Review of ‘What is Qualitative Interviewing?’ by Rosalind Edwards and Janet Holland by Sadia Habib

Social science students interested in qualitative research methods, and in particular the philosophy of qualitative interviews should have a read of an accessible and new text which can be a helpful stepping stone for those embarking on social research journeys. Professors Rosalind Edwards and Janet Holland provide an easily digestible introductory text for newcomers to the qualitative aspects of social research. Research can be daunting for beginners who are keen to engage in the interview process as a key method. What is Qualitative Interviewing? will no doubt provide the confidence for students to consider best practice when interviewing their participants.

Engaged social research must consider good practice from an ethical and philosophical perspective. This methods text provides a concise foundation to encourage budding researchers to think on a variety of useful perspectives: feminist, positivist, postmodern, psychoanalytic, interpretive, emancipatory and an approach grounded in critical realism.

The text interestingly provides an understanding of the many practicalities that can be involved when undertaking interviews, for example consent forms and recording equipment. Further, a strength of this methods book is that it provides an accessibly written understanding of the basic principles we must scrutinize with regards to the dynamics of power and emotion in social research. There is a section that examines how one might interview different sections of society: individuals from marginalised groups, as well as those from elite groups.

Different types of interviews are discussed for the reader to gain a rudimentary flavour of ethnographic interviews, focus group interviews, telephone interviews, and e-interviews. We can read about consideration of location too, and the implications of the settings we choose to conduct our social research. One of the key issues for researchers to consider when setting up an appropriate location for the interview may be privacy, for example. At other times, it may be more comfortable to conduct the interview in a public space. The authors also elaborate on the “walking and talking” interview method which has its own advantages.

There is also elementary information on interview tools such as talking, writing and seeing. Seeing, for instance, the authors inform the reader can be through photo elicitation (photos, paintings, film clips, advertisements as stimulus during interviews) or graphic elicitation (timelines or maps used with the participants). Writing can involve the use of texts produced for the interview by the researcher or by the researched.

What is Qualitative Interviewing? motivates the reader into pursuing a style of qualitative interviewing that is acutely aware of the social context of the interview, while reminding us that our style of interviewing must be flexible and responsive to new challenges in our ever evolving society. We cannot remain statically engrossed on a fixed ideal of the interview process. Instead we can need to move forwards and consider how innovative technological developments may impact upon our interviewing techniques.

Edwards and Holland highlight how qualitative interviewing is probably the most popular tool of qualitative research, and I believe that most of us would agree, and be keen to develop our skills in researching the social world through the art of the interview. Moreover, there is a useful annotated bibliography provided for students to consult for further reading purposes. I think this text would be extremely useful for social researchers who are at the early stages of social research, and want to gain a flavour of some significant features of qualitative interviewing practice and philosophy. Students on undergraduate courses and Masters courses will be encouraged by the authors’ use of uncomplicated terminology and straightforward tone that enables a quick and easy reading. A most definite must read for those plunging into their very first qualitative interviews.

Sadia Habib is a Phd candidate in Educational Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

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