Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Thinking about Cross-Cultural Differences in Qualitative Interviewing: Practices for More Responsive and Trusting Encounters

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Thinking about Cross-Cultural Differences in Qualitative Interviewing: Practices for More Responsive and Trusting Encounters

Article excerpt

Efforts to deconstruct the mechanics of interviews as a key, popular qualitative research method for gathering or generating data have gravitated around a loosely bound structure defined by the environment: interviewing face-to-face or via telephone; (re)designing the types of questions according to research inquiries--chief among them being narrative or "storied" data exploring the "whys" and "hows" of experience (Gergen & Gergen, 1986; Holt, 2010); determining how to structure questions in an interview (Britten, 1995); determining how to structure the interviewer's relationship with interviewees in light of the former affecting the latter's responses (Kaiser & Priebe, 1999; Landy, Cameron et al., 2016; Landy et al., 2016); examining the extent to which an interview is structured or unstructured (Galletta, 2013; Wengraf, 2001); and theorizing about the researcher-researched relationship during qualitative interviews (Qu & Dumay, 2011).These components have also been retheorized in connection to distinct social relations recursively bound up in the (social) body of the researcher, including personal interests (Rossing & Scott, 2016) and power relations within institutions (Boydell et al., 2017; Burawoy, 1998).

But these foci ultimately demonstrate a fundamental power imbalance in interview mechanics in which the researchers alone hold the authority to represent the voices of their participants (as proponents of participatory action research have argued; Kong, 2018; Taylor & Rupp, 2005). These mechanics hold a priori assumptions of linguistic and cultural symmetry in the act, setting, and relations of the interview process itself, wherein interviewers and interviewees understand each other's language and culture insofar as they do not need lingual translation for the full text or commonly used sayings or proverbs, as is often the case with intercultural communication (Gunthner, 1991). Our methodological understanding of how to explore cultural symmetries and differences in existing interview methods is insufficient. Indeed, despite their importance in an increasingly globalized world and academy, linguistic and cultural asymmetry are commonly dismissed as purely matters of (in)adequate resources. For instance, cultural and linguistic differences are not seen as sources of research data or areas in which interviewees' cultural concerns emerge, but simply as logistic challenges to the researcher to overcome by hiring interviewers or transcribers local to the research community of interest. Failing to do so is construed as an inability to do so because of lack of resources. Furthermore, allowing cultural, linguistic, and interpretive disagreements between interviewee and interviewer, considered "failures" of a data collection attempt, to even happen in the first place is considered taboo (Jacobsson & Akerstrom, 2013). But, as Jacobsson and Akerstrom assert (2013), these disagreements are actually worth exploring as sources of data, which shed light on areas of deep cultural concern and the importance of culture.

Cultural differences are not meta-data that can simply be ignored, but are valuable data sources that expose how cultural norms affect the way participants think and form their responses. Thus, ignoring culture would ultimately play into a postcolonial impulse in the academy to ignore or repackage the cultures and experiences of subjects from the Global South into narratives convenient for scholars from the Global North (see Connell, 2007, 2014). Linda Tuhiwai Smith's (1999) landmark Decolonizing Methodologies shows the extremes of this impulse: how research has historically been used as a tool of cultural and colonial oppression on subalterns by silencing, dismissing, and rewriting their experiences for the benefit of researchers from historically colonizer nations.

Thus, we must actively work to reach across language and cultural barriers as well as understand the cross-cultural differences themselves and how they affect participants' speech and action because neglecting the role of cultural norms in interviewing practices leaves blind spots in assessing the veracity of data. …

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