Fieldwork in Criminology

B. Interviews

For fieldworkers, understanding how one has lived and managed a life throughout a series of lived experiences is central to the interpretive/constructivist ethos. Qualitative interviewing is paramount in helping the fieldworker tap into these emotional and interpretive (personal) states; it is a dialectical process whereby both the interviewer and interviewee are actively involved in the reconstruction of the past, the accounting for the present, and the foretelling of the future. Qualitative interviewing serves as a guide, if you will, for a skilled qualitative interviewer navigating troubled and/or triumphant stories that are revealed while he or she develops a culturally holistic interpretation of these experiences. Qualitative interviewing therefore becomes an interpersonal journey for all involved.

At a fundamental level, all interviews are, in essence, conversations. In the field, these casual conversations are often a prelude to specific types of themes to be formally explored at a later point in time. Such casual conversations are often useful in developing rapport with prospective interviewees, establishing social boundaries concerning the appropriateness to the setting of certain topics/themes, highlighting potential ethical dilemmas not previously considered, identifying key informants who may later facilitate the recruitment of interviewees, and creating a qualitative interview approach that is appropriate for the research setting, its scope, and the objectives.

Qualitative interviewing can range from a series or combination of open-ended yet topically guided questions to inquiries with more of a substantive frame, such as semi-structured or structured interview protocols. Effective qualitative interviewing rests primarily on the interviewer’s ability to actively listen for content and process, recognizing the impact the wording and sequencing of certain questions may have on the outcome and the use of interview probes in order to encourage dialogue. Typically, with permission from the interviewee, qualitative interviews are audio-recorded in order to develop full verbatim transcriptions of the interaction. However, if an interviewee declines having his or her session audio-recorded, then the fieldworker’s only alternative is to take copious notes. Either way, qualitative interview data are recorded as transcriptions. Transcriptions are the textual representation of a person’s life, a textual approximation, so to speak, of one’s experiences.