Accepted Paper:

Instances of inspiration: interviewing dancers and writers  


Helena Wulff (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

Paper long abstract:

As society changes, so does anthropology. To capture contemporary issues, new research techniques are required in addition to traditional participant observation. Interviews are not a new technique, but with increasing diversity in social life as well as new recording devices and computer programs for categorizing interview data, interviewing has developed into an increasingly sophisticated and multifaceted research technique. There are not only formal versus informal interviews with an open-ended and in-depth approach, but also social network mapping, time budgets, life stories etc.

Having done interviews in six anthropological studies, I know that occasionally the rapport between interviewer and interviewee never occurs. But for this paper I am not interested in the failed interview. Here my aim is to consider the successful encounter, especially in my studies on artists: dancers and writers. How do instances of inspiration occur between us? Why is it that some dancers and writers have inspired my theoretical thinking more than others, while I seem to have opened new ideas about their own work for them through the interview? Interviewing a primadonna ballerina in Stockholm I did not get anywhere until I told her about the stage fright university lecturers with large classes can have: then she opened up and started confiding in me about her experiences of vulnerability on stage. There was also the Irish woman writer who had warned me on e-mail before we met that she was “very reserved” and that she was not sure I would benefit from talking to her. It did not take long before she took over the interview, asking intriguing questions about me and my work. (Afterwards I realized that this might mean that I will find myself fictionalized in one of her novels.) In my paper, I will also compare the impact on the ethnographic knowledge production of, on one hand, dancers´ bodily training (rather than verbal skill) with, on the other hand, writers´ eloquence, not only in writing words but also in speaking about their writing and profession. Interestingly, both dancers and writers are used to being interviewed by journalists, and especially the famous ones acquire a polished attitude to interviewers that the anthropologist has to break through in her search of backstage life. I will also discuss how an oral conversation makes it into text, first in the form of fieldnotes and later into academic text.

Panel Plen4
Imagination, inspiration and the interview