Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2017

Page updated 13 January, 2017

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2017, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

4. In-depth interviews

4.1 Introduction to in-depth interviewing
4.2 Types of in-depth interview
4.3 Methodological approaches to in-depth interviews

4.3.1 Positivist approaches to in-depth interviews
4.3.2 Phenomenological approaches to in-depth interview
4.3.3 Critical approaches to in-depth interview Identify and deconstruct respondents’ understanding of power and control Analyse and deconstruct social processes and transitions Empowering or giving voice to the powerless

4.4 Doing in-depth interviews
4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion Identify and deconstruct respondents’ understanding of power and control
Gerald Grace (1978) adopted a critical approach to ethnography, locating his analysis of teachers in urban working-class schools in a broader socio-historical and theoretical framework. The semi-structured in-depth interviewing sought teachers’ views on the problematic aspects of teaching in urban schools and how they might be resolved. The outcome was not a set of recommendations for improvement but a deeper analysis that looked at how ‘outstanding’ teachers acted as agents of social control (CASE STUDY: Urban working-class schools).

John Abraham and Graham Lewis (2002, p. 84) undertook a critical study of the pharmaceutical industry. They used in-depth interviews to augment available documents. The purpose of the interviews was to add more depth to the documentary sources to help clarify the structural processes in the industry. They showed that late modernity has seen a pharmaceutical sector in which consumers have become more active and critically reflexive citizens. However, this has not resulted in a diminishing of producer power or in medical authority; there has been no ‘fracturing of expertise’—by which they meant that expert opinion is still assumed to hold sway in the industry. This runs counter to the ‘decline in medical authority’ thesis, which posits the erosion of the medical profession’s dominance over other health professionals and the decline in autonomy of doctors in clinical practice (Annandale, 1998, pp. 231–2; Harrison and Ahmad, 2000 ).

Abraham and Lewis’s critical analytic study focused on (West) Germany, Sweden, the UK and the European Union (EU). They drew on documentary sources, notably Scrip, a worldwide independent news press on the pharmaceutical trade, and from official publications of regulatory agencies. In addition, in-depth interviews with over 60 respondents from industry, consumer organisations and regulatory agencies in Germany, Sweden, the UK and EU institutions ‘provided additional clarifications and insights’.

The evidence showed that the European pharmaceutical sector ‘is highly organized, producer-driven, oligopolous and standardized, rather than disorganized, fragmented and flexible, despite consumers’ growing activism and reflexivity’. The international pharmaceutical industry is engaged in ‘reformulating the state in ways that maximize its capitalist objectives, including the creation and organization of European supranational regulation’ (Abraham and Lewis, 2002, p. 84).

On a more problematic level, Jeff Hearn (1998) undertook a study of males who had been violent to the women they knew. This includes verbal, emotional, psychological, physical and sexual violence against girlfriends, wives and other acquaintances. Hearn adopted a ‘profeminist’ approach, in his sixty in-depth interviews, which analysed the link between violence and power, control and patriarchal relationships. Hearn attempts to develop a theory of power that can address the complexities of men’s violence towards women.

A major element of this study is Hearn’s attempt to distinguish the way the violence is spoken about from the nature of the actual violence inflicted. Hearn is clear that there is no pure tuth in the accounts, instead he challenges the descriptions, excuses, dismissmissals and denials of violence voiced by the men.

Cynthia Cockburn (1983) used in-depth interviews to explore how male print workers (called compositors) reacted to their changed job status with the arrival of new computerised technology (see also CASE STUDY: Using a checklist). She adopted a critical ethnographic approach in her feminist analysis. She set the data, derived from the interviews, in a broader historical and structural context by outlining the history of the printing trade and the way in which male craft workers had established themselves among the working-class élite.

The history showed that the industry was one of constant struggle for control between employers and workers. It also showed that men had consistently attempted to exclude women from the industry. The coming of new computerised technology undermined the skills that established the men’s élite position. The men were losing the battle for control with the capitalists and, furthermore, the skills required for the new technology could no longer be used as an excuse to exclude women. In short, the compositors had to change completely their view of the work process and gender relations. The study was, thus, not just about changes in the print industry but as Cockburn put it ‘about the making and remaking of men’.


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