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About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2019

Page updated 17 June, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY: Where to interview? (Tang, 2002)

As early as my pilot interviews in the UK, I discovered that interviewing an academic mother in her office would be different from interviewing her in her home. In one pilot interview with a mother in her office, we were interrupted by three telephone calls and two knocks on the door within an hour. I was unable to do anything about this since she is in a senior position and usually very busy during office hours. Both of us felt it a pity that an hour had passed so fast and we had not completed the interview. So she invited me to continue the interview in her home one weekend. When I arrived, she was in her leisure clothes and first introduced her family to me, then showed me around her garden. I soon felt that the distance between us had been narrowed and at tea we began to talk freely with each other. When we continued the interview after tea, both of us felt relaxed and intimate, and the conversation lasted for over an hour, although it needed only half an hour to complete the interview.

This experience made me aware of the advantages of conducting interviews in the home of the interviewees. Therefore, the strategy I used was to arrange interviews in their homes as much as possible. Again the agreement over the place of the interview illustrated the social and cultural differences. In China, over two-thirds of interviews were conducted in the home of the interviewee whereas in the UK, all the interviews, except the pilot one I discussed previously, were done in the office. This is partly because university lecturers in China usually do not have an office of their own, and they do not necessarily have fixed office hours in the university when they have no commitments to teaching. On the contrary, lecturers in institutions in the UK often have their own offices. They prepare lectures and conduct research more in their office than at home, therefore it would be convenient to arrange a meeting with someone in the office.

Another difference, as I perceive, is that British lecturers mostly regard the evenings and weekends as family time and they were unlikely to be willing to spare such time for an interview with a stranger. For example, when I made appointments for interviews, some mothers would restrict their availability. However, Chinese lecturers do academic work at home most of the time and they would not consider a home interview as an intrusion on their family life.

Consequently, the interviews with Chinese mothers in their homes, often amidst children and housework, were usually much lengthier, from two to three hours, as compared with interviews conducted in their offices, which lasted no more than two hours. The lengthier the encounter, the more friendly and less unequal relationship existed in the dynamics between the interview pair. (Tang 2002, pp. 717–8) .


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