ASA10: The Interview - theory, practice, society

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

(Plen3)

Interview negotiations

Location Stranmillis Conference Hall
Date and Start Time 15 Apr, 2010 at 11:00

Convenors

Jonathan Skinner (University of Roehampton) email
Dominic Bryan (Queen's University Belfast) email
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Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

None provided.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

‘Finding the talk’: negotiating knowledge and knowledge transfer in the field

Author: Lisette Josephides (Queen's University Belfast)  email
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Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

During fieldwork the ethnographer is, in a sense, in a permanent state of high alert. Everything observed and experienced in the field appears innately interesting, potentially even crucial, and must be recorded before it is lost forever. It might be said that all exchanges are interviews in these conditions, containing precious nuggets for analysis.

In my fieldwork among the Kewa of the highlands of Papua New Guinea, interviews, when undertaken, were a series of translations at different levels, involving three languages, three generations and several knowledge-brokers. In these conditions, the interview as a technique of knowledge has two prerequisites: the interviewer’s placement within a local system of relations, and the establishment of a baseline of shared understandings. As elicitations of knowledge, interviews constantly pulled away from the interviewer’s concerns. Because interviews could never be entirely individual or confidential, they were not limited to a relationship between interviewer and interviewee, but had more general local consequences. Kewa people turned them into group debates for staking their own claims and negotiating understandings.

But this negotiation of meaning happened only at the interview stage. Subsequent analysis was informed by far more than was obtained in the field, finding insights and reaching conclusions in a process not shared with interviewees.

Using Kewa ethnography, the paper will discuss three questions. First, what do interviews intend to elicit? Second, how is knowledge transacted through them? (Though they are conducted through language, much meaning comes from what is left unsaid.) And third, what are the ethical and epistemological implications of subsequent intellectual activity, post-fieldwork, which turns the interview into ethnographic and theoretical knowledge with a designated place in the anthropological corpus and beyond?

On reactionary reflexivity

Author: Andrew Dawson (University of Melbourne)  email
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Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

In this presentation I review critically the development of the reflexive turn in anthropology, focusing particularly on the ethnographic interview. Its potential for bringing into relief the intersubjectivity of social reality is, all too frequently abused. At one level, I argue, the interviewer is presented as the principal agent in the creating and revealing of social reality. Conversely, I argue, the interviewee is abstracted from the social collectivities (s)he constitutes and is constituted by. Based on readings of recent research on working-class militancy in the UK, anti-nationalist struggle in former-Yugoslavia and state intervention in Aboriginal territories in Australia, I demonstrate that some recent reflexively conscious anthropology shares an uncomfortable relationship with neo-liberal discourse, particularly in its valorisation of individualism and the privatisation of the subject. In contrast, I argue for anthropological methodologies that respect a political commitment to presenting the subaltern collective voice.

Victims of political violence and the importance of interviews: some methodological reflections

Author: Kirk Simpson (University of Ulster)  email
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Short Abstract

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Long Abstract

The emotional and psychological imperative to record the stories of those who suffered as a result of conflict and political violence presents key methodological dilemmas for scholars: namely, how best to access the nuance and complexity of traumatic experience, on both an individual and collective level; and also how to begin to create cosmos from chaos. Research with victims should not be constricted by relativist epistemological parameters that can facilitate the exoneration of perpetrators of violence. Rather, it is possible to conduct interview research that empowers those without a voice, that is done within a morally normative framework, and which enables and encourages researchers to empathise with the experiences of respondents. In this presentation I will discuss the contested notion that anthropological researchers must abrogate or ‘suspend’ moral evaluations when in the field. I will offer some of my own personal reflections of spending time researching victimhood in Northern Ireland, using the interview as a key way of collecting stories of the past. I will argue that interview research can illuminate various ‘hidden’ discourses that have been hitherto unknown. Having been embedded within a community of people that are slow to trust and share information, in the context of a post-violence society, I will discuss the heuristic value of the interview, and how it can function to assist researchers in finding the ‘secret order’ within the apparent disorder of groups who feel subjugated, disconnected and marginalised. The presentation will conclude by arguing that anthropologists can develop a rigorous methodological framework that does not objectify, essentialise or falsely homogenise people; and which instead has at its core moral, transformative and cathartic qualities for both researchers and respondents.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.