Unstructured interviews

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"Not simply answering the questions posed by the interviewer"

Introduction

In unstructured interviews respondents are seen to have their own agency, selfhood, and thus are not simply 'respondents' answering the questions posed by the interviewer.

The interview style is generally unstructured and interviewees have the freedom to tell their biographical stories in their own way, although there may be some gentle guidance offered by the interviewer in order to keep the narrative going.

The method has some overlap with the semi-structured interview, in that the interviewer may have a very simple schedule, but in the unstructured interviews that may not be strictly followed.

In the unstructured interview the interviewee is treated as an active subject, and not merely a reporter of facts or experiences.

This method is concerned with finding meanings, and attempts to develop a detailed biography with the interviewee. Often, the subject matter is personal, intimate and emotional, and the objective is to achieve some kind of deep disclosure (Johnson, 2001). The emphasis here is on acquiring deep knowledge and authenticity of people's life experiences (Gubrium and Holstein, 2001).

Considerable debate has been given to the way in which people recount their life stories.

From a realist's position there is the belief that there is some objective knowledge of reality and that stories 'reflect a lived reality'.

This is opposed to the constructionist's claim that the interviewee's story and the way that it is interpreted by the interviewer are constructed and shaped by narrative conventions. In the constructionist's approach there is an emphasis on narrative formation and this includes taking into account the collaborative process of creating a story in the interview setting and also the performance involved in its production (Roberts, 2002). See Tonkin (1992) for further discussion of context in the interview.

Example

Study Title: Negotiating Midlife: Exploring Subjective Experiences of Ageing
Principal Investigator(s): Morgan, B.
Date of Fieldwork: October 2006 - December 2007

Abstract: This study explored the subjective experiences of ageing amongst people who were in the midlife period.

Interview method notes
Interview extract one

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