Making a Scientist: Discursive "Doing" of Identity and Self-Presentation During Research Interviews

  • Yew-Jin Lee University of Victoria
  • Wolff-Michael Roth University of Victoria
Keywords: identity, self-presentation, activity theory, interviews, stake, footing


Participating in an interview is taking part in an activity system that is often very different from the daily lives of most individuals. Grounding ourselves in an activity theoretic perspective, we regard the interview event and who or what these agents become during that process as an out­come of the activity of "doing interviews." In con­trast to the modern concept of identity, a stable and characteristic feature of an individual, we under­stand identity as arising from social interactions—identity and activity are said to be in a dialectical relationship. Interviews are thus occasions where­by identity and issues of self-presentation have to be managed by agents primarily through discourse processes. By further regarding interviews as "topic" in this article we make salient their co-con­struc­tive nature qua social interaction rather than as a neutral data gathering tool. Our case study of an interview with a renowned environmental scien­tist demonstrates how identity and issues of self-presentation were discursively played out using the concepts of "stake" and "footing." It was found that our participant came to be a full-fledged mem­ber of the scientific community with traits typically ascribed to scientists such as expertise, objec­tivity, passion and disinterestedness. This discurs­ive "doing" of identity and self-presentation during research interviews is a pervasive effect and cautions practitioners against treating interviews as an unproblematic methodology. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0401123


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Author Biographies

Yew-Jin Lee, University of Victoria
Yew-Jin LEE is a Ph.D. student in science education from the University of Victoria. Currently, he is using activity theory, sociology, anthropology and hermeneutic philosophy to understand the development of expertise in the workplace. Other interests include science studies, social memories and ethnographic methodologies.
Wolff-Michael Roth, University of Victoria
Wolff-Michael ROTH ( is Lansdowne Professor of applied cognitive science at the University of Victoria. His interdisciplinary research agenda includes studies in science and mathematics education, general education, applied cognitive science, sociology of science, and linguistics (pragmatics). His recent publications At the Elbows of Another: Learning to Teach by Coteaching (with K. TOBIN, Peter Lang, 2002), Science Education as/for Sociopolitical Action (ed. with J. DÉSAUTELS, Peter Lang, 2002), Being and Becoming in the Classroom (Ablex Publishing, 2002), and Toward an Anthropology of Graphing (Kluwer, 2003).