Home > Creativity, education, PAR journal, Teaching, Uncertainty > Reflections on Qualitative Research techniques: interviewing

Reflections on Qualitative Research techniques: interviewing

Wow 1: Lofland and Lofland p.37.  “…It is precisely the “spy quality” of covert research in closed settings that raises questions about it propriety in social science”

 It strikes me that even if you take care to protect individuals by withholding their names, your results may end up introducing harm if the organization you are reporting to or for, takes actions to “get” the problem makers thru changes of policy.  These are the kinds of 2d and 3d order effects that you may end up subjecting subjects too even though you are hiding names and identifying features. I am thinking hard about the privacy rights of people in public places, wondering when the need to know and study outweighs the rights of privacy.


Lofland & Lofland, p.41 “…the ethical concerns engendered by covert research do not fully disappear with the decision to be a known investigator, but are merely muted….” 

I think that because they are muted, and therefore more easily overlooked, they are all the more important. It’s not enough to announce once at the beginning; you almost need to have visible “nametag” to remind people of your role, and your dual role if you are researching inside your own organization where you have other usual, normal roles in play. Its like you have to remember to keep reading people their rights, not just the first time, but in each session. 

Lofland and Lofland, Ch 3 Notes: 

Key takeaways:

  1. Ethics of power relationships in the roles between investigator and subject. I am attracted to AR precisely because of the equality that is possible when subjects are acting as co-researchers.
  2. Relationship characteristics drive ethical and power issues,
  3. The ethical status of covert research: and 3 types; deceit by omission is crucial concept
    1. Public research at a distance:
    2. Quasi private: a good discussion of the effect of intent vs results that informs the ethics of being a hidden researcher. The example of the opportunistic researcher in the factory, conducting a study because he is already there to earn tuition vs that of the deliberate hidden researcher is instructive.
    3. Private; norm-fitting behavior that serves to “fit in” and simply to be a member of good standing take on an ethical quality of legitimizing the group norms simply to be able to study.  Has a moral quality to the decision.
  4. Good section on ethic resources on page 39
  5. Known investigator: sacrifices anonymity for public acknowledgement, at the risk of studying inauthentic behaviors.
  6. The importance of social group connections and navigation to assist you in gaining access to key people, events and decision-making. If you have gained social trust you may be entrusted with insights into what are normally private considerations by groups and people.
  7. Candid, brief, direct accounts of your research, with a view to explaining simply “why” they should participate, an explanation that avoids a dissertation of an answer.
  8. Adopting a “learner” attitude is smart and often productive; should avoid “gaming” or being smug about it though.
  9. The issue of respecting boundaries of the subjects and organizations being studied.  Can present some moral decisions of course.  A decision to halt the research because of behaviors you observe that you cannot tolerate will run into the ethical dilemma of non-disclosure that you may have negotiated initially.  The priest’s or lawyers dilemma ethics apply here.
  10. Confidentiality issues are central when we are looking for transformational behavior changes. The Vidich case study is a good discussion of these implications on page 51.
  11. have to learn to anticipate the kinds of findings that might put you into these decision spaces prior to negotiating for confidentiality and boundary agreements.

 Rubin & Rubin Ch6 Notes: The Responsive Interview as an Extended Conversation

1.      The differences between ordinary conversations and  responsive interviews:

     a.      Continuity over time

     b.      Focused thematic  attention

     c.       Explicit clarification of meaning and intent (spend more time in interviews making the tacit explicit than is usually the case in conversation)

     d.      Difference in purpose between narratives (construct of what happened) and stories (themed to make a point or represent a point of view)

2.      The interview is guided towards the purpose of the researcher; I would agree if you already have a specific informational goal in mid, but how much does this become confirming your own bias and not being open to where the story wants to go needs to go?  Is there a problem with confirmation bias in that observation from p.110?

3.      Guiding away from formal answers through artful question design, although you do have at least a semi formal relationship at work as a researcher. Is this disingenuous?

4.      I like the metaphor as a series of linked stages to structure the interview

5.      The formulas for establishing rapport are at the same time helpful advice, but ironic in that they are rules for being spontaneous and “real”

6.      Easy questions, tough questions, concluding questions, with management of emotional states, and ending with open ended contact options

7.      Good discussion of evaluating the interview as a way to study your own process as well as examining the data itself.  Could have had more advice on how to rehearse the interview ahead of time and having a purpose statement to keep you focused during the process. Ie, “What I must get from this interview is….” 

Lofland, J., David, S., Anderson, L., Lofland, L. (2006). Analyzing Social Settings A guide to qualitative observation and analysis (Fourth ed.). Belmont, Ca: Thomson.

Rubin, H., Rubin, I. (2005). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications. 

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