Narrative Psychology: The Storied Nature of Human Conduct

By Theodore R. Sarbin | Go to book overview

12
The Analysis of Interview-Narratives

Elliot G. Mishler

Interviewing is a central research method in the social sciences. Much that we claim to know about individuals' attitudes, beliefs, and values is based on their responses to questions we ask them in our studies. No significant aspect of life has been beyond the pale of inquisitive interviewers. Respondents are routinely asked about their sexual and political preferences as well as their preferred detergents, deodorants, and beers; about their views of marriage and divorce and their reasons for having or not having children; about their fears of a nuclear war and their experiences of personal stress and illness. Unfortunately, this unbounded diversity of topics has not been matched by the development of interviewing methods that are appropriate and adequate to the tasks of eliciting and analyzing meaningful responses.

Essentially, the mainstream tradition has focused almost exclusively on problems of standardization, that is, on how to ask all respondents the same question and how to analyze their responses with standardized coding systems. This line of inquiry has been accompanied by almost total neglect of the intertwined problems of language, meaning, and context -- problems that are critical to understanding how interviews

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