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 2012–2018

Page updated 5 March, 2018

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2018, 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
4.4 Doing in-depth interviews

4.4.1 Constructing an interview guide
4.4.2 Setting up the interviews
4.4.3 Interviewing Rapport Exploitation The male paradigm Dialogic interviewing Limits of shared experience Power relations Empowering Objectivication of subject cannot be avoided Probing Foreign language complications Remote interviewing Telephone interviewing Asynchronous interviews Follow-up interviews Focus groups

4.4.4 Recording interview data

4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion

4.4 Doing in-depth interviews Power relations
Dialogic interviews, as any other type of interviewing, exhibit power relationships.

Feminists, in the early 1980s, initiated the discussion about the power relationship when women interview women. Because of women's general experience of gender subordination, a 'non-hierarchical' relationship in women interviewing women has been suggested (Oakley, 1981). However, some feminists have argued that despite women's shared understandings of gender subordination, other social attributes also contribute to different power relationships in women interviewing women (Edwards, 1993; Riessman, 1987) (see Section

Jane Ribbens (1989) found that when interviewing mothers, the interviewer's educational and professional status, status as a mother and age of her children impacted on the interview situation as they implied different cultural backgrounds. This in turn had an affect on the power relationship within the interview. These experiences led her to argue that 'research interviews may inescapably involve power imbalances, stemming from public domains' (Ribbens, 1989, p. 580).

Donna Luff (1999, p. 697), endorsing Julia Brannen (1988, pp. 554–55), was of the view that power in such interview situations 'is a two-way process'. A more interactive 'conversation between equals' is likely 'with middle-class women respondents who are quick to realise their status equivalence with women researchers'.

However, power within a research setting is not just one-way. Although feminist have called for the empowerment of the researched (Maynard and Purvis, 1994), Tang (2002, p. 706) noted that 'many feminists have commented on the fluid power dynamics in the research interview' and the researcher is not always in a superior position. Pamela Cotterill (1992, pp. 599600), for example, argued that 'No two interviews are the same.... Forms of interaction between the researcher and researched are highly individual, and it is impossible to predict levels of co-operation'.

Manjit Bola (1996) and Ann Phoenix, (1994) noted that age and (life) experience also affects the power relations in a dialogic interview as well as race, class and gender. Tang (2002, p. 707) also refers to Katherine Reed's (2000, p. 1) observation that in her research on the health beliefs and behaviours of south-Asian mothers 'the differences between respondents and myself within the interview were continually shifting and were rarely equal', and 'the existing research hierarchy is always in process, moving from the researcher being dominant at particular times and respondents being dominant at others'. Nirmal Puwar's (1997) reflections on interviewing women MPs further reinforces the argument that power relations in women interviewing women are fluid with the balance sometimes weighted on the interviewees.

Caroline Ramazanoglu's (1989, p. 430) reflection on her 1960s research on shift-working women suggests that the shiftworkers were aware that the woman interviewer's life and middle-class experiences were different from theirs. As a result, the questions, 'particularly those on childcare and domestic arrangements, were treated as hostile' in the interviews. Ramazanoglu interprets the women's defensive attitudes to questioning as an expression of their resistance to an unequal interview situation in which the middle-class interviewer had control.

Even in what appeared to be a peer situation, power imbalances are evident. Tang's (2002), study of academic mothers was a situation when the researcher and researched were peers. Tang was an academic mother and 'Naturally I took it for granted from the beginning to be an insider' (Tang, 2002, p. 708). However, she writes:

Based on my own experience of interviewing peers—academic mothers in both China and the UK—I argue that both the interviewer and interviewee's perceptions of social, cultural and personal differences have an impact on the power relationship in the interview, which is not simply an issue of quality of the interview, but the dynamics between the interview pair. (Tang, 2002, p. 703)

In spite of a shared gender subordination, Tang (2002, pp. 718–9) notes that 'there are different forms of power relationship in relation to social, cultural and personal differences in women interviewing women' . She found that in her peer interviews:

the 'non-hierarchical relationship' (Oakley, 1981) does not seem to exist due to the structural inequalities in academia, the variety of personal backgrounds and academic disciplines, cultural differences and 'linguistic domination' (Bourdieu, 1996), on the part of native language speakers as perceived by both the interviewer and interviewees (Tang, 2002, pp. 718–19)


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