Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2020

Page updated 29 April, 2020

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2020, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

4. In-depth interviews

4.1 Introduction to in-depth interviewing
4.2 Types of in-depth interview
4.3 Methodological approaches to in-depth interviews
4.4 Doing in-depth interviews

4.4.1 Constructing an interview guide
4.4.2 Setting up the interviews
4.4.3 Interviewing Rapport Exploitation The male paradigm Dialogic interviewing Limits of shared experience Power relations Empowering Objectivication of subject cannot be avoided Probing Foreign language complications Remote interviewing Telephone interviewing Asynchronous interviews Follow-up interviews Focus groups

4.4.4 Recording interview data

4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion

4.4 Doing in-depth interviews Male paradigm
The principal use of the in-depth interview is as a device used by researchers to get respondents talking in a way that reveals their interpretation or understanding of the world. The researcher or interviewer gradually probes and explores the respondent's meanings and collects the information. However, even if there is good rapport standard in-depth interviews are one-sided. The interviewer records answers with minimal comment while encouraging the informant with affirmative signs. The respondent provides the data and the interviewer records it without giving anything back. Ann Oakley (1981) referred to this one-way, essentially emotionless, exploitative approach to interviewing as the male paradigm.

This male paradigm is embodied in the taken-for-granted traditional view of the 'scientific method'. The male paradigm sees detachment, objectivity, hierarchy and 'science' as more important than people's personal concerns. Oakley argues that the 'male paradigm' owes much more to 'a masculine social and sociological vantage point than a feminine one'.

Oakley argued that at root, the male paradigm is characterised by its denial of the personal. Emotions and feelings are treated with scorn, subjectivity is derided. According to the traditional 'male' scientistic framework, personal aspects are not accepted as part of 'objective' knowledge.

However, feminists have argued that the personal must be seen as a serious area of research if the male stranglehold on knowledge is to be challenged (Stanley and Wise, 1983; Gamarnikow et al., 1983).

The 'male paradigm' is, thus, encapsulated in the paradox of the 'perfect interview', which is a data collection not a sharing interactive exercise. Oakley contended that the 'irreconcilable contradictions at the heart of the textbook paradigm' are exposed when matched against her own experiences. When carrying out research into women's experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, Oakley (1979) found that interviewees frequently asked her questions relating to their 'maternity'. She argued that to have remained detached and non-committal would have undermined the development of rapport. For her, rapport occurs when the interview is a real dialogue. Oakley also became 'involved' with her interviewees, helping with domestic tasks where appropriate and enjoying hospitality ranging from tea or coffee to a meal (Oakley 1979). Indeed, four years after the final interview used in her study, she was still in touch with a third of her sample and four had become close friends. In short, she moved from data collector to information sharer.

Oakley (1981, p. 41), thus, challenged the masculinity of the unidirectional interview and argued that effective interviewing occurs when the relationship of interviewer and interviewee is non-hierarchical and when the interviewer is prepared to invest his or her own personal identity in the relationship. (Reported in Tang 2002, p. 704)

In taking the personal more seriously, feminists, such as Oakley, maintain that the researcher must challenge the exploitative power relationships between researcher and researched. In an interview context, a two-way exchange of equals replaces the hierarchical relationship of interviewer and interviewee.

Oakley argued that, in essence, woman-to-woman interviews do not need to adopt the exploitative one-way data collection approach as women invest emotionally in the encounter as they have a shared experience of gender subordination.

Thus an alternative model of interviewing, proposed initially by feminists, is one in which a real dialogue takes place. Interviewers are expected to invest their personal identity in relationships with respondents. This technique, which involves interviewer and interviewee taking an equal share in the exchange of information, is called dialogic interviewing.


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