Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

(De)constructing the Interview: A Critique of the Participatory Model

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

(De)constructing the Interview: A Critique of the Participatory Model

Article excerpt

Feminist approaches to the use of interviewing emphasize the importance of building rapport with respondents in order to achieve a successful research outcome. This "participatory model" is concerned with addressing power differentials between researcher and researched and thus producing non-hierarchical, non-manipulative research relationships. We argue that the continued centring of rapport as a key interview strategy ignores both the nature of power relationships within the interview, as well as interviewee subjectivity. Drawing on our own experiences of interviewing we examine the ways in which both interviewer and interviewee are placed along intersecting axes of power.

Feminist research has a rich tradition of using interviews as a means of gathering data on the lives and experiences of women. While it would be misleading to suggest that all feminist researchers adhere to the same set of methodological principles in their work, it is nonetheless possible to distinguish an epistemological concern among feminist interviewers to avoid the methods associated with "male-centred science." This concern has given rise to a methodological strategy which Pamela Cotterill (1992) terms the "participatory model." By this she means a model that "aims to produce non-hierarchical, non-manipulative research relationships which have the potential to negotiate the separation between the researcher and researched" (Cotterill, 1992, p. 594). Foremost among the strategies employed to break down power differentials between interviewer and interviewee has been the recommendation to build rapport with respondents.

The participatory model has not been used uncritically. Many feminist researchers have begun to revise and adapt the model to changing research circumstances (see Stacey, 1988; Ribbens, 1989; Cotterill, 1992). The assumption that women, because of shared gender, occupy similarly marginalized positions or are capable of empathizing across class or race barriers has been challenged by these accounts. What remains consistent in these discussions, however, is a continued commitment to building rapport as a means to overcome difference. Such a position asserts that changes or modifications to the model, in combination with a continued feminist commitment to non-objective, non-hierarchical interview relationships, will make the interview a more effective feminist research tool. According to Pamela Cotterill (1992), while the participatory model may be problematic it is better than the male-centred alternative.

But is it necessary to "connect" with the interview subject (where "connect" may refer to a continuum of experiences including friendly stranger to close intimate) in order to achieve a successful research outcome? Feminist researchers have become increasingly critical of the centrality accorded to rapport in discussions of feminist interviewing techniques (see Reinharz, 1993; Bloom, 1997; Puwar, 1997). Our own experiences in employing the participatory model show that the continued centring of rapport as a key interview strategy ignores interviewee subjectivity and fails to recognize the essentially "constructed" nature of the interview moment. We argue that the focus on rapport overlooks the interviewee's own perceptions of what an interview is, and thus sidesteps issues of interviewee agency and control. We believe that greater attention needs to be paid to what actually happens in an interview, including the question of who exerts power and how. Such an analysis will show not only that the participatory model relies on a fixed understanding of power, but also that an insistence on rapport sometimes works to undermine research outcomes.

Our concern to more closely examine feminist research methods has been motivated by our separate struggles to effectively use interviews as a means of gathering data on the lives and experiences of women as subjects of feminist research. Our decision to use interviews was motivated by a belief that qualitative research techniques allow the respondents greater control and more opportunity to fully articulate their life experiences (Reinharz, 1992, p. …

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