Interview data: a qualified defence against the radical critique

Hammersley, Martyn (2017). Interview data: a qualified defence against the radical critique. Qualitative Research, 17(2) pp. 173–186.



This article focuses on what has been referred to as the ‘radical critique’ of interview data, to which Paul Atkinson has been an important contributor. This critique challenges the two main uses of such data in qualitative research, and in other forms of social science: to tap the knowledge of informants; and to draw inferences about the typical beliefs, attitudes, etc. of some group or category of actor to which the informant belongs. I argue that this radical critique relies upon a constructionist attitude towards the social world, and I examine one source of this: the influence of ethnomethodology. However, I suggest that a naturalistic stance can take account of the features of interviews to which the radical critique properly draws attention, without undercutting the normal uses of interview data. I emphasise that this does not obviate the need for careful consideration of how such data are produced, and particularly of the discourse practices involved. I illustrate my argument by briefly examining the opening section of an interview.

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