Ways of Listening to Women in Qualitative Research: Interview Techniques and Analysis

Article excerpt

Abstract

Qualitative research on depression requires methods of interviewing and analysis that allow the researcher to hear how social factors are structured in thought and how such factors affect depressive conflict. I discuss six ways of listening used in my qualitative research: open listening, focused awareness, attending to moral language, to inner dialogues, to meta-statements, and to the logic of the narrative. Examples illustrate how listening to processes of thought leads to content analysis that preserves the individuality of subjects, and to theory formation. Silencing the Self theory is summarized as it relates to these ways of listening.

Qualitative research relies on narratives, which are meaning making acts. The story a woman tells herself and retells others about the sources of her depression creates its coherence within the context of her life. Her narrative reveals her whole world--her view of herself in relationships, her sense of power, her path through life, and her strivings to reach some sort of ideal self. The language she uses to present herself not only produces meaning, but it constrains the possibilities of consciousness and the perception of choices.

Since we know that many concepts used within the field of depression research and treatment have a history of maleness (Stoppard, 1989), and represent "a deposit of the desires and disappointments of men" (Horney, 1967, p. 56), how are we to listen to depressed women without simply reproducing this tradition? How, for example, do we listen to recurring themes of low selfesteem, negative self-judgment, and problems in relationship without appropriating them to existing theories that simply sweep them under a rug called "dependency" or "lack of action and mastery strategies?" How can these themes, particularly the standards women use to evaluate themselves negatively, alert us to deeper issues that help us find new ways of understanding women's depression?

I have used interviews and qualitative analysis in research on depression in women (Jack, 1991; Jack, 1999b), lawyers' moral reasoning about dilemmas in their work (Jack & Jack, 1989), and women's aggression, which relates to their depression (Jack, 1999a). In general terms, these studies represent attempts to find new ways of understanding the interaction between person and social environment that affects women's psychology and their depressive vulnerability. My work follows the voice-centred method of inquiry proposed by Gilligan (1982) and colleagues (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Gilligan, Ward, & Taylor, 1988) which considers interview narratives as dialogues generated within a relationship of interviewer and subject, and which attempts to listen to a woman's experience in her own terms, from her point of view.

I have found six ways of listening within interviews that help me understand the narrator's point of view from her perspective, a perspective that is critical if we are to detail the diversity of women's experiences and social contexts. The first two ways of listening occur during the interview process itself; the remaining four occur not only during the interview, but also represent types of analyses to be undertaken systematically after interviews are transcribed. In what follows, I present these ways of listening and how they have led to insights about women's depression.

WAYS OF LISTENING

Since qualitative methods acknowledge the researcher as a vital part of a relational, collaborative process of inquiry (Stacey, 1991) that includes issues of inequality, ethics, and politics (Patai, 1991), we must take a reflexive stance in order to notice how we help shape the very texts we study (Fine, 1992; Shostak, 1998). First, we can attend to our own experience during interviews, to what Catherine Riessman (1993) calls the "prelinguistic" impact of the stories. Noticing how the swirl of story enters and affects our embodied, felt experience creates a broad, imaginative background to which we bring words that necessarily narrow as they communicate. …