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What is problem-centred interviewing?

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  1. What is problem-centred interviewing? 6th ESRC Research Methods Festival St Catherine’s College, Oxford, 9 July 2014 Herwig Reiter German Youth Institute, DJI Department of Social Monitoring and Methodology reiter@dji.de

  2. The problem-centred interview (PCI)1982 2012

  3. Outline • Background & origin of the problem-centred interview (PCI) • Programmatic guiding questions • Epistemological point of departure • Relevance and status of prior knowledge • Concept of respondent, researcher & interview relationship • Doing PCIs (selected aspects) • Interview guide • Communication strategies (general and specific exploration) • Working definition of the PCI: qualitative, discursive-dialogic interview technique of collecting and reconstructing knowledge about relevant problems in the perspective of interview partners

  4. Background and origin of the PCI • Developed by Andreas Witzel (1982, 1989) at the University of Bremen in the context of the German methods discourse of the 1970s and 1980s • Research project about occupational socialization of young people • Originally, PCI as comprehensive integration of biographical research, case analysis and theoretical sampling, and group discussions • Starting point: status paradox of qualitative interviewing - gradually recognised but underdeveloped • PCI as response to a critique of … • … the hegemonic quantitative paradigm (structured ‘neutral’ interview) => fallacy of non-reactivity • … and radical qualitative alternatives (e.g. narrative interview, Schütze 1977, 1983) => fallacy of non-intervention • Symbolic interactionism (Blumer 1969) - qualitative interview as process of meaning production in interaction => dialogic consolidation of pre-interpretations • Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel 1967) – contextuality and indexicality of articulations => gradual interpretation of documentary evidences

  5. Programmatic guiding questions 1) What can we, as interpretive researchers, know about the social world? 2) How can we design our practices of social scientific knowledge collection and production accordingly without … • … neglecting available social scientific knowledge as prior knowledge (deductive aspect), • … inhibiting subjective perspectives (inductive aspect), or • … corrupting the chance to discover novel aspects of certain problems (abductive aspect)? • 1) Epistemological point of departure • 2a) Relevance and status of prior knowledge • 2b) Concept of respondent, researcher & interview relationship • 2c) Doing PCIs – selected aspects

  6. 1) Epistemological point of departure Fußzeile (Editieren unter Ansicht/Master/Folienmaster möglich)

  7. Understanding others

  8. Social research as re-construction of knowledge “(The social world) has a particular meaning and relevance structure for the human beings living, thinking, and acting therein. They have preselected and preinterpreted this world by a series of common-sense constructs of the reality of daily life (…). The thought objects constructed by the social scientists refer to and are founded upon the thought objects constructed by the common-sense thought of man living his everyday life among his fellowmen. Thus, the constructs used by the social scientist are, so to speak, constructs of the second degree, namely constructs of the constructs made by the actors on the social scene whose behavior the scientist observes and tries to explain in accordance with the procedural rules of his science” (Alfred Schuetz 1953: 3; emphases added).

  9. 2a) Relevance and status of prior knowledge Fußzeile (Editieren unter Ansicht/Master/Folienmaster möglich)

  10. Relevance of prior knowledge in research

  11. Relevance of prior knowledge Sociological starting point: embeddedness of knowledge - in analogy to the embeddedness of individual lives in social realities and structures “We have to accept the fundamental restriction that every observation only takes on meaning in respect of one’s own meaning schemata, and so prior knowledge inevitably gives structure to our observations and must therefore be seen as the foundation of all research.” (Meinefeld, 2004: 156) Prior knowledge ... ... as research capital and fundamental epistemological a priori of social research ... determines research interest, questions, process, results => all research is ‘biased’ ... cannot & should not be suspended (early misunderstanding of Grounded Theory) ... allows to assess and understand empirical observation by referring to available, yet changeable knowledge ... allows to identify interconnectedness of meanings ... as starting point of a hermeneutic process and revision of available knowledge

  12. Status of prior knowledge Consolidation and explication of prior knowledge • What do we already know about the problem (previous research, everyday experience)? • What are key dimensions, concepts, theories of the problem? • What do we want to know in addition to all this? => Reflection of relevant everyday, contextual, and research prior knowledge Using prior knowledge as sensitizing knowledge • Empirically not contentful knowledge (Kelle 2005) serving as heuristic starting point in the sense of ‘sensitizing concepts’ (Blumer 1954) • Concretisation only in confronting them with the empirical field of research => openness of qualitative research • Research process as stepwise specification of at first fuzzy concepts/preconceptions • Not in competition with, or superior to practical knowledge of respondents Working with sensitizing frameworks • Preliminary conceptual and analytic frame of reference; tentative hypotheses about contours (not contents) of the phenomenon • Relevant on all levels of research from design to analysis and interpretation

  13. Prior knowledge as sensitizing knowledge(Witzel/Reiter 2012: 46)

  14. 2b) Concept of respondent, researcher & interview relationship Fußzeile (Editieren unter Ansicht/Master/Folienmaster möglich)

  15. Concept of respondent, researcher, interview relationship Concept of respondent • Comprehensivelycompetent and self-reflective research partner who is taken seriously • Interpretation is not privilege of researchers Concept of researcher • Well-informed traveller – well-prepared expert and learning interview participant collecting and co-constructing knowledge • Interview participation in an attitude of ‘relaxed attentiveness’ and impartial expertise • Active listening – stimulating thoughts and narrations • Active understanding – clarification of meaning and interpretation during the interview • Ideal: researcher/interviewer – importance of interviewer training, peer research Concept of interview relationship • Prior knowledge and practical knowledge enter into a corrective relationship => moment of control of respondent over interviewer’s interpretations • Interview as chance for interactive interpretation and revision of some of the researcher’s pre-interpretations (developed in the course of the interview) => PCI as discursive-dialogic reconstruction and validation of knowledge about a ‘problem’

  16. The epistemological challenge of the PCI(Witzel/Reiter 2012: 18)

  17. PCI principles • Principle of problem centring • ‘Problems’ as Problemstellung,problématique • Investigation of a societal problem with immediate practical relevance for interview partner (finding a job, threat of unemployment etc.) • “The research question has to correspond to an everyday problem in the perspective of practical knowledge that the respondent can articulate and also has an interest in dealing with.” • Opposition to naïve empiricism => disclosure of researcher’s prior knowledge • Orientation of all research and communication strategies towards the research problem in the perspective of the interview partner • ‘Centring’ as joint establishment of a focus of the reconstruction of meaning of all crucial aspects of the problem • Principle of process orientation • Stepwise consolidation of knowledge along the suggestions of the respondent (in interview & research process) • Principle of object orientation • Methodical flexibility according to topic, research question and interview partners

  18. 2c) Doing PCIs – selected aspects Fußzeile (Editieren unter Ansicht/Master/Folienmaster möglich)

  19. Interview guide • Bridging research interest, prior knowledge and the field/interview interaction • Reservoir of topics and memory aid => topical guide • Focussing the conversation on relevant dimensions => problem centring • Comparability of accounts regarding topics • Danger of reproducing the standard question-answer-scheme – ‘interview guide bureaucracy’ and ‚pseudo-exploration‘ (Hopf 2004) • Topics instead of pre-formulated questions (except: delicate questions) • Priority of relevance and order of topics suggested by respondents • Suggestion of the direction of questions combined with spontaneous formulation in everyday language

  20. PCI communication strategies PCI as dialogue between the knowledge of the researcher and the knowledge of the respondent => dialogue between prior knowledge (incl. concepts/theories/state of the art) and everyday experience and practical knowledge Communication strategies during the interview aimed at: • General exploration: generating extensive (narrative) accounts (producing ‘material’) • Specific exploration: generating comprehension (producing, revising and consolidating interpretation)

  21. PCI communication strategies to generate ‘material’ (narrations, descriptions, argumentation)

  22. PCI communication strategies to generate comprehension (dialogue, revision of pre-interpretations)

  23. Flowchart of PCI-interactions

  24. Flowchart of the PCI (Witzel/Reiter 2012: 36)

  25. References Blumer, H. (1954) ‘What is wrong with social theory?’, American Sociological Review, 14: 3–10. Blumer, H. (1969) Symbolic Interactionism. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. Garfinkel, H. (1967/2011) Studies in Ethnomethodology. Cambridge: Polity Press. Hopf, C. (2004) ‘Qualitative interviews: an overview’, in U. Flick, E. von Kardorff and I. Steinke (eds), A Companion to Qualitative Research. London: Sage. Kelle, U. (2005) ‘“Emergence” vs. “Forcing” of Empirical Data? A Crucial Problem of “Grounded Theory” Reconsidered’ [52 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 6(2): Art. 27 [Online] Available at: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0502275 Meinefeld, W. (2004) ‘Hypotheses and prior knowledge in qualitative research’, in U. Flick, E. von Kardorff and I. Steinke (eds), A companion to qualitative research. London: Sage. Schuetz, A. (1953) ‘Common-sense and scientific interpretation of human action’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1-38. Schütze, F. (1977) Die Technik des narrativen Interviews in Interaktionsfeldstudien – dargestellt an einem Projekt zur Erforschung von kommunalen Machtstrukturen. Unpublished Manuscript: University of Bielefeld, Faculty of Sociology. Schütze, F. (1983) ‘Biographieforschung und narratives Interview’, Neue Praxis, 3: 283–93. Witzel, A. (1982) Verfahren der qualitativen Sozialforschung. Überblick und Alternativen. Frankfurt/Main: Campus. Witzel, A. (1989) ‘Das problemzentrierte Interview’, in G. Jüttemann (ed.), Qualitative Forschung in der Psychologie. Grundfragen, Verfahrensweisen, Anwendungsfelder. Heidelberg: Asanger Verlag. Witzel, A./Reiter, H. (2012) The problem-centred interview. Principles and practice. London: SAGE.