Interactive Oral History Interviewing

By Eva M. McMahan; Kim Lacy Rogers | Go to book overview

6
Intersubjectivity and Interviewing

Allan W. Futrell

Charles A. Willard

University of Louisville

Intersubjectivity is an often-discussed phenomenon, but the ways that relationships between interviewers and informants create reality are less well understood. One reason for this lack of understanding is that overpsychologized views of interviewing obscure the communication processes by which interactants create joint reality.

Our point is not that personal psychologies or narrator's first-person accounts are useless. Utterances often reflect private cognitive processes, so interpretation requires imputing intentions (meanings, motive, and goals) to speakers. An exclusively psychologistic stance toward oral history, however, misleads in an important way. Oral historians who seek to understand their narrators' psychologies-- whether for meanings or for facts--may unreflectively adopt a misleading picture of communication as exclusively a process of revealing private thoughts.

We view expression as the developmentally simplest mode of communication, one that competent speakers often find inadequate to meet the demands of conventional--etiquette-based, rule-governed--public life. When purely conventional methods prove inadequate, speakers may exploit rhetorical communication by negotiating identities, roles, and definitions of situation so as to create new, more manageable realities. Because public life demands conventional competence and frequently rewards rhetorical competence, communication-as-expression betrays a kind of incompetence, and serves as a poor basis for understanding intersubjectivity. Intersubjectivity is a distinctively public achievement. It consists of the cooperative invention of a shared context to which speakers' utterances are indexical. It is the process of interviewers and interviewees negotiating meanings and jointly creating and maintaining a relationship, albeit sometimes only for the length of the interview.

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