4.4 Doing in-depth interviews It is important that you undertake background research and identify some preliminary aims before undertaking in-depth interviews. Cotterill (1994), for example, begins her study of mother-in-laws with the observation that there is very little positive imagery regarding the mother-in-law/son-in-law relationship. It is usually assumed that if conflict occurs it will be between the husband and his mother-in-law and not between the wife and her mother-in-law. Amongst the wealth of sociological studies on ‘the’ family there is very little data on in-law relationships between women, and feminist literature has focused primarily on relationships of power between men and women. Thus, methodologically, Cotterill began her study by identifying the gaps in existing literature.
Successful interviews rely in part on the skill of the interviewers. They must ask questions that will elicit relevant data without imposing their own categories on their interviewees. JaneRibbens McCarthy et al. (2003, p. 787), for example, noted that in relation to their study on step-parenting
We have tried to set aside our own feelings about moral acceptability—in so far as we are able—in order to try to understand what people were saying to us on their own terms…. We certainly do not mean to imply that some people are more morally worthy than others.
Interviewers should know when to speak, when to listen and when to take a passive rather than an assertive role. An interviewer must also express interest in the other person in a non-judgemental way, regardless of what he or she is saying.
Even the most experienced interviewers rarely achieve the perfect interview. Interview skills can be developed through an understanding of the procedures involved and practice of the various techniques. The process of setting up and undertaking an in-depth interview is outlined along with a range of problems that may arise.