oa Journal of Family Ecology and Consumer Sciences = Tydskrif vir Gesinsekologie en Verbruikerswetenskappe - Die kwalitatiewe onderhoud as data-insamelingstegniek : sterk en swak punte

Volume 29 Number 1
  • ISSN : 0378-5254



In qualitative research, in-depth interviewing is an important research tool for data gathering, with the researcher as the measuring instrument. The qualitative interview is flexible and dynamic and has been referred to as nondirective, unstructured, nonstandardised and open-ended. Taylor and Bogdan (1984:77) define the qualitative interview as repeated face-to-face encounters between the researcher and informants directed toward understanding informants' perspectives on their lives, experiences, or situations as expressed in their own words. Some authors stress the role of talk as well as various ways of communication during interviewing. <br>Although the qualitative interview - like other datagathering techniques - has its strengths and weaknesses, it is argued that this method is a tool and that its utility depends largely on its pertinence to the research question. It is also argued that its strengths and weaknesses are functions of the competencies and skills of the researcher using this tool to elicit the required information.<ul>The following aspects are discussed: <li>Qualitative interviews are particularly suitable for studying people's understanding of their world, for descriptionbing their experiences and selfunderstanding, and for clarifying and elaborating their perspectives of their world (Seidman, 1998:3-4). In gathering such information, the researcher should be interested in people and the subjects should be studied in their own setting to discover the meanings the subjects attach to their behaviour. Data gathering presupposes a certain familiarity with the subjects' culture. <li>The very virtue of a qualitative interview is its openness. Apart from certain standard choices, this openness and the absence of a prescribed set of rules create a variety of opportunities for the researcher. These opportunities demand skills, knowledge and intuition from the interviewer. It has been said that interviewing is a craft that is closer to art than to standardised social science methods (Kvale, 1996:84, 105; Seidman, 1998:9, 11). <li>Qualitative research interviews could serve as an auxiliary method in conjunction with other methods (Walker, 1985:4). This process of triangulation enhances the validity of the research (Smaling, 1992:319). <li>Qualitative interviewing is both a research technique and a social relationship that has to be nurtured. An intersubjective understanding between the interviewer and the interviewee depends upon creating an 'I - Thou' relationship (Seidman, 1998:79). 'Thou' is someone close to the interviewer. There are mutual respect and sensitivity for differences in social class, ethnicity and gender. These aspects could stand in the way of crafting a good relationship. Feminists have strong negative feelings about a hierarchical relationship between the researcher and participants as well as the exploitation of interviewees. It should be a give-and-take relationship (Oakley, 1981:31-41). <li>Data gathering by means of qualitative interviewing is time-consuming (Jones, 1985:46-47) and requires considerable expertise in both subject matter and human interaction (Kvale, 1996:103). It is therefore often difficult, and is by implication expensive. <li>It cannot be assumed that everyone is equally capable of expressing his or her thoughts on and reasons for certain behaviours (Seidman, 1998:3-4). Researchers should be encultured in aspects relevant to the research. It is also known that expressed attitudes are not necessarily good predictors of actual behaviour (Baron & Byrne, 1996:140-141). Language could also be a barrier in cross-cultural studies (Fontana & Frey, 19367; Stewart, 1998:25). <li>The objectivity of knowledge acquired by way of qualitative interviewing is discussed with specific regard to different concepts of objectivity: as freedom from bias, as intersubjective knowledge, and as reflective of the nature of the object (Kvale, 1992:64-66; Smaling, 1989:162).

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