Interviewing as embodied communication

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Book Chapter

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No body, no voice; no voice, no body. That's what I know in my bones.

We begin with the body. Although some researchers remain unconscious of it, embodiment is an integral part of the interview process—from preparation, throughout the interview, to data analysis and choices about representation of findings. For example, we select participants for an interview often based on physical characteristics (e.g., race, gender, age) and/or bodily experiences (e.g., living with multiple sclerosis, birthing a baby). In the face-to-face interview, bodies encounter each other as warm, tangible, messy, material manifestations of our selves; bodies do not wait quietly outside the room while our “real” self is interviewed by the disembodied, questioning mind of another. When we analyze interview data, we engage in reflections on how the researcher's embodied experiences are similar to and different from those of our respondents and how that affects meaning making. Even representation is an embodied act. We write or type (or draw, paint, or photograph) and discover new meanings even as we engage in the act of moving fingers across the page or equipment. Interview researchers must reject the mind/body split and embrace our participants and ourselves as whole persons who are bodies, not who have bodies. The body is not a subsidiary of the self but is intricately woven throughout all facets of the self—not deterministically but powerfully.

This chapter explores interview research as an embodied communicative process. Research across the social sciences, education, health sciences, and human services continues to probe important topics and produce valuable findings that have an impact directly on the quality of people's lives. We have the capacity to do tremendous good in the world. I contend that an awareness of and active engagement with issues of embodiment enhance our capacity as researchers to design and produce high-quality research and to share our findings widely with practitioners, professional organizations, community members, and scholars across a wide array of disciplines.

This chapter is organized to first explore how the legacy of the mind/body split pervades the social-scientific research enterprise, including, of course, studies based on interview data, followed by the role of embodiment in preparation for and conducting interviews and then during data analysis and representation. Finally, I offer specific suggestions for consciously embodying our research processes and products. I note that my attention throughout this chapter focuses primarily on the dynamics of face-to-face interviewing. However, most of the theory, application, and strategies articulated here have relevance to any type of interviewing, including phone interviewing and Internet interviewing.

Chapter of

Handbook of interview research


Jaber F. Gubrium
James A. Holstein
Amir B. Marvasti
Karyn D. McKinney

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