Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Interviewing Experiences

In phenomenological human science the interview first of all serves the very specific purpose of exploring and gathering experiential narrative material, stories or anecdotes, that may serve as a resource for developing a richer and deeper understanding of a human phenomenon.

 

It is important to realize that the interview process needs to be disciplined by the fundamental question that prompted the need for the interview in the first place. Too often a beginning researcher enthusiastically goes about “interviewing subjects” using the so-called “unstructured or open-ended interview method” without first carefully considering what interest the interview is to serve. One needs to guard against the temptation to let method rule the question, rather than the research question determining what kind of method is most appropriate for its immanent direction. Sometimes it happens that a researcher is confused about his or her real interest or research question, and then the interview is somehow expected to bring about that clarity. Usually this is idle hope. Either one may end up with material that consists of lots of short (too short) responses to long-winded or leading questions by the researcher, or the researcher may gain an unmanageable quantity of tapes or transcripts.

 

Interview material that is skimpy and that lacks sufficient concreteness in the form of stories, anecdotes, examples of experiences, etc., may be quite useless, tempting the researcher to indulge in over-interpretations, speculations, or an over-reliance on personal opinions and personal experiences. In contrast, an over-abundance of poorly managed interviews may lead either to total despair and confusion (what do I do now? what method can I use for analyzing all these hundreds of transcript pages?), or to a chaotic quest for meaning (there’s so much here! what do I include? exclude?). The important lesson is that one does not want to get in this kind of predicament in the first place. Thus, before embarking on a busy interview schedule one needs to be oriented to one’s question or notion in such a strong manner that one does not get easily carried away with interviews that go everywhere and nowhere.