Accepted Paper:

On the record. Ethics, control and vulnerability in the interview process.  


Kristine Harris

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that control and vulnerability are important, though frequently unacknowledged, factors in interview interactions. Perhaps, in order to appreciate the interviewee's sense of vulnerability we, as researchers, must first be willing to experience our own vulnerability.

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores issues of ethics, control and vulnerability in the interview process. The paper draws on my PhD research conducted with frontline health workers in an Indian NGO. The research combined participant observation and in-depth interviews. As the interviews were conducted midway through the research they naturally drew on pre-established relationships between researcher and interviewee. These relationships were introduced into an interview situation governed by distinct power relations and a novel ethical context. The formal nature of the interview, and particularly the presence of a recording device, changed the nature of my interaction with the health workers and raises question about what constitutes 'research' and how interviews fit into a larger research and ethical context.

These are uncertain times in leprosy work and the health workers I worked with faced redundancies and organisational restructuring. The existence of a tangible recording made them feel vulnerable and they worried what would happen if the recording was to fall into the 'wrong' hands. In interviews we ask the interviewee to entrust something of themselves to us, as researchers. This exposure, and potential sense of vulnerability, is an important, though rarely recognised factor in interview interactions.

Anthropology recognises that information is the product of a relational process. In interviews we utilise a variety of techniques aimed at establishing rapport, eliciting responses and accessing information.

These techniques, our responses and our participation in the interview makes us part of the knowledge created. As researchers we cannot always control the research process but we tend to retain the tangible data produced (notebooks, recording) which can play a role in maintaining a sense of insulation from, and control over, the research process. It was not until I relinquished control over 'my' interview recordings that I truly came to appreciate the health workers sense of vulnerability.

Panel P15
Roundtable - Situating the interview