Reflexivity »

A Process of Reflection

Qualitative interviewing involves a continuous process of reflection on the research. Reflexivity is the process of examining both oneself as researcher, and the research relationship. Self-searching involves examining one's "conceptual baggage," one's assumptions and preconceptions, and how these affect research decisions, particularly, the selection and wording of questions. Reflecting on the research relationship involves examining one's relationship to the respondent, and how the relationship dynamics affect responses to questions

Assumptions about the Nature of "Truth"

Qualitative interviewers primarily seek to understand meaning, but they do not assume that meanings are fixed and stable. They have no expectation that the "truth" is simply "out there" waiting to be discovered by asking the right questions. They do not assume that their questions are "objective," nor do they assume that respondents' answers have straightforward, definitive meanings that mirror a singular "reality." Rather, they hold that all meanings are interactively and culturally constructed. Individual social actors are variously located within social settings structured by gender, class, race, age and other ascriptive characteristics. Social actors' multiple, shifting social locations shape the construction of meaning within any particular context.

Why be Reflexive?

Qualitative interviewers are interested in how meanings are produced and reproduced within particular social, cultural and relational contexts. They recognize the interview itself as one such context of interactive meaning-making. Therefore, interpreting qualitative data requires reflection on the entire research context. Reflexivity involves making the research process itself a focus of inquiry, laying open pre-conceptions and becoming aware of situational dynamics in which the interviewer and respondent are jointly involved in knowledge production.

Emergent Findings

Findings do not emerge only at the last stage of the research, but there is a deepening of insight throughout the research process. Emergent findings from intermediate stages inform subsequent interviews and analyses. Reflexive practices provide opportunity for revising questions and even re-framing the research topic as the project unfolds.

Ongoing Analysis

Often researchers undertake "pilot" interviews to help identify the areas of greatest conceptual complexity. In early interviews some questions do not seem to "work." The researcher will become aware that questions were rebuffed because concepts were not understood or were seen to be inappropriate. Ongoing analysis also entails examining the dynamics of the interview. What was not said can be as revealing as what was said. As the researcher comes to identify his or her assumptions and preconceptions, questions are revised for the next round of interviewing.

Weaknesses as Opportunities

Even when it is not feasible to conduct another set of interviews, interviews with serious gaps in communication or mis-understandings between interviewer and respondent still provide important opportunities for learning. When questions fall flat, inappropriate assumptions are brought to light. When researcher and respondent have difficulty getting along, researchers with humility and a strong spirit of inquiry will explore the reasons for the failure. Why was there not a seamless co-construction of meaning? Where did differences arise? What was the basis of the conflict?

«Conventions for Transcribing Interviews Conceptual Baggage»