06 March 2009

The Radical Critique

What I'm writing today:
The key criticism of interviews seems to lie in how the interview context requires the respondents to position themselves and their answers around the agenda of the interviewer. In considering this criticism, it may be beneficial to consider the larger concept of talk in context. Harré and Logenhove present a view of discourse that focuses on the fact that all discourse is contextualized talk and in any form of talk people position themselves and others in the course of the discourse This can happen unconsciously as people may ‘simply regard their words as ‘the way on speaks’ on this sort of occasion.’ [emphasis in original] (Harré and Van Lagenhove, 1998: 38) or it may happen consciously as people try to position themselves in positive places. People may position themselves, but they may also be positioned by others and coerced (willingly or unwillingly) to produce discourse which positions them as one thing or another.

Harré and Van Lagenhove’s use of the phrase ‘this sort of occasion’ is particularly important in the discussion of the context of the interview. By criticizing the context of the interview and favouring observation, there seems to be the assumption that talk which occurs outside of the interview is, in some way, less contextualized, but as Harré and Van Lagenhove point out, no such talk exists. Although the positioning of interviewer and interviewee may produce a certain kind of talk, it is important to understand that all talk is a certain kind of talk, whether it be discussions between family members, bosses and employees, doctors and patients, or any other relationship. Whether the researcher is interviewing a respondent or observing a person in a ‘real-world’ context, the respondent will always be speaking in a context and positioning themselves and others one way or another around a certain agenda. Although the agenda is ‘natural’ (that is, not produced by the researcher), there is still an agenda and it is still likely to influence how people talk and make accountings. Because of this nature of contextualized talk, respondents are unlikely to give a ‘literal’ account of anything and the researcher will always have to be aware of the agenda of an event, whether it is constructed explicitly by the researcher or simply observed in the natural world.