ASA10: The Interview - theory, practice, society

Queen's University, Belfast, 13/04/2010 – 16/04/2010

(P05)

The subject(ivity) of the interview: performance and construction in anthropology and sociology

Location Lecture Theatre LT5
Date and Start Time 14 Apr, 2010 at 09:00

Convenors

Matthew Wood (Queen's University, Belfast) email
Justyna Samolyk email
Ciaran Burke (Queen's University Belfast) email
Chaitali Das (Queens University Belfast) email
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Short Abstract

The interview represents a technique through which interviewer & interviewee are performatively constructed as subjects & subjectivities, as beings with certain emotions, cognitions and senses of self. The manner of this construction, and the need to recognise it as such, is the topic of this panel.

Long Abstract

The interview is now the most utilised research method in the social sciences - epitomised by its application in social anthropology, a discipline traditionally centred upon participant observation. This represents a rationalisation of research methodology, since the interview produces large amounts of qualitative data through the isolation of selected people involved in the area of social life under study. Consequently, the interview individualises such people, treating them as case studies through which to examine that area by constructing and reconstructing them as subjects who have things to say about their experiences in it. This construction may proceed through interviewees relating their biographies, their opinions, or their involvement in specific incidents. Furthermore, it occurs through the construction of their subjectivity: an interview builds up a picture of a thinking, emoting and self-aware individual. In short (and building upon the work of Bourdieu, Butler, Foucault and Gubrium/Holstein), the interview is a performative technique for subjectivisation and should itself be critically examined as part of the research process.

A key issue for social anthropology, then, is the relationship between the interview and participant observation. This also raises issues regarding the relationship between that discipline and sociology, and therefore about the possibilities for meaningful inter-disciplinary research. Other issues raised may include the following: the concurrent construction of the interviewer as subject(ivity); the relationship between different subject(ivity)-constructions that lie as potentials within an interview; and variations in subject(ivity)-construction in relation to different categories of interviewees (such as by class, gender, race, ethnicity, age and sexuality).

Chair: Matthew Wood

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Real Life Role-Play

Authors: Chris Bunn (Cambridge University Hospital)  email
Sonia Zafer-Smith (Cambridge University)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper explores the interaction of subjectivities in interviews carried out within the field of health research. It asks whether these kinds of interviews are best understood as a role play based on tacit exchange and assumptions in which social cues and improvisation direct the narrative shared.

Long Abstract

In the field of health studies, anthropologists and sociologists are increasingly being employed to conduct 'cold' interviews with previously unknown participants. In this time space, it is believed that interviewer and participant will somehow connect, disclose and discuss the participant's personal narrative in an intimate shared environment. The researcher is imagined to control the interview, unravelling key revelations, extracting rich metaphors, or perhaps unquestioned cultural assumptions from the participant, for the end of the project in hand. But is this meeting really between a participant and a social scientist? If the participant has no prior understanding of this form of research, then what is the perceived role that they assign to the interviewer? And how might they weave their narrative in response to the scenario in hand? And what of our interviewer? As an inherently social agent, as social as their participant, does she/he ever accommodate or pre-empt the assumptions of their participant? In the absence of a ready-made role to reach for, what characters might the social scientist adopt, perform and embellish from the repertoire of social interaction available? Does the interview ever take up the role of say a counsellor, or consultant to facilitate the interview?

Through an analysis of two interviews conducted as part of medical research trials, we probe the nature of the subjectivities constructed and negotiated in these encounters and ask, is the interview process a role play based on tacit exchange and assumptions in which social cues and improvisation direct the narrative shared?

Participant observation and interview - the dialogue between two methods and two people, mediated by a machine.

Author: Dorota Szawarska (SOAS)  email
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Short Abstract

The differences between what is said during the interview, and what is said and practiced outside of it, given time, may add nuance to one’s understanding of the problems and people studied. It may also add another dimension in terms of research ethics, in how what people reveal outside of the context of a focused interview, which disciplines their performance of self, is to be used in how they are portrayed.

Long Abstract

Using my fieldwork among Sakhalin Korean repatriates as a case study, I examine the relation between the interview and long term participant observation. I argue that recorded interviews can be useful not only in terms of narratives and data directly recorded during the interview, but also in the periods of fieldwork that follow. What matters is not only how people create themselves as subjects during the interview, but what is said immediately after and during months following it. What people choose to reveal during the recorded interview and what they choose to reveal only when the voice recorder is switched off, not only combines to give a fuller impression of a given context, but inspires further lines of inquiry. The performance of self that takes place during the interview, is at the same time a form of creation of one's image for the benefit of both the interviewer and the interviewee. The differences between what is said during the interview, and what is said and practiced outside of it, given time, may add nuance to one's understanding of the problems and people studied. It may also add another dimension in terms of research ethics, in how what people reveal outside of the context of a focused interview, which disciplines their performance of self, is to be used in how they are portrayed.

Subjects' performance as a response to the social proximity with the researcher - reflections on conducting interviews within the researcher's own migrant group.

Author: Justyna Samolyk  email
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Short Abstract

In the proposed paper, using the hitherto conducted 20 narrative interviews, I will present examples of the interviewees’ constructions of self and their almost simultaneous interpretations of these constructions. Additionally, based on preliminary analysis, I intend to introduce some reflections on the impact of the social proximity with the interviewees on my interpretations of the collected stories.

Long Abstract

In my doctoral research, I am using narrative interviews (Schütze, 1992) as a means of collecting the stories of Polish post-accession migrants' move to Belfast, Northern Ireland, with a particular interest in the maintenance and shaping of their interpersonal relations.

The study's focus on post-accession migrants can be explained by the fact that before May 2004, when Poland joined the European Union, there were very few Polish immigrants in Northern Ireland . However, in 2007 several sources published an estimate of around 30,000 Polish immigrants living in Northern Ireland. Such a distinct starting point in this particular migratory flow enables the tackling of stories of concurrent migration, thereby learning about different perceptions of the move.

In this study I am interested in immigrants' interpretations of their positions and relations in Northern Ireland as well as their reactions to those interpretations (Blumer 1986: 5-6) and therefore, the interviews are designed to record participants' perceptions rather than 'the objective reality'. Hence, I acknowledge the interview as an arena for such interpretations and for adjusting one's performance accordingly. This is particularly important in the situation of social proximity of the interviewer with interviewees. In the case of my research, the shared nationality and experience of migration are additionally the subject of the interview, making the bond between me as a 'Polish researcher' distinctive in the relationship with the participants.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.