Accepted Paper:

talking culture: dealing with 'authentic rhetoric' in interviews   


Nick McCaffery (Queen's University Belfast)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing upon ethnographic research from Hopi and Northern Ireland, this paper seeks to explore the difficulties of dealing with apparently standard responses

Paper long abstract:

What happens when those being interviewed assume responsibility for the direction of the research? Drawing upon research within two politically sensitive societies (Hopi Indians and Northern Ireland) this paper explores the complexities of gathering 'authentic' data in interviews. At Hopi the presence of 'professional' informants, apparently well versed in the art of the ethnographic interview, reflected a method of assuming control over cultural representations. Moving beyond these essentialised representations was crucial to discovering the voice of 'ordinary' Hopis, who were clearly no less authentic, despite their protestations; even though it was this essentialised picture of Hopi culture that many Hopis wanted the world to see (as opposed to existing inauthentic representations based on stereotypes). Compare this situation with analysis of ongoing research in Northern Ireland amongst youth and young people. Here, the researcher found himself faced with a world of rhetoric based on peace and reconciliation. It was frustrating at times that those being interviewed were simply repeating social values that they thought the interviewer wanted to hear; even though by expressing these themes in an interview context they were reinforcing to themselves the virtues of peace and reconciliation.

How is the ethnographer best able to deal with these 'authenticated' responses in an interview context? Is it ethical to challenge the actions and words of participants who are generally only trying to help? Can the ethnographer move beyond the socially accepted versions of culture in politicised societies, and get to another more real set of perspectives?

Panel P06
The interview as imagined space: authentic data and the extraordinary occasion