "heart-to-heart, as well as face-to-face, elements" of an interview (1997).

The I:R approach is reported to have been created while interviewing a dozen prominent American women for a project on "Women, Motivation and Success." Chirban's initial questionnaire, designed according to standard qualitative research methods, quickly proved an obstacle to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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