Interviews as Text vs. Interviews as Social Interaction

Arnulf Deppermann


Interviews are among the most popular methods of data-gathering used in qualitative research. Preference for interviews rests on methodological advantages they seem to provide: The possibility to compare participants systematically, economic data-gathering, and access to historical processes and fields of practice which are difficult  to observe directly. Still, critics are skeptical about the interview method, referring to the restricted scope of participants’ abilities to render experience faithfully, the role of researchers in prefiguring answers in the interview, and the ontological difference between action and experience and reports on action and experience.

Addressing  these criticisms, the article distinguishes between approaches treating the interview as text and approaches dealing with it as social interaction. The textual approach analyzes interviews in terms of their contents and treats it as a window into an independent, prior social or psychological reality. The interactional approach treats interviews as situated practice, in which interviewers and interviewees accomplish social reality collaboratively. The article discusses three kinds of interactional phenomena which are constitutive of interview interaction: 1. negotiation of questions, 2. negotiation of answers, and 3. practices of positioning by both interviewers and interviewees. It shows how these phenomena contribute to the accomplishment of the interview and how they can be taken into account in the analysis and which kinds of insights this might yield. I argue for more research into the mechanisms of the interactional production of interviews in order to be able to base both conduct and analysis of interviews more solidly on empirical findings about interview interaction in the future.



conversation analysis; interview; social interaction; positioning; questions; answers; qualitative methodology

Copyright (c) 2013 Arnulf Deppermann

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.