Fontana, A. and J.H. Frey. 1994. “Interviewing – The Art of Science.”

Fontana, Andrea and James H. Frey. 1994. “Interviewing: The Art of Science.” Pp. 361-376 in The Handbook of Qualitative Research, edited by N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

“The spoken or written word has always a residue of ambiguity, no matter how carefully we word the questions and report or code the answers” (361). Interviewing as interaction, sociology as the study of interaction – the tool and the object of inquiry. Many forms – F2F individual, F2F group, telephone, self-administered questionnaires – semi/un/structured. Several purposes, longevities. Roots in demography, psychology, opinion polling in politics. Interviews as critical component of early sociology, but quickly replaced by survey and quantitative methodologies of 1950’s.  The quantifying of participant observation and interview methods – visible in grounded theory with its emphasis on coding, and ethnomethodology as invariant properties. Critique by postmodernists with theoretical and moral assumptions of interviewing – power of the interviewer over the interviewed – abated by the focus on interviewee voice and feelings, gender, race, membership, and increased non-scientific commodification of the interview.

Structured interviewing – pre-established questions, little room for variation; pace controlled by interviewer, standardized, all interviewees receive the same question set in the same order. No improvisation, wording changes, interpretation of meaning or clarification – give instructions, follow orders – found most frequently in survey methods, positivism. However, “There is no single interview style that fits every occasion or all respondents” (Converse and Schuman 1974, 53).

Group interviewing –  un/semi/structured – systematic questioning of several group members – “The use of the group interview is not meant to replace individual interviewing, but it is an option that deserves consideration because it can provide that other level of data gathering or a perspective of the research problem not available through individual interviews” (364). Use in marketing, focus group coined by Merton, Fiske, and Kendall (1956) – where group members are asked specific questions about a phenomenon after some research (kx^ through participant observations, other interviews) has been collected. Inexpensive, data rich, but may undermine individual expression in favor of group dynamics.

Unstructured interviewing – offers breadth, in-depth, ethnographic information. Often dialogical, emotive, reflexive. Learning from interviewees, rather than explaining.

Accessing the setting through markers of membership/relationships, understanding language and culture of respondents, through understanding own biases, interpretations, meanings created. A decision on how to present self in field – learners, members, outsiders? How to best gain rapport?  Time, patience, relationships to key informants, relationships to peripheral members. Take ample and frequent notes, analyze them accordingly.

Oral histories – unstructured interviews with different purpose – tracking and understanding memory and events, tracing voices that were typically unheard or suppressed at that time.

Post-modern interviewing – polyphonic messages recorded with minimal influence of researcher, reported through subjects of difference, problems, and multiplicity of perspectives.

Gender in research as important factor in eliciting information, power dynamics, jargon; greater flexibility for women interviewers in patriarchal areas – masculinization through profession.

Analysis of nonverbal interview – proxemics (personal space), chronemics (pacing of speech and silence), kinesic (body movements, postures) and paralinguistic (variations in volume, tone, pitch, and quality of voice)

“As field-workers we need to exercise common sense and moral responsibility, and we would like to add, to our subjects first, to the study next, and to ourselves last”  (here 373, see also Punch 1986).


Converse, J.M. and H. Schuman. 1974. Survey Research in the United States: Roots and Emergence 1890-1960. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Merton, R.K., M. Fiske, and P.L. Kendall. 1956. The Focused Interview. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Punch, M. 1986. The Politics and Ethics of Fieldwork. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: