The Study Dude – Cope with this Crazy World

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to give your friends therapeutic interviews.

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. Brinkmann and Kvale try to make a science of interviews, but lifting up the phone and asking grandma what she ate for lunch doesn’t count as a research interview. So, what does?

Lie Down on my Therapeutic Couch
Therapeutic interviews count as one approach to interviews. I never had a therapeutic interview where I’d lie on a couch and spout my problems. But I understand that people with multiple personality disorders would love to have therapeutic interviews. Yet, these interviews don’t get government funded, so many people with multiple personality disorders go untreated. Instead, they live with people other than themselves taking turns inhabiting their body.

I once had a friend with multiple personalities, and when she gave a public speech, her face lit up and she unleashed spectacular charisma. Whenever she gave a speech, she looked more beautiful than Margot Robbie. Yet she was overweight by at least two hundred pounds. Her charming public speaking personality?one of her multiple personalities? would take over her body and draw in the crowds. Got to love that.

I like the therapeutic interviews. They seem non-confrontational?gentle even.

Let’s find out what you think of therapeutic interviews after reading what Brinkmann and Kvale say about them:
– Carl Rogers came up with the idea for a client-centered interview. These interviews focused on empathy and acceptance of the subject’s views.
– If the subject accuses the therapeutic interviewer with something, the interviewer does not take offense or get defensive.
– The therapeutic interview doesn’t ask any questions nor put his or her spin on what the subject says.
– The subject eventually makes a connection with the non-confrontational therapist.
Knowledge comes from these therapeutic interviews, although the focus is on alleviating suffering.
A therapeutic interview differs from a research interview. A therapeutic interview aims for change while a research interview aims for knowledge gains.
A Freudian psychoanalytic interview has the subject free-associate ideas.
Freudian psychoanalytic interviewers avoid any judgements. Instead, the interviewer takes a deep interest in the subject and the subject grows attached to the interviewer. These interviews take years to come to a healing conclusion.
The Freudian psychoanalytic interview examines dreams and abnormal behaviour. The patient will resist making his or her subconscious thoughts conscious, although that transition is the aim.
Psychoanalytic interviews have led to lots of knowledge gains for psychology and philosophy.
Free association interviews (developed by Hollway and Jefferson) require the interviewer to know psychoanalytic interviewing techniques.
Elton Mayo’s approach to interviewing also developed from psychoanalytic interviews. In Mayo’s style of interviewing, you listen only. You don’t disagree or offer suggestions. You only paraphrase what the interviewee says. [That type of agreeability marks a good way to keep friends.]

The Philosopher’s Stone: Interview Epistemology
Interviews can be categorized by the philosophies (epistemologies) they follow. Epistemology is the study of knowledge: so, what counts as knowledge? How do we gain knowledge? Those kinds of questions matter in the study of epistemology.

During graduate studies, I bought a book on epistemology. Too bad for me, though, the book’s first chapters focused on anything but qualitative philosophies. Instead, the book seemed to dive into logical diagrams. So, I didn’t learn what I needed to learn about epistemologies for my communications degree. In other words, I didn’t learn about hermeneutics, pragmatism, phenomenology, dialectical view, and postmodern theory?all of which you are about to learn.

The book confused me, and I really didn’t learn much. Yet, the idea that people studied knowledge in its own right fascinates me to this day. Recently, I vowed that, before I left this earth, I would know more about epistemology. (I also vowed that I would know what Paul Feyerabend meant by the title of his book Against Method.) Put learning about epistemology on your bucket list.

So, now by learning about interviews, I’m getting first-hand knowledge of epistemology, the study of knowledge. On that note, Brinkmann and Kvale have much to say about interview philosophies:
– When you take a philosophical position with your interviews, you assume certain views on the process and quality of the knowledge you gather.
– If you take a hermeneutic philosophy to interviewing, your big focus lies on interpreting meaning. You want to make sure both you and the interviewee have agreement on your interpretation. Hermeneutics highlights history and context.
– If you take a pragmatic philosophy, you focus on finding ways of coping with this world. The practical amounts to the end-all-be-all to pragmatists. Pragmatists want to collect useful knowledge. Pragmatists include Pierce, James, Dewey, Rorty, and Putnam. Pragmatists see knowledge as a craft and not as a representation of reality.
– If you take a phenomenological perspective, you don’t focus on the unconscious?just the conscious. You look at the interviewees experiences and their perspectives. You leave out your own understanding of the topics the interviewee discusses.
– If you look at a dialectical philosophy, you focus on contradictions. You relate the contradictions to the social and physical world. You don’t want to dig up the same old; instead, you want to discover new stuff.
– If you look at postmodern thought, you focus on relationships. You believe that this world is socially constructed and that “universal systems of thought” don’t exist: multiple meanings exist. Some postmodernists think that the language we use builds our reality. Knowledge doesn’t exist within you; nor does knowledge exists outside of you: knowledge exists in your interactions with others and the world, postmodernists would say.

What to Know about Knowledge
If you interview someone, make sure that what they say helps you cope with life. Yes, according to Brinkmann and Kvale, knowledge that helps you cope marks one of seven characteristics of good interview knowledge. Make sense?

Possibly. I think the knowledge from an interview with the Dalai Lama might help you cope. But would the knowledge from an interview with Madonna help you cope? Maybe if the topic focused on music performance. But, an interview with Madonna on morality might reduce your ability to cope?especially if karmic laws come into play.

So, who decides what counts as worthwhile interview knowledge?

I think God does. But Brinkmann and Kvale might disagree. They decided on seven features that make up interview knowledge (and what they miss out on in the spiritual, they halfway make up for in the social):
– You produce interview knowledge: The interaction between the interviewer and interviewee counts. The social part is what creates the knowledge.
– You create knowledge that is inter-relational. On one hand, there is the inter-relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee. On the other hand, there is the knowledge that has been created. You can focus on either one or the other, the knowledge created or the interrelationship, but not both at the same time?like focusing on the optical illusion that looks like either a vase or two faces. If that makes sense to you, then at least one of us learned something.
– You and your interviewee talk your way to knowledge gains. You both negotiate what your experiences mean. No scientific method or objective reality applies to such knowledge gains.
– Your knowledge has context. What you know in one circumstance might not apply in another.
– Knowledge is based on language. Spoken words or written words can lead to knowledge. Beware of problems with converting the spoken word to written word and vice versa, though.
– Stories lead to knowledge. Stories help us to understand our experiences and our world.
– Knowledge should be useful (in other words, pragmatic). Knowledge should help you cope with this crazy world.

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.

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

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