Power Games between the Researcher and the Participant in the Social Inquiry

By Bravo-Moreno, Ana | The Qualitative Report, December 2003 | Go to article overview
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Power Games between the Researcher and the Participant in the Social Inquiry

Bravo-Moreno, Ana, The Qualitative Report

This article will deal with the different power relationships that are in play during the interview process in ethnographic research. It explores how interviewees are agents in the creation of their own positions during the interview process and how they shift positions in interaction with the researcher and with the questions posed to them. Key words: Reflexivity, Ethnography, Power Relations in Interviews, Social class, and Women Migration


To examine the power relations in the interview process gives the researcher the opportunity to see how respondents choose to represent themselves in accordance with the theme of the interview and the interviewer. This insight offers the researcher a chance to see how they represented me and the reasons underpinning their decisions to represent themselves and me in particular ways. The purpose of this article is to look at the different positions in which the researcher and the interviewee locate themselves at the beginning of the interview and how in the interaction of the interview, the researcher and respondent redefine their own positions. As Creswell states: "The researcher enters the informants' world and through ongoing interaction, seeks the informants' perspectives and meanings" (Creswell, 1994, p. 161).

I argue that a key concept is representation, how I presented myself and how respondents presented themselves. This term points to the cultural construction of experience, in particular, the processes by which agents construct images and through these images create meaning. These processes involved me as an interactive part in the interview.

I question some writers like Kvale (1996, p. 126) who have generalised on the powerful position of the researcher versus the participant. In this article different forms of power--economic in the form of wealth and social in the form of 'distinction' (Bourdieu 1984) were differently played to challenge or sabotage the interview.

Firstly the theme of the interview will be described, secondly this article explains the epistemological framework including the ethnographic perspective used conducting fieldwork and, lastly, it explores the negotiation of power relationships between the participant and the researcher in the process of the interviews. It should be observed that the impersonal style of the written text of this article would change in the last section called "Power relations in the interviews" to the personal 'I'. This will make explicit the feminist epistemological principle of the researcher being located in the research she conducts. Thus, the researcher becomes part of the production of contextualised knowledge, a knowledge, which is rooted in a specific viewpoint of the knowledge-producer (Stanley, 1997, p. 204; Kvale, 1996, p. 14). Patton (2002) and Kemp and Squire (1997) expand on this:

   Writing in the first person, active voice communicates the
   inquirer's self-aware role in the inquiry. The passive voice does
   not ... "the domain of experiential self-knowledge" (Patton, 2002,
   p.1). Voice reveals and communicates this domain. [H] ere we owe
   much to feminist theory for highlighting and deepening our
   understanding of the intricate and implicate relationships between
   language, voice and consciousness (Pattton, 2002, p. 65). In
   current feminist writing it is the privileging of women's
   subjective experience and the commitment to political change that
   recur as the distinctive and fundamental aspects of a potential
   self-reflexive, feminist epistemology. (Kemp & Squire, 1997, p.

The theme of the interview focused on the effects of international migration in shaping the national and gender identities of Spanish women, who migrated to England (UK) between the 1940s and the 1990s. Thus, the purpose of the interview was to investigate how Spanish immigrant women constructed their national and gender identities according to certain historically available modes of representation; and whether women's socio-economic and educational backgrounds in Spain contributed to their self-understandings in England.

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Power Games between the Researcher and the Participant in the Social Inquiry


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