Accepted Paper:

Learning From Three Interview Contexts Over Thirty Years   


Gracia Clark (Indiana University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper contextualizes the distinctive format and circumstances of three sets of interviews spaced across thirty years with women traders in a West African city. As the relationships between participants and their respective positioning in the political economy changed over time, each set created a specific kind of knowledge.

Paper long abstract:

The growing acknowledgement of the relational construction of all knowledge calls for deep contextualization of that relational process through the qualitative, interactional methods that mark ethnography for better or worse. Careful unflinching attention to contextual dynamics in interviews generates more information through rapport and better knowledge through more accurate interpretation. The performative side of interviews challenges researchers to interrogate the kind of performance each interview represents, by assessing the characters of the participants (who we are and who they are), their motivations and their roles in the larger plot and subplots that include characters currently offstage. Negotiations over the timing, setting and procedures of interviews express authentic life agendas of both researchers and research subjects.

The three distinct sets of interviews compared here were conducted by the author over a period of thirty years with women traders in Kumasi, Ghana. Initial fieldwork in Kumasi Central Market from 1978-80, emphasized participant observation, but also interviews with all active commodity group leaders. In 1994-5, more formal sessions recorded life histories from older traders, who had experienced dramatic economic changes. The pseudo-genteel atmosphere at the researcher's home let them speak more expansively, with confidence in onsite transcription and translation. Recent video interviews moved to the verandahs of Kumasi Muslim women and men, contributing to a website countering stereotypes of Muslims as all Arab terrorists. This shared agenda let them express their personal concerns directly while addressing an imagined US audience already present and active in their everyday lives.

Panel P03
Interviews as situated practices: places, contexts, and experiences