Postmodern Interviewing

Books: Not Just For Looking At

The semester in a nutshell, courtesy Google Images

The semester in a nutshell, courtesy Google Images

I haven’t slept since January. Or eaten. (Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve eaten.) This semester has not been a piece of cake, and in this blog post, I recap the interviews and outings I have done throughout the last few months and tie them into the readings about my interviewing strategy. The beginning part of my research methods class was reading heavy; the latter half of the semester was applying strategies gleaned from the various articles and books to work out in the field. So far, here is how I’ve put those methods to work:

Primarily relying on Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F.

Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein

Postmodern Interviewing by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein

Gubrium and James A. Holstein as well as Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw, I went into my first interview (in-person) armed with various strategies. Having never interviewed anyone before, I held fast to their recommendations, feeling like a lost tourist in a big city clutching a map. Postmodern Interviewing sanctions that “the interviewer must establish a climate for mutual disclosure. The interview should be an occasion that displays the interviewer’s willingness to share his or her own feelings and deepest thoughts” (72).

Remembering this advice, I made to sure discuss personal matters that dealt with teaching to create an environment conducive to sharing. I felt that swapping teaching stories from earlier that day also helped supply me with credibility since the respondent was a fellow teacher. Despite the fact that this strategy was helpful, I couldn’t help but feel that the interview remained stiff. That is, I was sharing stories of my own, but the “mutual” part wasn’t coming through, the flow was off. I felt that it was still me asking a question and getting an answer. Me asking a question and getting an answer. Repeat.

When I conducted my second in-person interview about tattoos with an administrator, I felt that the interview ebbed

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Second Edition, by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw

Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Second Edition, by Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw

much better. I relied on Postmodern Interviewing’s strategy of treating the interview as “a kind of ‘improvisational’ performance” (75). While I had two set questions in my head that I specifically wanted answered to help me tighten the focus of my feature article, I went into the interview letting the wind take us wherever it went. Postmodern Interviewing continues that “The production is spontaneous, yet structured…focused within loose parameters provided by the interviewer, who is also an active participant” (75). In this way, by having two set questions but not controlling where the interview went by always taking the respondent back to a certain point, I accomplished the “improvisational performance,” and it was quite fun. While our discussion primarily focused on tattoos in the workplace, it deviated to other, related matters such as piercings, and certainly held all of the qualifications of a rich conversation.

In addition, I went to the Skindustry Expo (my first outing into the field) armed with a few methods. At the end of March, I was still relatively new to the interviewing process (not that I’m essentially an “expert” in it now, but I acquired much more experience in interviewing since attending the expo). There was so much to look at (and listen to) when Susette and I entered the expo that it was overwhelming at first. While I wanted to take out my notebook and start jotting right away, I did not do so because I wanted to continue to look around, to get a feel for the environment before I tore my eyes away to write it all down. Writing for Ethnographic Fieldnotes states that “in most social settings, writing down what is taking place as it occurs is a strange, marginalizing activity that marks the writer as an observer rather than a full, ordinary participant” (43). Indeed, words like “strange,” “marginalizing,” and “ordinary” were exactly what I felt. Afraid that taking out my notebook would give me away (despite the fact that I had no visible tattoos, clearly the more obvious give-away) I postponed taking it out right away. Eventually, when I did, I was afraid that everyone was looking at me, but soothed my anxiety by telling myself that maybe they thought I was writing down ideas for a tattoo. (Yeah, keep dreaming.) Writing for Ethnographic Field Notes urges, “Only those phrases actually quoted verbatim should be placed between quotation marks; all others should be recorded as indirect quotations or paraphrases” (63). Not wanting to misquote somebody, I furiously wrote down (abbreviating where necessary) dialogue that I felt was crucial to my topics, and when I blogged about the event, I made sure to put the words of the experts into quotations. When I could only remember bits and pieces of what they said, or a jist of their advice, I neglected the use of quotation marks because it would have been inappropriate. Instead, I paraphrased or put a comma without quotation marks. The doctor at the tattoo laser removal booth was excellent practice for me. I wrote down his words in particular because as he was explaining the removal process to Susette, I was learning. It was like “Tattoo Removal 101,” and I tried to absorb as much as I could.

My online interviews were also heavily influenced by the readings from class. Going back to Postmodern Interviewing, when I conducted several e-mail interviews, I looked towards this advice: “answers are not meant to be conclusive, but instead serve to further the agenda for discussion…a team effort.” While I sent the four respondents the same questions via Facebook messaging, their answers all varied, and I analyzed those answers in order to send follow-up questions via e-mail. In this way, their answers were not the end of the road, but rather lended themselves to “further[ing] the agenda of discussion,” as Postmodern Interviewing indicates.

Overall, after conducting both in-person and online interviews as well as going out into the field for my outings, it is clear that interviewing is not a “one size fits all” process. What works for one interview or outing may or may not fit another interview or outing. Thus, Gubrium’s idea that “ownership can be a joint or collaborative manner” (41) holds true. If interviewing is truly a “joint or collaborative” process, then no two interviews will be exactly alike because each person brings something new to the table.

Hmm..table. Perhaps now it’s time to eat. And sleep.

The way I feel, courtesy Google Images

The way I feel after learning so much, courtesy Google Images

Post Online Interview: E-mail

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

My expectations going into this interview were to find out more about tattoos and about the way people with tattoos get treated. The interview with Carol was similar to my expectations in that she answered each question that I had asked with a thorough response. When comparing online interviewing with in-person interviewing, I noticed that e-mail interviewing lends itself to getting clear-cut answers. Since the questions are directly in front of the person, it is convenient for them to shape their answer around the inquiries. Without me contributing anything to the discussion, which is what I did in the in-person interviews as suggested in Postmodern Interviewing, Carol was able to keep the focus entirely on her background with tattoos without pausing or being influenced in any way by my contributions to the conversation. What was different from what I expected about the interview was that Carol told me something very personal when discussing the tattoos that she had. I felt honored that she shared that information with me. I am not sure if I would be comfortable telling a stranger something about my personal life, and I appreciated the fact that she did that with me.

From the interview (which included a follow-up e-mail), I learned that Carol is a pediatric nurse who does not have tattoos in visible areas. While she wants more tattoos (she currently has two), she would not get them in visible areas. When she indicated she had to refrain from getting the tattoos in visible areas, I asked a follow-up question about whether or not it was written in their policy for tattoos to remain hidden. She indicated that her work does prohibit visible tattoos and that failure to recognize this policy could result in a loss of her job.

While I do not have any more follow-up questions for Carol, I have spoken with several proponents of tattoos in the workplace (Carol being one of them.) I would like to speak with someone who disagrees with tattoos in the workplace and have a discussion about why. Therefore, I hope that next I will speak with an employer or business owner and dig deep about their policies and the reasoning behind them.

What was successful about the interview was the depth of information with which Carol provided me. She answered my questions succinctly and generously tuned me into the meaning behind her tattoos and ideas for future tattoos. In regards to strategies discussed in Postmodern Interviewing, “From the Individual Interview to the Interview Society” discusses a type of asymmetrical encounter in which “participants have different functions: One side asks questions and records information, and the other side provides answers to the questions asked” (37). In this case, an e-mail interview can certainly be considered “asymmetrical” since both sides, or “participants” are not engaging on a multi-level conversation. Instead, there is a set list of questions to which the respondent offers information. I do feel that this worked out well, as Carol enlightened me with many things about her life as a nurse with tattoos and the significance of each tattoo.

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

Online Preparation Post

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

For my online interview, I will be sending Carol a list of questions via e-mail by Wednesday, March 26. I am interviewing Carol because she has tattoos and is not an educator. Since my two in-person interviews are both of people in the education field (a teacher and an administrator), interviewing someone in a different career will provide a new perspective on the issue.

Carol has tattoos of her own, and her son is a tattoo artist. I posted the following Facebook status: “Tattoo lovers! If anyone knows someone with tattoos who would be willing to answer a few questions for my research on tattoos for grad school, please let me know  Thanks!” A colleague of mine saw the status and referred me to a friend of hers, Carol, and Carol’s son, a tattoo artist. My colleague provided me with Carol’s e-mail address, and I e-mailed Carol explaining the circumstance. Carol was all too happy to help and recommended I interview her since her son is extremely busy.

I chose to use e-mail because it works well with both of our busy schedules. After I posted my Facebook status, I had four people (who I knew) respond that they would be interested. Even though I knew them already and could not use them for the online interview, I thanked them and sent them questions via Facebook messaging. I included my e-mail address and gave them the option to send me the answers either through Facebook messenger or through e-mail. Three of them e-mailed me back (I have yet to hear from one person), and I was impressed with how freely they spoke to me about their tattoos. I, therefore, felt very confident in e-mail as the medium for divulging information. As such, in an e-mail, Carol will be able to tell me as much as she wants, and e-mail gives her time to construct her answers as well as the freedom to have some control over her responses.

Courtesy Google Images

Courtesy Google Images

When thinking of the interview in terms of Postmodern Interviewing, the chapter “From the Individual Interview to the Interview Society” points out an interesting concept: the interviewer needs to have a “caring and concerned attitude, expressed within a well-planned and encouraging format.” Much of the research I have done thus far has not necessarily had a “format.” I knew a focus, but there was not an outline. E-mail will lend itself to crafted questions that clearly display a well-planned format. There will still be room for “going where the wind takes me,” in regard to follow up questions.

The following are the questions that I will be sending to Carol. (Depending on her responses, I will also send follow up questions via e-mail.)

  •          Tell me about your tattoos (how many, location, what they are, the meaning behind them, etc.)
  •          Tell me about your experience while getting tattooed (painful, were the tattoo artists friendly, etc.)
  •          At what shops have you gotten your tattoos? How did you find your artist?
  •          What is your career? Has having tattoos affected your professional career? How so?
  •          How do people typically react when they see your tattoo(s)?
  •          Do you ever feel the need to hide your tattoo(s), and if so, in what type of circumstance?
  •          Please tell me anything else you would like that were not included in the questions.

I am asking these questions to gain insight into many different things. First, the question I have asked throughout all of the interviews (online, in person, or during conversations during outings) is how tattoos have affected their professional careers. Using this as an anchor question helps me to see a spatial relationship of tattoos in the workforce. As tattoos in education is a focus for my feature, it will be beneficial to get a plethora of answers on the issue. All of these questions will provide an insight into a topic where there is still much to learn.