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From Interview to Inter-View
The interview can be thought of as a particular way of holding a conversation where there are two distinct roles that have to be negotiated: interviewer (who wants to find out something) and the interviewee (who is presumed to know something but may or may not want to reveal anything). There is something of a game-like structure implicit in this relationship. The Inter-View, as I want to develop this term, is the condition under which people can enter into dialogue and mutually explore each others' ways of seeing and constructing the world about. I shall take each in turn.
Interviewing is the taken for granted revelatory method of contemporary research practice. How do I find out anything of human need and concern? I interview, I ply a willing (or unknowing) subject with well worked out questions that will tease out the core issues, interests, understandings, meanings, values of his or her everyday existence. To what effect? Well, at the back of this is some assumption - clearly defined or not - that with a bit of work, cunning, and self-effacing 'niceness' I will create the right ambience, the right context of trust that will permit the other to reveal their inmost selves, their reality, or failing that, their discourses through which they construct their sense of self, other and world about.
And so it begins. Who am I and why am I wanting to talk to you, or better, why do I want you to talk to me, spill the beans, tell me things you'd rather not tell your best friend, colleagues and definitely not your boss? This may well be some of the questions the interviewee has in mind when confronted by the interviewer. I will need to have answers.
Some answers seem straightforward enough. I am asking questions because I am being paid to work on a research project, or because I am studying for a masters or a doctorate, or some other 'legitimate' reason. I am thus protected by a sense of some authority, some socially acceptable reason for being nosey. However this is not enough. People may be uneasy that really I'm a spy for the bosses. How trustworthy am I? Well, those kinds of questions may only be answered over time. I'm not seen to run back to the bosses. Information that was given as a test does not suddenly become public knowledge and pinned to the interviewee as the source.
The interview can be underpinned by some ethical principles of
procedure that seen to be carefully carefully adhered to in all situations over
I was working at another institution and we developed a degree programme in conjunction with the University of XXX, so it was a joint degree, not just validated by them, and English National Board insisted on having clinical practice credited and it was a three year degree so for credits to count towards degree classification there has to be some means of ending up with a mark. So what we did in that institution was not satisfactory, it was developed very very quickly and was a marriage in one module between theory and practice, which is what they do on the Bsc programme here and what a lot of people do.
When I came here in ‘95 I was faced with a diploma programme which was running out, so we decided to upgrade it to a degree, a 78 weeks degree, and I knew what the problem was and I thought this is not a satisfactory outcome, to have this modular marriage of theory and practice. Some people think it’s satisfactory but I don’t. I was really lucky at the time because a study day came up at City, or somewhere, anyway I heard this chap speaking, called Roland Bear, I think he’s from the University of Town, and he talked about developing professional knowledge of competence and assessing. While I was listening to this guy talk about his work I thought “that’s it, I’ve got it now”, so I actually bought his book and in it he refers to Benner. So what a colleague and I did was to work on a system. Now, this is where it gets a bit complicated - the midwives are OK with it because it is based on the system which was in operation to begin with, so we kept the best of what we had and what we have done is - this is the clinical ante-natal assessment - now this is very similar to what they had which is the essential components in heavy type, the breakdown underneath the student must achieve all of them in order to be graded for this. There is one for all the essential components in the front, there are eight different ones. All 8 are used for each area.
(Interview carried out by Judith Tyler, 7.1. 98; PANDA Project, Co-directors Schostak and Phillips 1997-1999)
So let's take a phrase, say, 'I was working'. That's pretty dull. We have a subject position, 'I' , and a past activity 'was working'. There is little else we know. We know nothing else about the biography, gender, social status, culture, education, opinions, values of this 'I' apart from that it is an I where working figures in the biography. We know nothing of the nature of this work and how it fits with others. We do know, however, that there may be clues in the transcript that may tell us more. We also know that we have expectations that the 'I' will fill out under such categories as I have just listed. Are these prejudices and will they in some way influence subsequent analyses? Of course. Like a range of buckets they are set out indefinitely waiting to be filled with content. But how can prejudices, indeed, the entire apparatus of language itself be put aside in order to allow the data to 'speak for itself'? It cannot. However, strategies may be adopted in order to enable readers to have insights into how the analyses were undertaken. Some of these strategies are discussed in Chapter 4, Section D of the Qualitative Research Guide.
Having insights into how the interview was carried out may well allow a reader to believe that at least the interviewer was honest, or at least trying to be. However, no matter how honest, the interviewer may still be have been duped. Was it all a game of strategy? If so, to what purpose? Well, we may never know in any given instance. However, is all lost at this point? No matter the categories employed, the strategies employed to select the content that fills them, and the games being played, the speaking subject is always densely connected to the features of the world about that are described, toyed with and used to 'make things happen', or to 'prevent things from happening'. It is these aspects that provide the guidelines for the Inter-View, that is, the place where people face each other as speaking beings, not as objects to be manipulated, exploited, subverted, or 'improved'. These ideas are further developed at length in my book, Schostak 2006.
Phillips, T., Schostak, J., and Tyler. J. (2000) Practice and Assessment: an evaluation of the assessment of practice at diploma, degree and postgraduate level in pre and post registration nursing and midwifery education, (PANDA Project) http://www.nmc-uk.org/nmc/main/publications/rh43.pdf , London