4.4 Doing in-depth interviews 126.96.36.199.4 Limits of shared experience While Ann Oakley has a valid point about the desirability of dialogic (or non-exploitative) interviewing, there are serious concerns about the possibility of achieving this. Feminists do not tend to endorse the orthodoxy of the non-hierarchical nature of women-to-women interviewing. The shared experience of gender subordination is not enough in cases where there are other structural or even fundamental attitudinal differences, based on class, race, religion or political differences (Ribbens, 1989; Ramazanoglu, 1989).
Although Oakley (1981, p. 57), stressed that 'a feminist interviewing women is by definition "inside" the culture and participating in that which she is observing' and that given shared gender 'social distance can be minimal', Marjorie Devault (1990) acknowledged that woman-to-woman rapport is not guaranteed. Donna Luff (1999, p. 694) noted 'I found the issues of rapport and power were central to the conduct of the research but not always in the ways in which I had anticipated from a reading of the feminist research literature'.
In some situations, a lack of shared experiences renders the woman-to-woman rapport redundant. Catherine Riessman (1987, p. 183) reported two contrasting interviews, one with an Anglo woman and another with a Hispanic woman. They illustrate that while the interview with the former exhibited good rapport, the lack of shared experience between the interviewer, who was middle-class and white, and the working-class, Puerto Rican interviewee created 'barriers to understanding'. Despite the interviewer being sensitive to gender roles, she cannot fully make sense of what the working-class Hispanic woman is telling her, whereas she could relate to the things said by the middle-class Anglo woman.
Oakley has subsequently acknowledged that dialogic or woman-to-woman interviewing does not 'necessarily rid the research situation of hierarchy' (Oakley, 1998, p. 714) and, although opposed to one-way absorption of information, Mary Maynard (1994, p. 16) also accepted that the power dynamics evident in the research process cannot 'be eradicated completely'.
RosalindEdwards (1993) found in a research study of mature mother-students from different races and classes that white middle-class women were willing to discuss 'private' family matters with her without Edwards having to explain herself and her family background. However, this wasn't the case with the black women interviewed. Edwards conceded that the empathetic approach in woman-woman interviewing, as she calls it, may not apply when there are 'structurally-based divisions between women' (Edwards, 1993, p, 184), as a result of race or class, that result in interviewer and interviewee having different interests and priorities.