LINGUIST List 30.4437

Thu Nov 21 2019

Review: Applied Linguistics; Discourse Analysis; Pragmatics: Roulston (2019)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 29-Aug-2019
From: Zhi Huang <>
Subject: Interactional Studies of Qualitative Research Interviews
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Kathryn Roulston
TITLE: Interactional Studies of Qualitative Research Interviews
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2019

REVIEWER: Zhi Huang, Macquarie University


“Interactional Studies of Qualitative Research Interviews”, edited by Kathryn Roulston, began as a panel discussion at the International Pragmatics Research Association meeting in Antwerp, Belgium in 2015. This book presents a selection of interactional studies of qualitative research interviews from researchers in the US, UK, South Korea, Italy and Portugal. There are four parts in this book: Part I is an introduction, giving an overview of the social practices of interviewing; Part II explores the interactional details of Interviewer-interviewee Identities and Knowledge Production in Research Interviews and has five main chapters; Part III explores conversational resources and social actions produced in interviews and has five main chapters; Part IV is the conclusion of this book, discussing the way(s) of interviewing and exploring social studies of interviews. This book offers a look at what else goes on in interviews in addition to providing a window into participants’ worlds, which means, according to Harold Garfinkel (1967, 36), the “’seen-but-unnoticed’, expected, background features” of interaction in which speakers negotiate the research interview as one form of institutional talk. This book addresses the question: What are the processes by which speakers construct the local order of interviews? The book is intended for those who are interested in qualitative research interviews, or those pursuing qualitative studies that use interviews.

Part I: Introduction

Chapter 1: Introduction: Examining the Social Practices of Interviewing (Kathryn Roulston)

This chapter introduces the whole book by reviewing work that uses ethnomethodologically inspired approaches to analyze research interviews. Informed by critiques that much interview research fails to account for interactional contexts in which descriptions were generated, this work uses tools drawn from ethnomethodology (EM), membership categorization analysis (MCA) and conversation analysis (CA) to explore features of interview interaction, construction of speakers’ accounts, interviewers’ roles in the generation of data, and what this means for social research. The main result of this chapter informs the design and conduct of research studies, the analysis and representation of interview data, and the teaching of interview practice. It also introduces the organization of the whole book.

Part II: Exploring the Interactional Details of Interviewer-interviewee Identities and Knowledge Production in Research Interviews

Chapter 2: “Like Us You Mean?”: Sensitive Disability Questions and Peer Research Encounters (Valerie Williams)

This chapter examines excerpts from three research studies to examine how parties to interaction oriented to questions about impairment, and how the identity work of interviewers and interviewees might make a difference. The main contribution of this chapter is the exploration of what happens when interviewers share commonality with interviewees with disabilities. In the conclusion, the author proposes a way to think about the kinds of tasks that interviewees must accomplish in order to respond to sensitive questions. The recommendations in this chapter have profound implications for how researchers might think about research collaborations, the interview set-up and corresponding interactional rights that ensue in asking and answering interview questions.

Chapter 3: Research Interviewers as ‘Knowers’ and ‘Unknowers’ (Kathryn Roulston)

This chapter draws on Heritage’s (2013) work on epistemics in conversation to explore how interviewers elicit knowledge claims from research participants during interviews. Research interviewers must navigate the spectrum of potential relationships with interviewees from insider to a culture from which interviewees are drawn, to outsider. This chapter examines excerpts from interviews to explore how parties to interaction hold one another accountable for rights and responsibilities to do with epistemic access, primacy and responsibility to know about particular topics in research interviews. It also shows the value of understanding the concept of recipient design (Heritage, 2018) for conducting interviews.

Chapter 4: On Doing ‘Being Feminist’ and ‘Being Researcher’: Lessons from a Novice Interviewer (Brigette Adair Herron)

In this chapter, Brigette Adair Herron uses the tools of EM and MCA and re-examines what she initially took to be a “failed interview” that she conducted as a novice researcher. She examines the construction of interview data with a stranger in another country in which both speakers collaboratively produce “feminist” and “researcher” identities. Herron outlines how the lessons that she learned from re-examining this interview might be applied to the preparation of novice interviewers, with particular attention given to promoting ethical research practices.

Chapter 5: “What does It Mean?”: Methodological Strategies for Interviewing Children (Rebecca Ann Smith)

This chapter methodically examines the strategies that Smith had drawn from literature on doing research with children and used in her study. Smith uses the tools of conversation analysis to examine what happened when she used these strategies to work with third-graders in an ethnographic study. This chapter contributes understandings as to how she navigated the child/adult binary within her study, how children’s language might be examined, and what happened as she worked with young children who were inexperienced with interviewing.

Chapter 6: Epistemic Shifts: Examining Interviewer and Self-praise in Interviews (Stephanie Anne Shelton)

In this chapter, Stephanie Anne Shelton re-examines interview data with an early career teacher with whom she worked over the course of a four-year study. Using the tools of conversation analysis, Shelton shows that in response to her actions as an interviewer, Bailey begins to replace advice-seeking sequences with sequences of self-praise. This chapter shows how analysis of interviews conducted over a lengthy period of time can reveal how speakers’ epistemic access with respect to research topics may change, and in turn, the conversational actions that take place in interviews undergoes transformation.

Part III: Exploring Conversational Resources and Social Actions Produced in Interviews

Chapter 7: “That’s a Stupid Question!”: Competing Perspectives and Language Choice in an English-Japanese Bilingual Research Interview (Amy Snyder Ohta and Matthew T. Prior)

This chapter examines excerpts from a bilingual research interview to examine what gets said when speakers select to speak in different languages, English and Japanese. The analysis shows how language speakers use multilingual resources to very different effects. In addition to highlighting the unpredictable, contingent and indeterminant nature of qualitative interviews, the chapter provides insights into how a researcher’s assumptions can run counter to an interviewee’s perceptions and viewpoints. This chapter contributes to the understanding that the choice of language for conducting interviews with multilingual speakers is no trivial matter.

Chapter 8: “But You’re Gonna Ask Me Questions, Right?”: Interactional Frame and “For-the-record” Orientation in Language Biography Interviews (Daniela Veronesi)

This chapter examines the negotiation of the interview framing that speakers participated in during language biography interviews that she conducted with people living in South Tyrol, a province in northern Italy. The results show that sometimes interviewers and interviewees orient to different interviewing frames and goes on to explore how speakers negotiate participation frameworks and conversation roles and obligations. This chapter emphasizes the joint production of interviews, and moves researchers away from following “rules” and “prescriptions” to focusing on the here and now that constitutes the interview interaction itself.

Chapter 9: “It Doesn’t Make Sense, but It Actually Does”: Interactional Dynamics in Focus Group Interaction (Hanbyul Jung)

This chapter explores excerpts from a focus group conducted as part of an evaluation study of a teacher development program for Korean EFL (English as a foreign language) teachers in the United States. Data examined in this chapter illuminated the complexity and contingencies involved in the generation of group talk, and how a specific group of people act in concert with one another in producing opinions and perspectives. The chapter also highlights the pitfalls of relying on an interview as research instrument (Talmy, 2010) perspective to analyze talk without attending to the specific interactional dynamics within a particular group.

Chapter 10: Continuers in Research Interviews: A Closer Look at the Construction of Rapport in Talking about Interfaith Dialogue (Elizabeth M. Pope)

This chapter examines Elizabeth M. Pope’s contributions to interaction in telephone interviews with a participant whom she had recruited for a study focusing on religious beliefs and interfaith dialogue. It explores how Pope’s contributions develop and change over the course of a three-interview sequence of interviews conducted via telephone. The significance of this chapter is that it shows how mundane utterances – however minimal – do matter for how interviews are achieved.

Chapter 11: Discourse Strategies of Mitigation in an Oral Corpus of Narratives of Life Experience Collected in Interviews (Carla Aurélia de Almeida)

This chapter explores excerpts from life experience narratives collected in Portugal using a variety of analytic tools drawn from conversation analysis, membership categorization analysis, speech act theory, and discursive psychology. The author explores the conversational resources used by interviewers to forward interaction, and identifies a variety of discourse strategies that interviewers use to mitigate their epistemic obligations within the interview. Working across a large data set of narrative interviews, the author observes and analyzes both the interviewers’ and interviewees’ actions, once again highlighting in detail how interviewers and interviewees collaboratively work together to support one another in interaction.

Part IV: Summing Up

Chapter 12: The Way(s) of Interviewing: Exploring Social Studies of Interviews (Tim Rapley)

In this concluding chapter, the author offers some thoughts about how this volume extends existing methodological literature on qualitative interviewing, as well as further ideas for exploration. It shows how this volume offers a future direction for a range of work, including a focus on different modes or forms of interviews, identities and epistemics, as well as the role of the interview schedule. This chapter also suggests a trajectory of work that looks both across and beyond the spaces of the interview interactions.


This book is nicely presented with each chapter contributing an important aspect of qualitative research interviews. It makes a substantial methodological contribution to how we might complicate taken-for-granted understanding of qualitative research interviews as straight-forward information gathering tools. Each chapter in this book presents deep insight into the inner workings of particular interviews, thereby forgoing new ways of looking at what goes on, and hopefully inspiring other researchers to engage in similar sorts of exploration. Just as Garfinkel engaged students in what he called “tutorial problems” in order for them to make sense of the social construction of embodied social actions (Rawls, 2002:33), the research demonstrated in this book will likely be fully comprehensive only when readers do this kind of work themselves with their own data sets.

The different chapters in this book, although examining diverse topics, are united by their focus on closely examining interview interaction within sequential contexts and on the discursive strategies used to forward interview interaction. Authors added to our understanding of how the identities of interviewers and interviewees matter for how questions are asked and answered, as well as what this means for the generation of data for research purposes. In addition, whether interview interaction involves the supportive work of displaying listenership, negotiating the participation framework of how an interview is to proceed, the negotiation of disagreeing viewpoints, use of conversational resources to mitigate description, or use of multiple languages to account for personal experiences and viewpoints, excerpts show that interviews are finely-coordinated among speakers monitoring one another’s utterances and actions on a turn-by-turn basis. All authors in this book took a “second look” (C. D. Baker, 1983) at their interviews in order to re-examine what went on. Topics discussed in this volume are those that stood out – although there are no doubt many more. It is hoped that the chapters in this book will prompt researchers who use interviews to take a second look at their own data in order to see what stands out.


Baker, Carolyn D. 1983. A “second look” at interviews with adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 12 (6): 501-519.

Garfinkel, Harold. 1967. Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.

Heritage, John. 2013. Epistemics in conversation. In Handbook of conversation analysis, edited by Jack Sidnell and Tanya Stivers, 370-394. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Heritage, John. 2018. The ubiquity of epistemics: A rebuttal to the “epistemics of epistemics” group. Discourse studies, 20 (1): 14-56.

Rawls, Anne Warfield. 2002. Editor’s introduction. In Ethnomethodology’s program: Working out Durkheim’s aphorism, edited by Anne Warfield Rawls, 1-64. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Talmy, Steven. 2010. Qualitative interviews in applied linguistics: From research instrument to social practice. Annual review of applied linguistics, 30: 128-148.


Mr. Zhi Huang is an Australian NAATI Certified Translator between Chinese and English languages. Having completed PhD in Linguistics at Macquarie University, Master of Advanced Translation at Macquarie University and Master of Education in TESOL at the University of Sydney, he now works as Academic Manager at Sydney Institute of Interpreting and Translating. His research interests involve English language teaching, teacher quality, translation theory and pedagogy.

Page Updated: 21-Nov-2019