Analytical Group Interview - A Short Introduction
Sociology University of Helsinki CCCCCCCCC, CCCCCCCCCCCC
Qualitative researchers are often interested in comparisons, but reliable comparative studies are rare and difficult to make. Some theorists even believe that all qualitative information is indexical, i.e. context-bound, and that comparative qualitative research is therefore an oxymoron. In this paper we introduce a stimulated interview technique called Reception Analytical Group Interview (RAGI) that we have developed in the course of several studies on alcohol, addictions, and lifestyle issues in general. We outline the theoretical reasoning on which it is based, present some analytical concepts that are necessary for its use, and discuss some limitations of its application.
Many qualitative researchers value objectivity in their work but confuse it with a false fixity of meaning. For us, meaning is a process rather than a fixed fact. Following the Peircean tradition, we prefer to talk about understandability instead of meaning, to avoid the objectivist fallacy. Cultural constructs such as speech, text, sounds and images are not pictures of the world, but acts of constructing the world in an understandable way.
The RAGI technique follows from these considerations. We cannot draw conclusions on what people mean by a practice from asking them directly. The RAGI technique uses film scenes, advertising clips and other material as stimuli to replace direct questions. From the reception analytical point of view, the stimulus text - even the apparently neutral interview question - is not a blank slate, nor is the readers´ context empty or universally constant. Meaning-making is a collective affair and requires a minimum common ground for communication that varies between different groups of people. The RAGI technique aims at identifying meaningful variations in the interpretation of images that have already been interpreted in the stimuli and re-interpreted by the investigators. In stimulated interviews the vignettes bring "not-now" moments and "not-here" events to the here-and-now of the interview interaction. The RAGI technique aims to maximise the respondents´ freedom from the here-and-now, to focus on their interpretation of the vignettes. But it also stresses the importance of the research design and the questions that the research is designed to answer.