The Study Dude – Interview the Fringe

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to welcome contradictions and ambiguities.

Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.

This week’s Study Dude explores InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing by Svend Brinkmann and Steinar Kvale. The book will help you plan your interviews instead of conducting them off-the-cuff.

Overview of Interviews
I interview people?lots of people. First, I open my Skype software: Callburner. Then, I plug in my Yeti microphone and my headphones. When the interviewee answers the call, we exchange niceties and begin a drawn out interview. All of my questions are pre-scripted, although sometimes second questions arise, sparked by curiosity. After the interview, I transcribe the recording with Adobe Audition. That’s all there is to it.

Or is that all? When I bought the book InterViews, I thought the knowledge gain on how to conduct an interview would be minimal. After all, I made interviews for websites and magazines. I was a pro, and nothing could be easier than chatting with people, could it?

Well, after reading a good chunk of InterViews, I’ve discovered that different approaches and philosophies?and different epistemological assumptions?go with different interview styles. (Epistemology is the study of knowledge in itself.) The philosophical stuff alone makes your jaw drop. Add the epistemological, and you’ve entered the matrix.

As an overview of interviews, Brinkman and Kvale provide the following insights:
– The authors view interviewing as a craft that involves both knowledge generation and social activity.
– To measure the interview’s worth, look at the value of the knowledge gained.
– The authors’ view of interviews as a craft defies the positivist’s view of methods as rule-bound. Interviews are social, not numerical or fact-driven.
– Knowledge arises from the exchange between interviewer and interviewee.
– The authors focus on these types of interview philosophies: phenomenology, hermeneutics, pragmatism, and postmodern thought. we’ll talk about those later, but for now, know that each philosophy has its own approach to interviewing and interpretation?and even transcribing.
– The interviewer has more power than the interviewee. This power inequality raises ethical concerns.
– People interact and knowledge is gained in an interview. Duh! [The book says the same thing but in a suave way.]
– The book goes through seven steps for making a research interview: “(1) thematizing, (2) designing, (3) interviewing, (4) transcribing, (5) analyzing, (6) verifying, and (7) reporting” (p. 23).
– Be intimately familiar with the interview topic before interviewing.
– The book talks about the following types of interviews: (1) life-world interviews, (2) narrative interviews, (3) discursive interviews, and (4) confrontational interviews. The authors have what I consider a perverse need to explore confrontational interviews. However, confrontational interviews can lead to new insights. Just make sure your interviewee doesn’t hang up after the first question.

Phenomenolo? wha?? Defining Phenomenology
What’s the benefit of a phenomenological interview? Well, the phenomenological interview looks at the lived experiences of the interviewee. In other words, that person’s views count.

Compare that to some other method, like the survey, that gleans generalizations from the majority voice. Such a method might overlook the outliers, the voices on the margin. And the margin nowadays isn’t necessarily the so-called marginalized.

I like the sounds of a phenomenological interview because the approach doesn’t shut out unusual perspectives. And if you tend to not follow the crowd, your views, too, will count. You are an expert on your own lived experiences, after all.

I kind of like that?for obvious reasons: I’m a bit of an outlier. Or, at least, I like to think I am.

Brinkman and Kvale seem to prefer the phenomenological approach to interviews. They give the following buzzwords to teach you the nitty-gritty of phenomenology:
– Phenomenology looks at the interviewees? life world?their everyday experiences. So, your experiences of things are what matter here.
– Phenomenology explores meaning. Your experiences can come down to a few big themes. “What do these themes mean?” phenomenology interviewers ask. These interviewers don’t just look at the facts; they look at the facts and the meanings.
– Phenomenology is qualitative. In other words, these interviewers don’t convert your words into numbers.
– Phenomenology is descriptive. Phenomenology-leaning interviewers get the interviewee to describe in detail feelings, actions, and experiences.
– Phenomenology loves specifics. Interviewers get specific details about actions and experiences. General opinions can yield some neat findings, but specific accounts are the aim.
– Phenomenology seems deliberately naive. In other words, don’t guess in advance the big themes of the interview. Instead, let themes arise out of the conversation. Allow for some surprise themes. don’t cook up questions before the interview: let the questions evolve.
– Phenomenology is focused. Use open-ended questions. Let the interviewees explore what they feel is most important to them.
– Phenomenology is ambiguous. Sometimes contradictions and ambiguities arise in interviewees? accounts. So, check to see if you misunderstood the interviewees. Keep in mind, the contradiction or ambiguity might be valid. After all, the world is filled with contradictions, isn’t it? Plus, different interviewers can have different interpretations of interviews?which amounts to ambiguity. Expect ambiguity.
– Phenomenology looks at change. Like a woman, interviewees have the right to change their minds at a moment’s notice. Sometimes people change their views. Take Trump, for instance, I love him, but he changes his mind at a whim. Phenomenology sees a change of mind as a natural part of reflection and discovery.
– Phenomenology is sensitive. Interviewers write up themes, but the nature of the write-ups depend on the sensitivity of the interviewer. Sensitivity toward a topic can be assessed by how you feel toward a topic and how much you know about the topic.
– Phenomenology examines the interpersonal. The interviewer and the interviewee influence each other. In other words, different interactions can lead to different types of insights.
– Phenomenology leads to positive experiences. After all, we all love it when others give us their undivided attention. Similarly, interviewees love having someone empathically listening to their stories. Just be forewarned that the interviewee, enjoying the attention, might wish to talk to no end.

Writing the Study Dude is a positive experience. I feel confident I have your undivided attention for at least the first sentence.

So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.

References
Brinkman, Svend, & Kvale, Steinar. (2015). InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. Los Angeles: Sage.

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