Interviewing Couples as Participant Observation: On Present Absentees and Watching Performers

  • Stefan Hirschauer Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
  • Anika Hoffmann Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
  • Annekathrin Stange Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Keywords: interview, partner relationship, participant observation, conversation, qualitative methodology


In this article, we suggest considering the method of interviewing couples as a form of participant observation. To assume that interviewees are mere "informants" who provide "information" neglects the fact that an interview is a specific social situation that needs to be understood through the eyes of its participants. We highlight five aspects of interviews with couples: 1. Monologues about relationships are "polyphonous" because they are infused with utterances of absent third parties implicitly or explicitly being recited during the interview. 2. When interviewing couples, dialogic co-productions of utterances occur whereby the interviewees do not only talk to each other but perform speech acts together. 3. The interviewees talk but are equally—and maybe for the first time—listeners and observers of their partners' presentation of their relationship 4. In instances of indirect interaction the presence of the interviewer is used, e.g. to make the partner hear something that appears to be addressed to the interviewer. 5. Direct interactions such as the re-enactment of conflicts or competition over the "adequate" telling of a story let private matters, in fact the couples' very relationship, appear directly in the interview. In sum, we reveal a variation of usages of the interview by those participants for whom it is not a method of data collection.



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Author Biographies

Stefan Hirschauer, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität

Stefan HIRSCHAUER ist Professor für Soziologische Theorie und Gender Studies an der Universität Mainz und Sprecher der DFG-Forschergruppe "Un/doing differences. Praktiken der Humandifferenzierung". Forschungsschwerpunkte sind Praxistheorien, qualitative Methoden, Soziologien des Wissens, des Körpers und der Geschlechterdifferenz.

Anika Hoffmann, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität

Anika HOFFMANN ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Lehrstuhl für Kriminologie des Fachbereichs Rechts- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz.

Annekathrin Stange, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität

Annekathrin STANGE ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin im DFG-Projekt "Geschlechtliche Differenzierung und Entdifferenzierung pränataler Elternschaft".

How to Cite
Hirschauer, S., Hoffmann, A., & Stange, A. (2015). Interviewing Couples as Participant Observation: On Present Absentees and Watching Performers. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 16(3).
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