Chapter 7: Interviews

This exercise gives you an opportunity to think through the debate about whether it is appropriate to assess whether interview accounts are true or false. The following extract is taken from a study in which scientists were interviewed about the factors that influence changes in scientific theories:

(S = Scientist)

S: To make changes you have to be highly articulate, persuasive, and devastating.

You have to go to the heart of the matter. But in doing this you lay yourself open to attack. I’ve been called fanatical, paranoid, obsessed … but I’m going to win.

Time is on my side

(Quoted by Gilbert and Mulkay, 1983: 10)

  1. How might this extract be used to support the view that scientific research is largely influenced by scientific politics?
  2. Why might you not be convinced by this view on the basis of this extract?
  3. Why might it be important to understand the different social contexts in which scientists give an account of their work?
  4. Can it be said definitively whether or not science is essentially a political process? If not, why not?

Below is an extract from an interview with an adult daughter who is caring for her mother – a victim of senile dementia – at home. The daughter is employed part-time, and shares the household with her employed husband and their two sons. The extract begins when the interviewer (I) asks the adult daughter (R) to describe her feelings about having to juggle so many needs and schedules:

I: We were talking about, you said you were a member of the, what did you call it?

R: They say that I’m in the sandwich generation. You know, like we’re sandwiched between having to care for my mother…and my grown kids and my husband. People are living longer now and you’ve got different generations at home and, I tell ya, it’s a mixed blessing.

I: How do you feel about it in your situation?

R: Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes I think I’m being a bit selfish because I gripe about having to keep an eye on Mother all the time. If you let down your guard, she wanders off into the back yard or goes out the door and down the street. That’s no fun when your hubby wants your attention too. Norm works the second shift and he’s home during the day a lot. I manage to get in a few hours of work, but he doesn’t like it. I have pretty mixed feelings about it.

I: What do you mean?

R: Well, I’d say that as a daughter, I feel pretty guilty about how I feel sometimes. It can get pretty bad, like wishing that Mother were just gone, you know what I mean? She’s been a wonderful mother and I love her very much, but if you ask me how I feel as a wife and mother, that’s another matter. I feel like she’s [the mother], well, intruding on our lives and just making hell out of raising a family. Sometimes I put myself in my husband’s shoes and I just know how he feels. He doesn’t say much, but I know that he misses my company, and I miss his of course. [Pause] So how do you answer that?

(Gubrium and Holstein, 1997b: 124)

  • What do we learn here about R’s feelings?
  • How do R and I together construct a story? What do you learn from that? (Tip: think about R’s framing her comments ‘as a daughter’ (turn 7).)
  • What have you learned from your analysis about the uses and limitations of naturalism?

The extract below is taken from Carolyn Baker’s study of ‘adolescents’:

(I = Interviewer; V = Victor, age 12)

I: Are there any ways in which you consider yourself still to be a child, or to have child-like interests or habits or attitudes?

V: Yeah I still like doin’ things that I did when I was a kid you know like, y’know, Lego ‘n that just building stuff you know like when I, I was a kid you know.

I: Yeah. You still take pleasure in that kind of thing.

V: Yeah, I get a friend over and we just build a, great big house ‘n that, it’s still just like doing it.

I: Do you feel at the same time that you’re too – really too old for it or do you   not feel it’s too

  V: Well when people say ‘ah, he’s still doin’ that stuff’ I don’t really care. I just do it in the living room ‘n that, ‘n it’s still fun. Pretty soon I’ll, I’ll stop doin’ it but, when I get too old for it.

I: Or when you no longer think it’s fun.

V: Yeah.

I: Which one?

V: How do you mean?

I: What would make you stop, feeling you were too old for it or

V: Yeah, like everyone buggin’ me too much y’know ‘n, it’s not really that bad just building a house or something y’know like, just show my mom it’n everything just take it apart y’know, sort of something to do on a rainy day

(Baker, 1984: 308–9)

  • In what sense does this interview give us reliable information about how Victor seems himself?
  • With close attention to the text, show:
  • How Victor accounts for potentially child-like activities
  • How the interviewer identifies child-like activities
  • How both Victor and the interviewer attend to the implications of what the other is saying.

This exercise gives you an opportunity to work with some of Baruch’s data and to compare his approach with others. Here are some extracts from interviews with mothers of children with congenital heart disease:

  • Well um … the first thing the nurse who delivered him said was: ‘Don’t worry, it’s alright. Everything’s alright.’ And I didn’t even realize there was anything wrong with him to start with.
  • When she was born they told me everything was perfectly alright. And I accepted it.
  • He was very breathless and I kept saying to midwives and doctors and various bods that came round, um I said to the midwife look, I said, he’s breathing so fast.
  • He was sitting in his buggy just looking absolutely lifeless. So I thought right up to the doctor’s and see what she says.

Now answer the following questions:

  1. Is it helpful to check the accuracy of what these mothers are saying (e.g. by comparing them to case-notes, medical accounts)? Explain your answer.
  2. Attempt a psychological interpretation of what these mothers are saying (refer to the discussion of Burton in Section 7.8).
  3. Now attempt to show how these mothers construct their own moral adequacy using Baruch’s concept of ‘atrocity stories’. Is the same strategy used in every story?