The Study Dude – A Theory Stuffer

Study Tips from a Semi-Anonymous Friend

There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to stuff your interview into a theory.

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 further explores InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing by Svend Brinkmann and Steinar Kvale. They examine a branch of philosophy called hermeneutics that deals with interpretation. They also talk about three ways to analyze your interviewee’s quotes: the nice way, the not-so-nice way, and the stuff-it way.

Hermeneutics Studies Interpretation
Hermeneutics provides a science for interpreting texts, such as the Bible or your interviews. It is a branch of philosophy that studies interpretation, kind of like how epistemology studies knowledge, ontology studies being, or aesthetics studies beauty.

When I first saw the definition of hermeneutics, my heart skipped. A philosophy of interpretation thrilled me?I might finally learn how these crazy academics come to their conclusions.

Although hermeneutics doesn’t give step-by-step breakdowns on how to interpret documents, it does give a general sense of how to approach interpretation. And, according to Wikipedia, various hermeneutical traditions exists, including radical hermeneutics, Marxist hermeneutics, and even Romantic hermeneutics; Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist hermeneutics also come into play (

Brinkmann and Kvale list the canons of hermeneutics to get you thinking interpretively:
– With hermeneutics you go from the whole to the parts to the whole and so on. Relate the parts to the whole to get a new big picture. And then take that big picture and relate it again to the parts for an even better view.
– Once you rid your data of all contradictions, you achieve what is referred to as a “good Gestalt,” or, in other words, an endpoint of your interpretation.
– Make sure your interpretation fits with all of the data in your document and fits will all of the data within other writings by the same author. For instance, if you want to make an assertion about philosopher Foucault’s views, make sure none of his books contradict your assertion.
– You will need to know a lot about the theme (or topic) of your interview document.
– You will be confined to a tradition of interpretation. That tradition will have certain kinds of questions you ask and will also limit what kinds of answers you can achieve. [I’m not yet sure if these traditions involve different types of hermeneutical approaches, like radical hermeneutics, or of they involve different theoretical modes for analysis, such as Marxism or behaviorism.]
– Multiple interpretations each give new insights. These differences in interpretations give new meaning.

Know Thy Self, Thy Public’s View of Thy Self, or Thy Critics View of Thy Self
When analyzing the interviewee’s documents, say Brinkmann and Kvale, you can choose to examine if from three ways: (1) from the interviewee’s intended meaning, (2) from a sometimes critical public’s view of the interviewee’s words, or (3) from the view of a theoretical framework like Marxism.

I prefer to stick with the interviewee’s intended meaning. I like to treat interview guests with respect. And different people interpret meaning differently, so why not courteously portray the interviewee’s intended meaning?

In graduate studies, my thesis supervisor forced a theoretical method onto me. She expected me to gather data and shovel it into preset categories?even if I didn’t agree with the categories. If the data in each category made the subject look either villainous or sympathetic, then I succeeded.

While reading Birnkmann and Kvale, I discovered that a variety of theories can be used for analysis of interviews. People can use a range from Marxist theories to psychoanalytic theories?and more?for analyzing interviews. For instance, according to Brinkmann and Kvale, Marxists would view academic grades as a type of monetary-like exchange. As another example, behaviorists would view grades from the perspective of rewards and punishments. Yet another examples, Freudian analysts might view good grades as related to suppressed sexual tendencies toward the teacher. Freud seems to think psychoanalysts should have a kind of romantic relationship with their patients. (As an aside, can anyone answer why our universities give so much lip-service to Marxism when we’re not communist?)

So, Brinkmann and Kvale provide detail on the three ways to assess the interviewee’s data:
– With self-understanding (the nice way), you aim to have the interviewee validate the information. With self-understanding, you basically discuss the meaning of the interview as close to the subject’s intended meaning as possible.
– With a critical common sense understanding (the not-so-nice way) you aim to have the audience (or public) validate the information. With critical common sense understanding, you might take a critical view of what the interviewee said, especially if general knowledge points to some flaw or shortcoming or contradiction in what the interviewee says. You can also make critical assumptions about the interviewee.
– With theoretical understanding (the stuff it way), you aim to have fellow researchers validate the information. Theories you can use include, but are not limited to, psychoanalytic theory or Marxist theory. (If you’ve used a theory to analyze your interview research, please email The Voice to let us know the details.)

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.