Interviews hold a prominent place among the various research methods in the social and behavioral sciences. This book presents a powerful critique of current views and techniques, and proposes a new approach to interviewing. At the heart of Elliot Mishler’s argument is the notion that an interview is a type of discourse, a speech event: it is a joint product, shaped and organized by asking and answering questions.
This view may seem self-evident, yet it does not guide most interview research. In the mainstream tradition, the discourse is suppressed. Questions and answers are regarded as analogues to stimuli and responses rather than as forms of speech; questions and the interviewer’s behavior are standardized so that all respondents will receive the same “stimulus”; respondents’ social and personal contexts of meaning are ignored. While many researchers now recognize that context must be taken into account, the question of how to do so effectively has not been resolved. This important book illustrates how to implement practical alternatives to standard interviewing methods.
Drawing on current work in sociolinguistics as well as on his own extensive experience conducting interviews, Mishler shows how interviews can be analyzed and interpreted as narrative accounts. He places interviewing in a sociocultural context and examines the effects on respondents of different types of interviewing practice. The respondents themselves, he believes, should be granted a more extensive role as participants and collaborators in the research process.
The book is an elegant work of synthesis—clearly and persuasively written, and supported by concrete examples of both standard interviewing and alternative methods. It will be of interest to both scholars and clinicians in all the various fields for which the interview is an essential tool.