Qualitative interviews in psychology: Problems and possibilities

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This paper distinguishes a series of contingent and necessary problems that arise in the design, conduct, analysis and reporting of open-ended or conversational qualitative interviews in psychological research. Contingent problems in the reporting of interviews include: (1) the deletion of the interviewer; (2) the conventions for representing interaction; (3) the specificity of analytic observations; (4) the unavailability of the interview set-up; (5) the failure to consider interviews as interaction. Necessary problems include: (1) the flooding of the interview with social science agendas and categories; (2) the complex and varying footing positions of interviewer and interviewee; (3) the orientations to stake and interest on the part of the interviewer and interviewee; (4) the reproduction of cognitivism. The paper ends with two kinds of recommendation. First, we argue that interviews should be studied as an interactional object, and that study should feed back into the design, conduct and analysis of interviews so that they can be used more effectively in cases where they are the most appropriate data gathering tools. Second, these problems with open-ended interviews highlight a range of specific virtues of basing analysis on naturalistic materials. Reasons for moving away from the use of interviews for many research questions are described.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-307
Number of pages27
JournalQualitative Research in Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


  • Cognitivism
  • Discursive psychology
  • Footing
  • Qualitative interviews
  • Research agenda
  • Stake and interest
  • Transcription


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