9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN20 Qualitative Methods

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Narrative Research Building II, B2.01

Narrative and historical truth in sociological interviewing. An epistemological analysis

?Which ought to be our mandate as social scientists? Aiming at the reconstruction of the historical truth of what is said, or focusing our analysis only around narrative truth, so limiting ourselves to discourse and its context, and to the linguistic construction created by the interviewee??
Answering to such a question requires some passage. One start can be a naïve realist position of the kind: ?In any statement, what has been said can appear true or false with respect to something we know?. Of course, serious problems arise, because:

- statements can be interpreted, and misinterpreted too; they are often indexical in nature, and most of all, nothing assures us that the informant's frame and the analyst's one are isomorphic (i.e.: that their 'emic' and 'etic' perspectives are similar);
- not everything can be judged according to the true/false schema. Statements must be of a referential nature; they must concern something external to the subject; but we are often ambiguous, and we talk continuously about inner feelings, which cannot be defined neither true, nor false;
- the third fallacy lies of course in the formula ?something we know?.

Donald Spence defined ?historical truth? and ?narrative truth? two objects which can be addressed by the psychoanalist. My proposal aims at adopting this frame of analysis in the epistemology of the social research, by reasoning along three dimensions:
- in any narrative statements can be found whose content could be evaluated via triangulation; some which cannot; and some which once could, but no more (informants are dead, documents got lost);
- if the link to the empirical dimension is still our primary raison d'être, then a deeper concern with methodological issues about checking the content of some of the interviewees' statements could be useful;
- the public image of Sociology as a science has much to do with the way we answer to these epistemological problems: as any other science, we have the burden of proof about our own disciplinary statements.

The discourse will be illustrated via schemata connecting the different statements of the argument.