The subject(ivity) of the interview: performance and construction in anthropology and sociology 
Matthew Wood (Queen's University, Belfast)
Justyna Samolyk
Ciaran Burke (Queen's University Belfast)
Chaitali Das (Queens University Belfast)
Lecture Theatre LT5
Start time:
14 April, 2010 at 9:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

The interview represents a technique through which interviewer & interviewee are performatively constructed as subjects & subjectivities, as beings with certain emotions, cognitions and senses of self. The manner of this construction, and the need to recognise it as such, is the topic of this panel.

Long Abstract

The interview is now the most utilised research method in the social sciences - epitomised by its application in social anthropology, a discipline traditionally centred upon participant observation. This represents a rationalisation of research methodology, since the interview produces large amounts of qualitative data through the isolation of selected people involved in the area of social life under study. Consequently, the interview individualises such people, treating them as case studies through which to examine that area by constructing and reconstructing them as subjects who have things to say about their experiences in it. This construction may proceed through interviewees relating their biographies, their opinions, or their involvement in specific incidents. Furthermore, it occurs through the construction of their subjectivity: an interview builds up a picture of a thinking, emoting and self-aware individual. In short (and building upon the work of Bourdieu, Butler, Foucault and Gubrium/Holstein), the interview is a performative technique for subjectivisation and should itself be critically examined as part of the research process.

A key issue for social anthropology, then, is the relationship between the interview and participant observation. This also raises issues regarding the relationship between that discipline and sociology, and therefore about the possibilities for meaningful inter-disciplinary research. Other issues raised may include the following: the concurrent construction of the interviewer as subject(ivity); the relationship between different subject(ivity)-constructions that lie as potentials within an interview; and variations in subject(ivity)-construction in relation to different categories of interviewees (such as by class, gender, race, ethnicity, age and sexuality).

Accepted papers: