Reanalyzing Qualitative Interviews from Different Angles: The Risk of Decontextualization and Other Problems of Sharing Qualitative Data

  • Harry Van den Berg Vrije Universiteit
Keywords: secondary analysis, qualitative interviews, discourse analysis, conversation analysis, contextualization, methodology


In contrast to survey interviews, qualitative interviews are seldom reanalyzed. Besides obvious reasons such as ownership—and especially the culture of individualistic ownership—that impede reusing data, there is also methodological skepticism about secondary analysis. In this paper, I will argue in favor of sharing qualitative data on behalf of secondary analysis. The argument is partly based on—and much inspired by—the discussions during the preparation of a collaborative project of thirteen researchers who were invited to analyze the same set of interview data from their own theoretical/methodological viewpoint (VAN DEN BERG, WETHERELL & HOUTKOOP-STEENSTRA, 2003). During these discussions several methodological arguments against secondary analysis were put forward. In this paper I will deal with some of these arguments, especially the doubts about the usefulness of secondary analysis and the argument concerning the assumed risk of decontextualization: Is secondary analysis possible without in-depth knowledge of the context? Different theoretical and methodological positions concerning the contextualization of interview discourse will be scrutinized. On the one hand I argue against the tendency to include the ever-widening societal and historical context on behalf of the analysis of interview discourse. This tendency runs the risk of speculative social theorizing as a framework for interpreting interview discourse. On the other hand I do not think that the neglect of every social context outside interview talk—as advocated by some strands within conversation analysis—is fruitful or even possible. This neglect runs the risk of abstract empiricism. The main argument is that the kind and measure of contextualization of interview data needed on behalf of discourse analysis should depend on the research goal and the type of data. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0501305


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Author Biography

Harry Van den Berg, Vrije Universiteit
Harry VAN DEN BERG is an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Research Methodology at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. He teaches methods of qualitative interviewing and discourse analysis. His research interests include methods of discourse analysis, mixed methods research and methodological research of qualitative and survey interviews.