Models of interviewing

Broadly speaking, four approaches inform interviewing practice: ethnographic, 'new paradigm', feminist and postmodernist. While these approaches can overlap and combine, each has its own language and way of conceiving the research process and relationship. So while they have much in common with each other, it is worth identifying a few contrasts or points of tension within interviewing style and interpretation here. In all approaches, however, reflexivity is accorded a key role, in the sense of the researcher reflecting on her or his own experience and role within the conduct of the research.

While ethnographic work highlights informants' expertise and the dependence of the researcher on the informant for access to her or his subjective rules, meanings and cultural life, there is a clear role demarcation between researcher and researched in determining the research topic and outcome (although this is changing within contemporary anthropological work: see Nencel and Pels 1991). Further, notwithstanding its ethos of eliciting and representing descriptions, we should not lose sight of how even ethnographic work still requires prior identification and structuring of themes to be investigated. On this, James Spradley (1979: 55) provides a clear account of the differences between an ethnographic interview and an 'ordinary conversation'. There are similarities here with Jean Piaget's clinical interview process, where it is argued that 'the good practitioner lets himself [s/c] be led, though always in control, and takes account of the whole of the mental context' (Piaget 1929: 19).

In contrast, in 'new paradigm' research (Reason and Rowan 1981), while following the ethos of valuing what people say and treating this as meaningful and informative, research is viewed as a collaborative enterprise which not only involves the full participation of the interviewees but aJso incurs responsibility on the parr of the researcher to be accountable to, and in some cases to conduct research agendas according to the demands of, the participants (see Chapter 1). Here we see the traditional model of researcher-researched relations undergoing upheaval as the researcher strives to carry out research in a non-exploitative, non-dehumanizing way.

Discussions of feminist methodology also take as central issues of power in the conduct of research. But rather than focusing only on the interpersonal relationship set up within the research encounter, feminist approaches attend in addition to wider questions of power as they enter into the funding, popularization and uses of research (e.g. Spender 1981). Moreover, they often treat power not as something that can be removed from research, but rather as an ever-present dynamic that needs to be acknowledged as structuring the interaction in diverse ways. In this sense feminist analyses of power in terms of the social positions occupied by interviewees, and (re)produced within interviews, go beyond those offered in 'new paradigm' accounts - most noticeably, but not exclusively, in terms of gender.

Finally, there are accounts of research drawing on post-structuralist and postmodernist writings to critique traditional models of research. This might include social constructionist and narrative approaches to research (e.g. Mishler 1986; Steier 1991). Of particular relevance here is the questioning of the presumption that participants within research share the research goals. The changes to which the research is directed may well be worthy, but may be of no immediate benefit to the informant at whose expense careers are gained and whose experience is subordinated to a preconceived or more or less imposed interpretive framework (see Gubrium and Silverman 1989; Opie 1992). Critiques along these lines invite attention to the variety of interpretations that can and will be made by different parties to the research encounter, and therefore also call for a principled scrutiny of our work of interpretation as researchers. In addition, more transformative research practice would seek to identify and address this multiplicity of interpretations in terms of research goals.

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