Uppsala, ICLaVE2, 13. juni 2003 Introduction

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1 Uppsala, ICLaVE2, 13. juni 2003 Introduction The idea behind this speech was really a thought that came to me one late night. I can t describe it in details and it s not really thought through, but it keeps haunting me, so I guess it s important. It is more like a focus or an aspect I try to maintain when interviewing and when analyzing my interviews than any theory about interviewing or interviews as research data. In that respect, a better title on this speech might have been: People are Strange. When I have initially called it Observer s Paradox(es) in Research Interviews it is of course to point to the observer s paradox: we wish to know how these things act when we re not observing them, but we can only find out through observing. When I speak of paradoxes, it is to point out that I don t think there is one unique way to circumvent the paradox namely to minimize one s own involvement. What I believe I ve experienced is that a lack of involvement or even more an explicit rejection to involve oneself, is just as influential on the data gathering as too much involvement. When I now pose different views, and different solutions to the paradox, it is important for me to say that I am not sure whether on the one hand I introduce different views because data requires it or on the other hand if I introduce them myself to widen the scope on my data. Or phrased differently I m not sure whether I am describing the interview s nature or if I m proposing to alter the interview s nature. Background: I m working on a project to investigate language attitudes towards English in the Danish population. In the project we view the population as divided into 4 prototypical life styles I ll spare you the details on how these are derived the important thing is that I claim they can be viewed as a kind of cultures or sub-cultures. It will be apparent why I adopt this view. The interviews include both a questionnaire and unstructured phases. And the purpose of the interviews is to expand on the information gathered through a true survey-investigation which is also a part of the overall design. We do this both by asking more questions than the survey did to broaden the scope, and by investigating the hows and whys of the attitudes to deepen the scope. The Survey Method I ve tried to take a look at how the observer s paradox (or paradoxes) are dealt with by different research traditions that have similar problems. One obvious way to start is with the sociological (or for that matter the marketing research), questionnaire based interviews. Their solution have, as I hinted at above, been to reduce and formalize the interviewer s role in the interview. The interviewer is often ignorant to the research objective, they haven t designed the project or written the questions, they are speaking boxes for the researcher this by the way is viewed as a benefit to the quality of the interview. The interviewers are handed a list of questions which they administer standardized and without biasing the respondent by varying syntax, intonation or any other linguistic features. If they experience doubt about how the question should be understood, they are instructed not to rephrase or explain the question, but to read it again from beginning to end. This also means that the interviewer may not use previously stated information during the interview. If for example the question how many people live in your household? is answered by just me and my wife, two (not an unthinkable answer), the interviewer still might have to ask: are you married, single, divorced or widowed?. This is done to increase reliability in the research namely that all respondents are given the same stimulus-question, and that all questions are set in a sort of conversational nihil, always starting from a zero. But it is also a feature that is strikingly opposed to everyday conversations which respondent are probably more used to; a conversationalist incapable of implying meaning or remembering an answer given 30 seconds ago is indeed a strange conversationalist.

2 Critical responses to the survey method. The survey method s way of interviewing has been criticized for different reasons, both on theoretical ground that is because of the worldview it represents - and because of doubts in the results it produces. One example is the criticism posed from a conversational analysis reading of what really goes on during a survey interview. I have Hanneke Houtkoop-Stenstra s book Interaction and the Standardized Survey Interview (Cambridge 2000) to thank for pointing to these readings. The survey method is generally speaking criticized for not doing what it claims to do. One reason for this I guess might be the tradition of researchers not conducting their own interviews; they can therefore live in blissful ignorance of how their data is really gathered. For one thing: The method claims to ask the same question to all respondents, and to do this to increase reliability in the survey. In actual fact this is more problematic than it might seem. If the same question is read to all respondents it is more than likely that some will understand it different from others - if the question is just slightly more abstract than for example what year were you born? anyway. Example 1: Interv.: det havde været bedst hvis alle i verden havde engelsk som modersmål # vil du ikke s[/] sige et eller andet om den. it would be better if everybody in the world had English as their native language # wouldn t you s[/] say something about that one. Inform..: jamen det er fordi at jeg synes engelsk er et godt sprog # og jeg synes øh # bedre end tysk i hvert fald og også lidt lettere at lære. well that s because I think English is a good language # and I think eh # better than German anyway and also a bit easier to learn. To us the question in example 1 is probably about one world language vs. many local languages, about linguistic diversity. However many informants understand it differently. This woman answered agree somewhat when I first asked the question, but in my interpretation she really answered another question than the one I thought I asked: Either she understands the term native language (modersmål) to mean what I would call second language or common language and/or she understands the question to be about which world language or which common language to adopt. Furthermore this (mis)interpretation is not random but seems to correlate with lifestyle/social class. In other words, a strict insisting that all respondents should be presented with the same wording can pose a problem for the reliability of the survey(!) If we realize that different groups of people understand the questions differently, then in some sense it is impossible to claim that they are all given the same stimulus if what we wish to investigate is attitudes and not understanding of given words and sentences. The survey methods view that the same read aloud question equals the same given stimulus is what I have for the sake of argument called a Sausurrean language-parcel model. (I don t know the English term for the model but I think we all remember Sausurre s drawing of a message being encoded by the sender, transmitted, and decoded by the receiver. I don t think anyone would accept this as a good model of how language works, but, I claim, this is the kind of model we accept when we do attitude interviews.) Another criticism raised from a CA perspective: It is not a simple matter neglect all we know about everyday conversations and become question-answer-machines; and like with the understanding of questions there may be a certain correlation between life style (or social class) and the ability to accept strange conversational rules.

3 Example 2: Interv.: okay ## øh # jeg læser nogle påstande op # og så vil jeg gerne vide hvor enig eller uenig du er i dem ## der bruges alt for mange engelske ord i dag ## og så har jeg som du kan se en # skala der hedder helt enig overvejende enig # hverken enig eller uenig. okay ## eh # I read some statements aloud # and then I d like to know how strongly you agree or disagree with them ## far too many English words are being used today ## and then I have as you can see a # scale called agree completely agree somewhat # neither agree nor disagree. com: 3 sec pause. Inform.: bruger mange engelske ord i dag. use many English words today. Interv.: der bruges alt for mange engelske ord i dag. far too many English words are being used today. com: 2 sec pause. Inform.: i[/] det[/] det[/] nej # d[/] jamen det øh det kan godt være men det synes jeg egentlig ikke # det synes jeg ikke # <altså>[>] det er ikke noget jeg går og tænker over. I[/] tha[/] tha[/] no # tha[/] well that eh might be so but I don t really think so # I don t think so # <you know>[>] it s not something I think about. Interv.: <nej>[<]. <no>[<]. Interv: nej # jamen det[/] og det er din mening jeg gerne <vil have>[>]. no # well it[/] and it s your opinion I d like <to have>[>]. Inform.: <ja>[<] # nej men det [/] det synes jeg ikke der gør ## <nej>+/. <yes>[<] # no but that [/] I don t think there is ## <nej>[>]+/. Interv.: <je[/]>[<] # jeg har en der hedder overvejende uenig og en der hedder helt uenig # hvad for en af dem vil du helst have. <I[/]>[<] # I ve got one called disagree somewhat and one called disagree strongly # which one of those would you prefer. com: 2 sec pause. Inform.: <haha>[>]. Interv.: <de er>[<] begge to sådan i den uenige # <ende>[>]. <they re>[<] both you know in the disagreeing <end>[>]. Inform.: <jamen>[<] overvejende uenig # jamen det skal nok være den der ## hvad var det du sagde # overvejende uenig ja # ja hverken enig ## helt uenig ## den er svær fordi man går ikke og tænker på det vel. <well>[<] disagree somewhat # well it should probably be that one ## what was it you said # disagree somewhat yes # yes neither agree ## agree strongly ## it s tricky because one doesn t really think about it does one. Interv.: nej. no. com: 5 sec pause. Inform.: haha ## hvad e[/] ## overvejende uenig # jamen det vil jeg nok sige fordi # det kan godt være de bliver brugt # uden jeg tænker på det + haha ## what e[/] ## agree somewhat # well I d probably say so because # it might be they re being used # without me thinking about it + The answer in example 2 is really quite reasonable from a conversational perspective, but it does not fit the format of an attitude questionnaire. I believe it is a threat to the investigation if the interviewer does not put on the role of conversationalist in situations like this. If one wishes to obtain honest, open answers to the questions it is necessary to create and maintain a friendly and open atmosphere (one can see formulations to the same effect in interview manuals), and it is important that the interview situation does not in itself become salient. But if an interviewer keeps acting like a completely incompetent conversationalist and keeps asking questions he already knows the answer to or to which he could easily imply the answer, there is a serious threat that the situation will become salient. This would again be a problem both to reliability and validity of the survey. In the most extreme cases it might even result in the interview collapsing or the respondent leaving the room.

4 Participant observation This lead me to seeing how other traditions have tried to overcome the observer s paradox. In this case the practice or method of participant observation. Participant observation is a method (or a complex or methods) with a tradition in anthropology, ethnography and the like. Traditionally the researcher went out on a journey to live among the savages, whom he then spend years of his life studying and who s society and culture he gradually got accepted into. When he believed he knew sufficiently about the culture from an insider s view, he wrote his paper about how the savages understand and interact with and in their world. At least within the last 50 years the savages have become less exotic and remote people. The method has increasingly been used to investigate more or less marginalized (sub-)cultures in so called civilized societies: Street gangs, waitresses, religious groups No matter what type of culture the researcher investigates the quest is for the researcher to become submerged in the culture, to be able to understand it from an insider s perspective. This is done through a variety of different methods; observation of members of the culture while they do what ever it is they do, participating oneself in these doings. Also interviewing, and placing oneself as a pupil for insider-experts to teach the insights of the culture. In all of these methods it is an ideal that the researcher should begin his investigation with the perspective: I want to see the world as you see it, I want you to teach me (to quote James Spradley). The participant observation s answer to the observer s paradox can thus be seen as an attempt to investigate the culture members in their everyday life and/or their own environment. The observer does not attempt to minimize his influence by acting formalized, but by acting as any other member of the culture would act that is to become a part of the environment. On the handout (the last page) I ve sketched some keywords I think it would be reasonable to attach to the two different ways of conducting interviews. Why participant observation? As I stated in the introduction I m not sure if I introduce the view of participant observation on my interview data because I believe interviewing really is a kind of participant observation (the CAcriticism that interviews resemble everyday conversations might suggest this), or if I only do it because I believe the view can be productive. No matter what, I m sure it can be productive. However; I must point to a few obvious differences between a real participant observation and what I do in an interview: First, a full scale participant observation takes years, my interviews last an hour if one can view a life style as (in anthropological sense) a culture, one could claim I do a 12 hour participant observation. Second, I bring a questionnaire to the interview; I might be interested in the informants life world (or their insider s language use), but I introduce a lot of the discursive material myself. Third, Participant observation is particularly interested in people s actions, how they give meaning to their world through interacting with it; Interviews are all about talk. When I still believe it is a productive view it is because I make a couple of assumptions: 1) I think it is worthwhile to view each of our life styles as (in anthropological sense) cultures and therefore they could or should - be investigated with a cultural/anthropological perspective. 2) I think that important features of different cultures in modern society, are their different use of a shared language. Language here meaning a complex texture of meaning rather than say phonetic features or the like. These two added together gives my credo; I believe it can be productive to view a lifestyle as a cultural group with it s own, internally consistent language use. A language use I can investigate, but which is also fundamentally different from my own(!).

5 Consequences for interviewing The consequence for the interview is that we no longer can view the interviewer as an expert who comes to the field with a definite set of opinions, which the respondent can agree or disagree with. Instead he must enter the field as a naïve, ignorant, and curious outsider-observer seeking knowledge of others life world and gradually gaining an insider-understanding. During the interview it is his task to listen, to interpret and to understand, not the answers to his own predefined questions, but to the questions that the informant raises and how he answers and reflect on these. In practice this means a lot of quiet listening, but also a lot of questioning and quite a bit of biased questioning, like do you mean that, to show what he knows about the informant s understanding and thereby also what he doesn t know and what he has misunderstood. A few rules: - Listen carefully for back-channel signals about lacking (or wrong) understandings a pause can be an important cue. - Use the questionnaire as an artifact and see how different people act differently with it instead of forcing them to a particular understanding. o Distance yourself from the questionnaire ( those are not my questions to you, I understand you, they don t ). - In participant observation one has a continuum ranging from pure observer to pure participant. Something analogous can be seen in the interview: A continuum ranging from registering (the informants answers) to active participation in the dialogue. It seems beneficial to slide back and forth on this continuum. Too much participation and you interview yourself, or you identify yourself so much with the informant s culture that you forget to ask the obvious and sometimes critical questions. Too much registration and you will remain the outsider and not be accepted as someone who wants to understand the culture. - Finally, to start interpreting the data with the informant during the interview. Ideally the interviewer/analyst s task is to report the informant s insider knowledge to an outsider audience. Any hypotheses he might have about the informant s knowledge should ideally be checked against the informant s own understanding. Not necessarily to verify the interpretation, but to gain further data and insight. Consequences for analyzing The most important consequence of a participant observer perspective during the analysis, has to be that one should maintain an understanding of the life styles as cultures. Which leaves us with two demands: 1) their worldview (or in this project their language attitudes) are internally consistent, even though at first sight they might seem otherwise. Which implies 2) their view on the world is most likely one that is strange to me. The analyst s task is to gain enough insight in the culture to explain how the informant s worldview is constructed, not to see how it fits into his own preconceived ideas of what goes with what. In practice there is probably an element of verfremdung going on here, since probably at least some of the life style-cultures collide with the analyst s own. Another, more subtle and also more idealized consequence is that the analyst, like the participant observer has to use himself as a research tool. This goes both for the interview and for the analysis: The goal for the analysis is to interpret and to report how other people understand their world, this naturally leaves a lot of room for subjectivity on the part of the analyst. On the other hand his understanding of the foreign culture is achieved through a dialogue with the informant and later in the analysis, through a dialogue with the informant s recorded statements. A more exact term would therefore be inter-subjective (a word you will also find on the hand out). The analyst is both freer to interpret his data and in a sense constrained by constant dialogue with his data. A comparison with literary analysis is probably not farfetched.

6 Conclusion Which leads me to my final remarks; if there is at all any meaning to what I ve said here it has some fundamental consequences for the way we do attitude research. If interviewing can (or maybe should) be seen as a kind of short-term participant observation, than we have to adopt new strategies for measuring the quality of the research we do and therefore also new strategies to improved on the quality. Most importantly of course if we reject the possibility of conducting a standardized attitude interview and if we also reject the possibility of ignoring the interviewer s active participation in the interview, it becomes impossible to maintain the view that what we investigate is the respondent s true attitudes. We will have to face the problem that the interviewer/analyst does influence the result of the research project. And we will have to find ways to describe this influence and to deal with it. We will I think have to reject any notion of objectivity and perhaps accept the slightly metaphysical notion of inter-subjectivity - and we will have to try to come to terms with whatever that means for the scientific investigation of attitudes.

7 Some key-words Survey interviews: The interviewer should always ask the same questions in the same way, and must adopt total neutrality. - Objective reality. Reality is out there, we just have to find it. - Description. - Respondents. - Standardized but unnatural situation e.g. an experiment. - Is used when one knows the field but is interested in frequencies. - Is used to investigate e.g. experiences, opinions, attitudes. - Investigates differences within (one s own) society. - Knowledge is cognition. - Our terms (e.g. in questionnaires). - Answers, language, opinions, attitudes (focused on content/text) - Large samples. - Presumed high reliability, perhaps at the cost of validity. The survey method really has not much interest in the interview. The interviewer is just present as a speaking questionnaire. Participant observation: The interviewer attempts to understand the world as his informant understands it. - Inter-subjective reality Reality is the reality we create between us in the here and now. - Understanding (verstehen). - Informants. - Non-standardized but natural situation e.g. conversation. - Is used when one does not know the field. - Is used to investigate other people s way of making sense of their world. - Investigate foreign (originally geographical, now socially) cultures. - Knowledge is practice. - Their terms. - The person behind the answers (focused on author/cultural member). - Small samples or unique cases. - Presumed low reliability but high validity.

8 Example 1: Interv.: det havde været bedst hvis alle i verden havde engelsk som modersmål # vil du ikke s[/] sige et eller andet om den. it would be better if everybody in the world had English as their native language # wouldn t you s[/] say something about that one. Inform..: jamen det er fordi at jeg synes engelsk er et godt sprog # og jeg synes øh # bedre end tysk i hvert fald og også lidt lettere at lære. well that s because I think English is a good language # and I think eh # better than German anyway and also a bit easier to learn. Example 2: Interv.: okay ## øh # jeg læser nogle påstande op # og så vil jeg gerne vide hvor enig eller uenig du er i dem ## der bruges alt for mange engelske ord i dag ## og så har jeg som du kan se en # skala der hedder helt enig overvejende enig # hverken enig eller uenig. okay ## eh # I read some statements aloud # and then I d like to know how strongly you agree or disagree with them ## far too many English words are being used today ## and then I have as you can see a # scale called agree completely agree somewhat # neither agree nor disagree. com: 3 sec pause. Inform.: bruger mange engelske ord i dag. use many English words today. Interv.: der bruges alt for mange engelske ord i dag. far too many English words are being used today. com: 2 sec pause. Inform.: i[/] det[/] det[/] nej # d[/] jamen det øh det kan godt være men det synes jeg egentlig ikke # det synes jeg ikke # <altså>[>] det er ikke noget jeg går og tænker over. I[/] tha[/] tha[/] no # tha[/] well that eh might be so but I don t really think so # I don t think so # <you know>[>] it s not something I think about. Interv.: <nej>[<]. <no>[<]. Interv: nej # jamen det[/] og det er din mening jeg gerne <vil have>[>]. no # well it[/] and it s your opinion I d like <to have>[>]. Inform.: <ja>[<] # nej men det [/] det synes jeg ikke der gør ## <nej>+/. <yes>[<] # no but that [/] I don t think there is ## <nej>[>]+/. Interv.: <je[/]>[<] # jeg har en der hedder overvejende uenig og en der hedder helt uenig # hvad for en af dem vil du helst have. <I[/]>[<] # I ve got one called disagree somewhat and one called disagree strongly # which one of those would you prefer. com: 2 sec pause. Inform.: <haha>[>]. Interv.: <de er>[<] begge to sådan i den uenige # <ende>[>]. <they re>[<] both you know in the disagreeing <end>[>]. Inform.: <jamen>[<] overvejende uenig # jamen det skal nok være den der ## hvad var det du sagde # overvejende uenig ja # ja hverken enig ## helt uenig ## den er svær fordi man går ikke og tænker på det vel. <well>[<] disagree somewhat # well it should probably be that one ## what was it you said # disagree somewhat yes # yes neither agree ## agree strongly ## it s tricky because one doesn t really think about it does one. Interv.: nej. no. com: 5 sec pause. Inform.: haha ## hvad e[/] ## overvejende uenig # jamen det vil jeg nok sige fordi # det kan godt være de bliver brugt # uden jeg tænker på det + haha ## what e[/] ## agree somewhat # well I d probably say so because # it might be they re being used # without me thinking about it + [continued] # = short pause, ## = longer pause, <abc>[>] or <abc>[<] = overlapping speech, [/] = self interruption, +/. = interruption by other.

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