9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN20 Qualitative Methods

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Interviews Building II, B2.01

Interviewed "for what reason"? Imputed research motives and the production of "deviant" accounts

Some people attract the interest of social research for belonging to a particular category of people, for example 'handicapped', 'immigrants' or 'criminals'. Interviewees of such commonly 'high-interest' social categories may use researchers´ interests in them, so that the interview become more than reflections on a subject or narrated experiences. Instead the interview becomes an arena where perceived misunderstandings can be corrected or refuted, simply by producing (and insisting on) a preferred version of a problem, or as in my study, of a neighborhood. These types of interviews have implications for analytic proceedings.
At a master course, students carried out interviews on the loosely formulated topic 'neighbors and neighborhood' as part of a qualitative method exercise. One reason for the choice of topic was that students quickly and easily should find a person to interview; practically anyone can be expected to have some experiences or ideas on the subject matter. Out of fourteen interviews, one stood out as very different from the rest of the material, in which interviewees quite casually discussed experiences of 'good and bad neighbors and neighborhoods'. The 'deviant' interview, on the other hand, had an obvious agenda in praising her neighbors and neighborhood. Living in an 'immigrant area' heavily marked by social problems - an area with a history of attracting interest from the media, the police and other authorities, as well as social researchers - she instantly draw the conclusion that this was the reason for her being asked for an interview. In accordance with these assumptions, the interviewee took on the task of countering the negative view of her neighborhood by presenting a sunny and problem-free picture.
In this paper, I first single out how this interview differs from the rest of the material. Secondly, I raise questions regarding how to analytically handle a 'deviant interview' in relation to the whole body of material. Finally, I discuss the methodological significance of linking interviewees´ accounts to the surrounding social contexts that sometimes seem to over-shadow the research purpose in question.