ASA10: The Interview - theory, practice, society

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

(Plen4)

Imagination, inspiration and the interview

Location Stranmillis Conference Hall
Date and Start Time 16 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

Not being there: interviews and the anthropological imagination

Author: Allison James (Sheffield University)  email
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Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

The necessary presence of the anthropologist in the field is fundamental to anthropology’s fieldwork tradition such that reflexive explorations of ‘being there’ (Watson 1999) – understanding the self in the field - are now entrenched as a core part of anthropological praxis. Narrative accounts of fieldwork, even if not explicit in their articulation about the role of the anthropologist as a research ‘ instrument’, nonetheless often acknowledge the limitations or opportunities that the researcher’s gender, class or ethnicity has created in respect of the field data gathered. And, now that the interview (whether formal or informal) has become recognised as also part of the armoury of anthropological fieldwork methods, the being-there-ness of the interviewer and his or her relationship with the interviewee has been opened up to scrutiny. Thus, while conversational analysis and life history techniques have, for example, allowed the turn taking of conversations to be examined for the ways in which issues of power and authority might direct conversations, the actual embodied experience of doing interviews permits additional powerful data to be added to the interview transcript as Hockey (2000) has described.

It is against this background, therefore that this paper asks what happens when the anthropologist is not there? As anthropologists, how can, and do, we work with data that have been collected by other people – by our research assistants or, increasingly, by other researchers who have deposited their interview transcripts for secondary analysis? With research funding pressures making it increasingly difficult for many of us to continue to go ‘ to the field’ in person to collect our data, we are not only relying more and more on interviews as a data gathering technique but also on other people gathering the data for us. This paper considers, first, therefore, how we might reinvent that sense of being there when we have in fact been absent; and second, whether new kinds of opportunities are opened up by not being there. It argues, in short, for the development of an anthropological imagination that can, through drawing on the lessons learned from other disciplinary traditions, transcend the apparent limitations imposed on us, as anthropologists, when dealing with second-hand interviews as a method of data collection.

References.

Hockey, J. (2000) ‘Interviews as ethnography: Disembodied social interaction’, in N. Rapport ed. British Subjects; an anthropology of Britain. Oxford: Berg.

Watson, C.W. (ed) (1999) Being There: Fieldwork in Anthropology. London: Pluto Press.

Instances of inspiration: interviewing dancers and writers

Author: Helena Wulff (Stockholm University)  email
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Short Abstract

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Long Abstract

As society changes, so does anthropology. To capture contemporary issues, new research techniques are required in addition to traditional participant observation. Interviews are not a new technique, but with increasing diversity in social life as well as new recording devices and computer programs for categorizing interview data, interviewing has developed into an increasingly sophisticated and multifaceted research technique. There are not only formal versus informal interviews with an open-ended and in-depth approach, but also social network mapping, time budgets, life stories etc.

Having done interviews in six anthropological studies, I know that occasionally the rapport between interviewer and interviewee never occurs. But for this paper I am not interested in the failed interview. Here my aim is to consider the successful encounter, especially in my studies on artists: dancers and writers. How do instances of inspiration occur between us? Why is it that some dancers and writers have inspired my theoretical thinking more than others, while I seem to have opened new ideas about their own work for them through the interview? Interviewing a primadonna ballerina in Stockholm I did not get anywhere until I told her about the stage fright university lecturers with large classes can have: then she opened up and started confiding in me about her experiences of vulnerability on stage. There was also the Irish woman writer who had warned me on e-mail before we met that she was “very reserved” and that she was not sure I would benefit from talking to her. It did not take long before she took over the interview, asking intriguing questions about me and my work. (Afterwards I realized that this might mean that I will find myself fictionalized in one of her novels.) In my paper, I will also compare the impact on the ethnographic knowledge production of, on one hand, dancers´ bodily training (rather than verbal skill) with, on the other hand, writers´ eloquence, not only in writing words but also in speaking about their writing and profession. Interestingly, both dancers and writers are used to being interviewed by journalists, and especially the famous ones acquire a polished attitude to interviewers that the anthropologist has to break through in her search of backstage life. I will also discuss how an oral conversation makes it into text, first in the form of fieldnotes and later into academic text.

Dream dialogues: interviewing the ‘other’ within

Author: Iain Edgar (Durham University)  email
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Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

The mainstream tradition in social anthropology, until lately, has been to focus on the primacy of outer world events and the consideration of the interview as a research modality has been no exception. More recently the anthropology of the self and of consciousness has become significant but little study has as yet been made of inner dialogical and rhetorical events of which interviewing, aka question and answer, is one major form. This paper will focus on inspirational and sacred dream narratives of inner dialogues within the Islamic true dream, al-ruya, tradition. Inner guidance through night dream dialogues is not uncommon within the Islamic tradition, both Sunni and Shia, and is derived from the prophetic example of Mohammed. Similarities also abound within other wisdom traditions, such as the shamanic. I will present, as examples, key dream dialogues from both medieval and contemporary Islamic thinkers and healers. Such dream dialogues vary from those of ‘command’ to do this or that, as in the many reports of how apparently Mullah Omar founded and led the Taliban, to a more considered and nuanced dialogical inner event involving question and answer leading to interpretation and sometimes significant real world choices. One traditional example of such a dialogue from around the turn of the first millennium will be Abu Jafar al-Qayini’s reported dream interviews with the (image of) the Prophet Mohammed concerning core aspects of Islamic theology (Lamoreaux 2008). This paper will explore emerging issues as to the dynamics of such interview situations regarding for instance negotiations of power, status, meaning and authority in such settings; image presentation and impact; plot, performance and rhetoric; aesthetics and real world consequences. Finally I will begin a consideration of the overall differences and similarities between inner and outer world interview modalities.

Lamoreaux, J. 2008. ‘An Early Muslim Autobiograpicl dream narrative: Abu jafar al-Qayini and his Dream of the Prophet Muhammed’ in L. Marlow (ed.), Dreaming Across Boundaries: The Interpretation of Dreams in Islamic lands. Boston: Harvard University Press.

The interview and new challenges in teaching and learning anthropology

Author: Ian Fairweather (University of Manchester)  email
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Short Abstract

None provided.

Long Abstract

The current climate in higher education raises a number of challenges for anthropology as a discipline. The competition for resources, the possibility of higher student fees and the discussions about measuring ‘impact’ require us to think carefully about what a degree in anthropology offers to students, whilst maintaining the crucial link between research and teaching. There are opportunities too, however as 'global citizenship' and 'intercultural fluency' are increasingly valued as graduate attributes. This paper asks how pedagogical practices in anthropology can best address these new challenges and opportunities. In doing so, the paper reflects on whether the way we teach anthropology highlights the full range of possibilities for ethnography and the diversity of methods employed in different kinds of ethnographic encounters? At undergraduate level, in particular, there is often a disjuncture between an emphasis on fieldwork largely based on participant observation and recognizing the importance of studying up, researching institutions and corporations, or conducting multi sited research. Participant observation may be impractical or too limited as the core research method in many circumstances where the interview may be more appropriate. For practical reasons as well as ethical and safety considerations, third year undergraduate projects are often not based on participant observation. Many students do, however, conduct a limited number of interviews. Yet in spite of very useful explorations of the ethnographic interview in the literature, we tend to present interviewing as a secondary, supplementary method to Participant Observation. Can the discipline benefit from a pedagogy that recognizes the diversity of contexts in which ethnographic knowledge is produced?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.