My worries when I ask people their life – A note on the nature of the interviewer
I often use the method of gathering information called an “interview survey.” This involves asking participants questions in order to gather information related to my research interests. Participants can vary depending on the questions being asked, and in my case they include people such as students, pregnant women, and university educators.
This time the question I have been forced to consider is “Who am I?” What do I mean by this? “Appearance” is easy to understand, so I’ll start there.
I’m over thirty, a “thirtysomething,” but I look a bit on the “young” side. This seems to cause problems for the people I interview. It isn’t something I’m doing on purpose, so I worry about it a lot. Quite often participants ask me, “Are you a student?” This is also connected to my surveys. If I am interviewing pregnant women, for example, I suspect there are times they are thinking about my age and family situation as they answer.
This is true not only of “appearance” but also profession. At present I am employed as a senior researcher at Ritsumeikan University. This is of course something I clearly explain to participants. But when I say “senior researcher” there are cases in which the person to whom I am speaking doesn’t know very much about doing research at a university. (If I were to explain I was a part-time lecturer at the university, for example, I think the response would be different. I myself could answer if I were asked). In fact, I suspect this is not limited to my case but is also true for students, educators, and even completely different professions such as newspaper reporters.
In the act of speaking and listening there is no escaping your appearance and situation outside of your position as an interviewer, or, in other words, other people’s assumptions about what kind of person they are talking to. I wrote this with people I am meeting for the first time in mind, but in the case of someone I’ve met many times who knows me quite well another worry arises. This is a problem that comes before the question of analytic method, that is, how the content of what is discussed is to be analyzed.
When facing a participant, I cannot get away from the attributes in which both of us are clad and the social norms they possess. This problem is discussed in social survey textbooks, and it is not one for which an adequate solution is likely to be found. In any case, I try to wear clothing appropriate to my age (although I don’t always succeed), clearly explain my role, and answer truthfully when asked about myself, but I still am not sure if this is the correct approach. How I see things may change as I conduct more surveys.
With such worries running through my mind, day after day I conduct surveys to answer questions.