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Style, Mediation, and Change

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Intonation and Prosodic Structure

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Academic Paper

Title: Introduction: Interviews vs.'natural' contexts: A false dilemma
Author: Anna De Fina
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Institution: Georgetown University
Author: Sabina Perrino
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Institution: University of Michigan
Linguistic Field: Discipline of Linguistics
Abstract: The popularity of interviewing as a method of data collection in the social sciences is a recognized fact. In their survey of qualitative research paradigms and methods, Denzin and Lincoln (2004:353) declare that "the interview is the favorite methodological tool of the qualitative researcher." And, describing data-collection techniques in sociolinguistics and dialectology, Fuller (2000:388) argues that "much of the data in the field comes from interviews." These assertions are hardly surprising given the central role that interviews have assumed as an essential part of the toolkit of the qualitative researcher since the early decades of the twentieth century (Fontana & Frei 2004). Interviews are the most common cross-disciplinary research instruments since they are widely used by investigators in fields as diverse as education, anthropology, sociology, social psychology, and social history, where they serve as vital research methods alone or in combination with other techniques such as participant observation. Given the centrality of interpretive and qualitative research paradigms in sociolinguistics, ethnography, linguistic anthropology, and narrative studies, the interview has acquired an even more prominent place for investigation in these disciplines. However, this research method and tool for collecting data has been the object of extremes of confidence and criticism. On one side there are those who try to erase the interactional context of the interview, believing that it is both possible and desirable to make participants forget about the event so that interviewers can access their "natural" behavior. On the opposite side there are those who argue that interviews are "inauthentic" and "artificial" contexts for data collection and therefore it is best to avoid them completely. In both extremes, the interview ends up being a problem to overcome. One unfortunate result of these attitudes has been that the interview as a real communicative event has been understudied. Our objective with this special issue is to contribute to redressing this tendency by drawing attention to the need for, and advantages of, the research interview as a legitimate interactional encounter, and taking narrative as our focus. In doing this we build on a small but significant cross-disciplinary body of mostly recent scholarship that has analyzed a variety of issues related to the use of semi-structured and open-ended interviews in qualitative research, and that has recognized the crucial importance of placing interview data in context.


This article appears IN Language in Society Vol. 40, Issue 1.

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