Interactive Oral History Interviewing

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

7
A Riot of Voices: Racial and Ethnic Variables in Interactive Oral History Interviewing

Arthur A. Hansen California State University, Fullerton

The truth of objectivism--absolute, universal, and timeless--has lost its monopoly
status. It now competes, on more nearly equal terms, with the truths of case studies
that are embedded in local contexts, shaped by local interests, and colored by local
perceptions
.
--Rosaldo ( 1989)

When invited to write this chapter exploring how race and ethnicity intertwine the relationship between oral history interviewers and narrators, I was delighted yet unnerved. Having transacted interviews for nearly two decades within one racialethnic group, Japanese Americans, I naturally was pleased to reflect upon that experience. I found daunting, however, the prospect of extrapolating generic truths about the interviewer-narrator relationship in cross-cultural interviews from my particular interactions with Nikkei (Americans of Japanese ancestry).

Reading the Chicano anthropologist Rosaldo's recent manifesto for interpretive sociocultural studies, from which my epigraph is taken, had deepened my conviction that the quest for "laws" in the human sciences, although a powerful intellectual prod for gaining knowledge, tends to ignore the changing nature of human facts and to obscure existential truth embedded in meaning and interpretation. In what follows, therefore, I have paid preponderant attention to my own fieldwork encounters with Japanese Americans, specifically those among the Nisei (secondgeneration Japanese Americans) generation, while consigning generalizations about racial and ethnic variables to a subordinate status. As with Rosaldo and his

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