The active interview: Applications for crime and deviance research

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Dean A Dabney
Michael McSkimming
Bruce L. Brerg


For decades, there has existed a disjuncture between the intentions and practices of most qualitative researchers. Many enlist the buzz words of symbolic interactionism or other interpretivist traditions, but a select few remain true to these maxims as they move forward with their data collection and analysis efforts. Holstien and Gubrium (1995) recently presented a provocative new perspective on face-to-face interviewing that specifically seeks to narrow the gap between qualitative theory and methodology. The approach is called the active interview. Building on the tenets of symbolic interactionism, ethnomethodology, phenomenology, and post-modernism, the active interview directs attention towards the nature and dynamics of face-to-face interview-based social science research. The active approach to interviewing conceptualizes the discursive exchange process as a dynamic occasion of meaning negotiation, not a passive question and answer session. The reflexive interviewing strategy that follows is keenly sensitive to issues such as the narrative resources of both the interviewer and respondent, the ways in which a sense of collaborative meaning is negotiated within the interview interaction, and the potential for a single respondent to engage in occasions of multivocality. This paper explores various issues and implications that this new orientation, especially as they relate to crime and deviance research. We provide a small-scale research application to illustrate how issues such as respondent selection, interview format, non-conversational aspects of interviewing, and the types of research questions that are posed and pursued by crime and deviance researchers are potentially affected.

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