INTERVIEWING IN FIELD RESEARCH*
William Foote Whyte
THE ANTHROPOLOGIST or sociologist gathers a large part of his research data through field interviews. Interviews may be of various types, ranging from the questionnaire administered in writing and the orally administered interview schedule of predetermined questions to the more freely structured interview common to studies in social anthropology.
In the present chapter I shall give only incidental attention to questionnaires and interview schedules, since they are systematically discussed in a number of already available books. I shall concentrate upon the method in which the interviewer does not follow a standard order and wording of questions.
The interview we use is often called "non-directive." This is a grave misnomer. The "non-directive" interview was a therapeutic development based on the theory that a patient would make progress best if he were left free to express himself on his problems as he wished, stimulated by an interested and sympathetic listener.
While the good research interview may have a therapeutic side effect, it is structured in terms of the research problem. The interview structure is not fixed by predetermined questions, as it is in the questionnaire, but is designed to provide the informant with freedom to introduce materials that were not anticipated by the interviewer.
Whatever its merits for therapy, a genuinely non-directive interviewing approach simply is not appropriate for research. Far from putting inzformants at their case, it actually seems to stir anxieties. Once, while studying human relations in restaurants, I decided that I would be just as non-directive as I could. I began each interview simply by asking the informant to tell me whatever he cared to that was important to him about____________________