Illusions of power: interviewing local elites

Cochrane, Allan (1998). Illusions of power: interviewing local elites. Environment and Planning A, 30(12) pp. 2121–2132.



It has always been difficult to explore local power structures, and local politics (or local political economies) have often been reinterpreted in ways in which they are simply seen as the working out of wider national or global processes. The recognition that this is not enough has encouraged a growth in more locally focused research, frequently involving extensive interviewing of members of local business and political elites. Two key sets of questions arise from this sort of research. The first concerns the relationships between researcher and researched which are constructed by the research process itself. Is it possible to maintain an attitude of critical engagement? How is the research agenda constructed through negotiation between the participants? Who has power within the research process? The second involves a more serious issue for this form of research: namely, is it really possible to identify and explore power through interviews, however carefully constructed they are? What about the dimensions of power that are inaccessible to interviewers? This question has bedevilled community-power and pluralist research in the USA and the United Kingdom, and has never been adequately resolved. Do we now have the means to resolve it? The author explores both of these sets of questions with the help of evidence from a range of research projects in which he has been actively involved. The conclusion suggests productive approaches to the researching of local elites, identifying opportunities as well as constraints.

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