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Emotions as Data

Feelings are a valuable type of data. They give the researcher a sense of the significance of relationships or events. Also, the respondent's likes and dislikes, and every type of emotion—frustration, sadness, joy, hurt, fear, excitement, anger, and so on—provide insight into his or her identity, values and motives. Responses that lack emotional content, perhaps because they are overly general, may be informative in some ways, but they contribute less to understanding the respondent as a person.

The Public Voice versus the Inner Voice

Some lines of questioning encourage respondents to speak with a "public" voice rather than a more personal "inner" voice. The "public" voice tends to tell the "official" story. The public voice speaks in intellectual tones and guards against revealing sensitive information. It hesitates to discuss the particularities of a story. It tries to convey a singular impression free of contradictory information.

The "inner" voice speaks of the respondent's everyday feelings and experience. Some respondents may be wary of speaking with the "inner" voice because they feel their stories are too mundane. They must be encouraged to reveal the ordinary details of their lives. Their most trivial-seeming story may convey significant kernels of a wider truth about how they organize their lives and create a meaning system in the face of broader social forces.

The "Inner" Voice

Interviewer: Your uncle got a divorce. How did the family react to the divorce?

Patrick: It really did not upset many people. It was really not his fault. My aunt left him. This was back in 1984. She was having an affair with a man who worked for my uncle. She ended up getting pregnant and having two kids with the guy after they were separated. He (his uncle) was a wild guy, so I'm not going to put all the blame on my aunt but I have respect for him. My uncle is such a funny guy, always joking, but you can tell he was hurting inside. But he got married again at the age of 49 (in 1989). The wedding came as a surprise to everyone. I respect him. He never hurt anyone.

Italian Interview #11


In this short excerpt, we learn something about Patrick's attitudes towards divorce. Just as importantly, his feelings of sympathy and respect toward his uncle tell us about his own identitifications, which help explain these attitudes. Twice Patrick expresses feelings of "respect" for his uncle. His admiration for his uncle's joking, and compassion for how the divorce left him "hurting inside" shows how strongly Patrick identifies with this "wild guy" and "funny guy" who "never hurt anyone."

The "Public" Voice

Interviewer: How do you feel about divorce? Under what circumstances is it acceptable? Do you know any people who are divorced?

Marco: I feel that divorce is good and bad. If there are children involved, divorce is bad. If there are no children involved and the two do not get along, I must admit, I think divorce is a very good thing. The children are the ones who suffer the most because of divorce. Nobody really got a divorce in my days. In our days divorces did not take place. If a man drank too much or if he did not like to work, a woman had to stay with him like a sheep. Here it is different.

Interviewer: Do you know anyone who has had a divorce?

Marco: Oh yes, I could list you hundreds.

Interviewer: Really, even among people of your generation?

Marco: Oh yes. They got a divorce after they came here. They get used to Canadian ways, so they do it.

Italian Interview #1


The interviewer phrases the first question in a way that elicits a public voice. Accordingly, Marco states his view that divorce in general is "a very good thing," except where children are concerned. We learn from him that divorce is more common among immigrants in Canada than it was in Italy, and that it is related to women's increased freedoms. We do not learn about Marco's own feelings about divorce in a particular case. Therefore, we learn little about Marco himself that might help us understand why he holds his "official" views.

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