Feminist interviews

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"Challenging gender inequalities in social research"

Introduction

The feminist interview method encourages and promotes a more reflexive and reciprocal approach and seeks to neutralise the hierarchical, exploitative power relations that were claimed to be inherent in the more traditional interview structure. This is a technique also adopted by other interview methods such as oral history.

Through social research, feminist methods go beyond studying women as objects of investigation. Rather they seek to challenge gender inequalities in social research and to motivate emancipatory, political change of women's experiences in society. Moreover, feminist research is primarily concerned with gender relations and this includes masculinities as well as femininities.

Contemporary feminist approaches acknowledge gender inequality and seek to incorporate an awareness of gender relations in the analysis and through a reflexive understanding of interviews.

Historically, social scientific research methods have marginalised, inadequately represented, and even excluded, women's experiences. In addition, the feminist researcher's primary motivations are to empower women and to restructure the imbalance of equality in understanding women's experiences. In short, feminist research challenges both the knowledge which is produced and the methods of producing knowledge.

Feminists have described the traditional interview as a site for the exploitation and subordination of women, with the interviewers potentially creating outcomes against their interviewees' interests (Hollway and Jefferson, 2000).

One way in which feminist researchers have addressed this problem is through treating the interview as co-constructive.

For example, in traditional interview formats the interviewer directs the questioning and takes ownership of the material; in the feminist interview method the woman would recount her experiences in her own words with the interviewer serving only as a guide to the account.

This research method rejects the positivistic ideal of producing an impersonal, value-free and objective account of experience.

Instead, feminist researchers claim that developing a rapport with interviewees is an essential part of establishing trust, respect and maintaining an empathetic position.

Many feminist researchers suggest that a closer relationship with interviewees can produce a more valid and meaningful account of women's experiences. However, recent work on feminist methodology incorporates concepts with 'difference' and shows how sometimes a shared gender is not sufficient as a means of establishing rapport. See for example Riessman (1987), and Wilkinson and Kitzinger (1996). This concern with difference is a central tenet of contemporary feminist theory.

Example

Study Number: 4523
Study Title: Mental Health of Chinese Women in Britain, 1945-2000
Principal Investigator(s): Green, G., Bradby, H., Lee, M., Eldridge, K.
Date of Fieldwork: September 1999-February 2000

Abstract: The aim of this exploratory study of the mental health of Chinese women in Britain was to identify issues of cultural difference between the Chinese community and the health system in contemporary Britain, which may have resulted in an under-estimation of their mental health problems.

Citation:Green, G. et al. , Mental Health of Chinese Women in Britain, 1945-2000 [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], July 2002. SN: 4523, http://dx.doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-4523-1

Interview schedule
Interview extract one
Interview extract two

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