Interviewing ethnic minorities
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Interviewing ethnic minorities



Interviewing ethnic minorities; Considerations in studying people belonging to such a group

Interviewing ethnic minorities; Considerations in studying people belonging to such a group



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Interviewing ethnic minorities Interviewing ethnic minorities Document Transcript

  • Interviewing ethnic minorities;
    Considerations in studying people belonging to such a group
    Literature review
    4963 words
    Mark Boukes
    1e semester 2009/2010
    Data Collection: Intensive Interviewing & Focus Groups
    Instructor: Dr. Linda Duits
    11 November 2009
    Communication studies (Research MSc)
    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
    University of Amsterdam
    Table of contents
    TOC o " 1-3" h z u Introduction PAGEREF _Toc245716510 h 1
    Method PAGEREF _Toc245716511 h 2
    Results PAGEREF _Toc245716512 h 3
    Problems of access PAGEREF _Toc245716513 h 3
    Issues of voice PAGEREF _Toc245716514 h 4
    Why respondents say what they say PAGEREF _Toc245716515 h 5
    Studying ‘The Other’ PAGEREF _Toc245716516 h 7
    Conclusion and discussion PAGEREF _Toc245716517 h 9
    References PAGEREF _Toc245716518 h 11
    Kritiek: Had meer gebruik moeten maken van boeken die methoden van onderzoek beschrijven in plaats van alleen wetenschappelijke tijdschrift artikelen. In methodische boeken is hier veel meer informatie over te vinden.
    In many studies the subject of research is a group of people who do in some sense not belong to the majority in society, for example people with a disease, adolescents or people belonging to an ethnic minority are subjects in qualitative research. For a researcher that does not belong to this group, this causes some difficulties and considerations that should be taken into account. These will be explored in this literature paper in relation to the case of interviewing ethnic minorities.
    Interviewing is used in qualitative studies as a means of participative knowledge construction (Shah, 2004). In this two-way learning process, all participants (mostly an interviewee and an interviewer) influence the process of making meaning and the data collection in general. Interviewing can, because of that, be seen as a social event, due to the influence of the relations involved and situatedness of the research. Who is doing the research can thus be said to have consequences on data collection, but also on the analysis of it. This is in contrast with the traditional aim of research; finding timeless and universal knowledge (DeVault, 1995). This belief in a single truth and objectivity of science has been challenged by poststructural movements. They believe that power can be found everywhere (Andermahr, Lovell & Wolkowitz, 2000). This opinion comes from the thought that there is not one single truth, but that there are multiple ones that possibly differ from person to person and from situation to situation. Even the same person can hold several truths (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995). This is visualized by assuming that respondents have shifting vessels of answers to the same questions. Different vessels belong to different subject roles a respondent can occupy. Which vessels are used emerges within the interview. In collaboration with the interviewer different aspects of someone’s experiences, opinions or knowledge will be activated and used during an interview.
    It is thus clear that the interviewer plays an important role in the answers respondents will give and of course also how these answers are interpreted. This is the case for all respondents, but people belonging to ethnic minorities are thought to be even more difficult to use as respondents in an interview, because of a lack of similarity between researcher and respondents. Due to access problems, possible large influence of interviewers on answers that are given and also problems in correctly understanding them, could have made some researchers argue that white researchers should not do studies like this. I would not totally agree with them, and think an outsider can also do valuable research in groups to which he does not belong. This however requires the researcher to contemplate on some issues, which will be explored in this paper.
    The research question I want to answer in this paper is therefore: What are the considerations that should be taken into account when a researcher interviews people that belong to an ethnic minority to which that researcher does not belong? With a literature review covering this topic, I have made an extensive overview about what a researcher should think about when he or she wants to study people of an ethnic minority to which the researcher does not belong.
    This overview can be used to make research to this group more valuable and also more relevant. It will help to produce more correct reflection of the thoughts and feelings of ethnic minorities, so the majority can understand them better. This might result in an improved integration and emancipation of ethnic minorities in our society and ultimately to better life quality of ethnic minorities in a foreign environment. If we understand these people better, this will also have positive scientific consequences; it will result in better insights in social processes that are going on in a society. This might lead to new perceptions and knowledge of the world we live in.
    The continuation of this literature review is structured in the following way: first will be described how the literature was found, next the founded useful information will be described in a results section, finally this will be summarized and discussed.
    This research has been performed by means of a literature review. With it was searched for scientific articles that describe research to how ethnic minorities are being studied yet in qualitative research and what consequences a white researcher had on the results. Also scientific articles are read that state opinions about how ethnic minorities should be studied. These articles are sought in various ways, to get an as complete as possible overview of the knowledge and opinions that exist about this topic. First useful articles that were presented in the course ‘Intensive Interviewing & Focus Groups’ were included. Second, articles were being looked for in the Digital Library of the University of Amsterdam with diverse combinations of the following keywords: ethnic minorities, ethnicity, interpellation, interview, interviewing, qualitative research, race and subject roles. To prevent that other important articles that were not in the databases of the digital library, were overlooked, the same combinations of keywords were also used to search in Google Scholar. Many articles were found. Selected were those that looked the most appropriate to this research on the basis of the titles and abstracts. Many founded articles that were published in medical journals, but appeared not to be useful in this research. After articles were read, their references were looked through to see if the authors used some more interesting articles, which were not yet found. Besides some articles were found by using Cited Reference Search of the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), which looked for articles that refer to articles that were already found.
    All articles were compared on some issues about which they handle; access problems, issues of voice, why respondents say what they say and studying The Other. These issues were systematically compared, so conclusions could be made that explain what a researcher should consider when ethnic minorities are being studied.
    Problems of access
    In studies with ethnic minorities researchers are often confronted with some problems of access (i.e. Edwards, 1990; Gibson & Abrams, 2003). In these cases the people in whom they are interested are not willing to participate in the research. A researcher should therefore be aware of the cultural differences, like for instance taboos in certain communities (Shah, 2004). A way to access the thoughts of a respondent that is participating, but not really, because he is not very willing to talk, is to be open yourself as a researcher (Egharevba, 2001). This might stimulate the respondent to be open too. Self-disclosure might lead less hierarchical relationships, which make respondents feel more comfortable.
    To come back to problems of access, Egharevba (2001) had agreed with South Asian women to take part in her research, however many of them did not show up at the time and place where they had made an appointment. Egharevba firstly conceived this as reluctance to take part in the research and with talk to her. After asking them again to take part in the research, these people made clear that they missed the appointment because on that moment their family commitments where more important. On a better suitable moment they were however willing to make another appointment and most also did appear then. It seems thus that it were no ethnic issues that made the access difficult, just priorities the participants established at that moment.
    Carter (2004) faced also difficulties in recruiting respondents in his research about the experience of ethnic minority nurses in the National Health Service. Almost nobody of the population he was interested in, wanted to talk with him. And the ones that wanted to talk with him did not speak open, but on a hostile tone. After some months of research he discovered that this reluctance to speak did not emerge because he was a white man, but because many of the nurses saw him as a ‘management spy’. They thought when they would speak critically to him, about the organisation they were working for, their chances on promotion would decrease. An independent manager told him this, and also helped to recruit respondents again, by telling nurses that they could trust him. When he interviewed retired nurses this access problem also disappeared and much more willingness was shown to participate in the research, because they did not fear the outcomes of the research anymore.
    Egharevba (2001) and Carter (2004) show that access problems in studies of ethnic minorities do not have to be caused by the race differences between researcher and respondents. Many times other circumstances are limiting the access of researchers to respondents. In other studies there might not seem be other explanations than race issues for a low participation. This made Edwards (1990) and Gibson and Abrams (2003) argue that these are the causes of their access problems.
    Issues of voice
    Although it might be difficult to interview ethnic minorities in a research, it is for some reasons important. One reason to interview this group is often to improve the emancipation of these people in society, just as feminism research did in the struggle for the same treatment of women and men. In traditional research ethnic minorities were often invisible, or only presented as stereotypes (Edwards, 1990). Because of that, some researchers believe that they are acting emancipatory by ‘giving voice to’ neglected or bad-treated groups in society (Bridges, 2003). To let this take place, researchers should be convinced that these respondents are competent enough to tell their stories in a clear and ‘correct’ way (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995). Positivistic adjusted researchers often do not have this belief, poststructuralistic or post-modern researcher however will see the contribution of ethnic minorities’ voice in science, because they agree that there is not one single truth and everybody’s account is truth to some account and thus valuable.
    Probably not only because of doubts about competence of respondents, did some researchers choose to not give voice to ethnic minorities and thus did not interview them. Egharevba (2001) for example doubts if she should interview this group, because she had some fear that she would misinterpret respondents’ accounts, and in that way stereotype them even more. Ultimately she decided nevertheless to interview them, because she thought the disadvantages of interviewing ethnic minorities were put in the shade of the advantage of giving voice to them and present perceptions and experiences of a group that is seldom heard or made visible. Edwards (1990) made a similar assessment, and concluded that it would be worse to ignore ethnic minorities, than to include them while her whiteness affected the data and interpretation of it.
    Now it is clear that the people belonging to this minority sometimes are given voice to, this does not mean they will use this opportunity fully. Dunbar, Rodriguez and Parker (2003) show that fear can be the cause of silencing ones opinions or feelings. Even when people really have reasons to speak up, they might not do so because of a fear to be isolated or rejected. This especially seems to be the case in interview settings where more people than the interviewer and one interviewee are present, like focus groups. Another reason why ethnic minority respondents do not say very much, might be that they do not want to represent all the people of their group. They do not dare or want to take this responsibility (over and over again). Althusser (1971) gives a more general reason why things might not be spoken of in an interview: some things are just too common to people, that they do not remark it anymore. All these causes that lead people to silence their opinions and feelings, result in latent text, which only can be guessed by the interviewer.
    Why respondents say what they say
    When people are given voice, it is however in many cases likely that they want to talk with the interviewer. As stated before, respondents have shifting vessels of answers (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995). This means that they can voice different answers to the same question. The thing they will say, depend on the social role, or subject position, they occupy at the moment of the question. Which vessel of answers will be used in a conversation, depends thus on the circumstances. In an interview, there are multiple parts that form the circumstances, like: who the interviewer is, what discourse he uses and in which environment the interview is being held. The interviewer activates subject positions and thus determines to a large extent what the interviewee will tell during the interview. Foucault (1982) speaks of power relationships. This power does not act directly on others, but on the actions of others. By the way the person in power behaves, possible actions (also what people tell) are being made easier or more difficult to do. Actions are for this reason called socially determined (Haw, 1996). The subject role from which a respondent speaks, will therefore to some extent be the result from the behaviour of the interviewer in power. Shah (2004) states because of this:
    Face-to-face responses are not simply given to the questions, but to the researcher who poses those questions, in interplay with how the participants perceive the researcher and themselves in that social context. (p. 552)
    The production of narrative accounts depends not only on the respondent’s stock of experiences and knowledge, but also on the relationship of the interviewer with respondent (Carter, 2004). Therefore it seems logical that respondents out of an ethnic minority will tell different things to an interviewer which does not belong to the ethnic minority, than they tell to interviewers who also belong to this minority.
    Some researchers believe that these respondents, tell more reliable stories when there is a correspondence between the ethnicity of the interviewer and the interviewee, but on the other hand there are researchers who think this is too simplistic and state that it is not clear in which way ethnic relations and thus power positions influence the data obtained by the interview (Egharevba, 2001). Tinker and Armstrong (2008) also pass criticism on the thoughts that some accounts are more reliable or accurate than other accounts, because of who was the interviewer. They state that responses of respondents should not be judged on their truthful or distorted representation of reality, but rather they should be perceived as context specific accounts that are equally valid.
    In quantitative research the effect of race on the answers of respondents is also studied. In a very simple research Weeks and More (1981) looked if there were differences in the answers black respondents gave to a white interviewer or to a black interviewer. It was very predictable that they did not found any differences, and it is also not clear why the researchers could think people would differ. The reason for this was that they used a structural interview format, which asked for facts, like when people came to the United States, which languages they speak and date of birth. Not surprisingly because of the factual and superficial character of the research, the research did not find differences in the answers given to a white or a black interviewer. This seems not to be generalizeable to less factual or less structured interviews. Anderson, Silver and Abramson (1988) did study something comparable in a quantitative manner, but in a research with questions about feelings, that were answered on a scale. They found differences between black people that were interviewed by black interviewers and white interviewers. Anderson et al. concluded that black respondents modified their answers, because they were afraid to offend white interviewers. On questions like how much they liked white people, it seemed that respondents tried to maintain a polite conversation, by answering more positive when a white person interviewed them, than when a black person was the interviewer. This is the conclusion to which Anderson et al. (1988) came. But it could also be that in a situation where the interviewer was black, respondents felt more ‘pushed’ to answer negatively, because a black interviewer can logically just as a white interviewer have some power on the respondent’s answers.
    All these studies showed that power exercised over respondents led to certain subject positions and in this way influenced their behaviour in the way they talk about topics. That the one who interviews the respondent or in which circumstances the interview is done, determines what the respondents says, reinforces the belief that an interview is a socially constructed event in which different answers can arise. Dunbar et al. (2003) mention because of this, that researchers should examine how racialized subjects can be understood, by being conscious of the social context of the interview, and asking yourself which subject position(s) had been activated in the interview and what this means for the data that was obtained.
    Studying ‘The Other’
    Researchers should not only be conscious of their influence on what respondents say, but also how they affect the results of the research due to their own background and the interpretations ‘produced’ as a consequence of that. A researcher can hardly be seen detached from his identity and the way this influences the research. Said (1979) made clear that it is difficult to study a society to which a researcher does not belong, because everything is compared against the way it is normal in the researchers’ society. For the reason that people mostly think of themselves as superior, the other society and their practices are seen as deficient. The sovereign consciousness and dogmatic views of a research topic, make it therefore difficult to be impartial and objective when studying ‘The Other’. Hofstede (2003, in: Shah, 2004, p. 555) speaks of ‘collective mental programming’, and means with it that people are grown up in their social environment with some general assumptions and beliefs, which can change only very little and slowly and thus will almost always influence the interpretations of a researcher.
    Notions of social differences cannot be neutral; they are associated with ideas about superiority and inferiority (Carter, 2004). Because in the contemporary context, ‘white’ is the standard to which all other racial identities are compared (Dunbar et al., 2003), this will also arise in interviews when a white researcher is studying someone belonging to an ethnic minority. This will emerge not only in how the interviewer will talk with the respondents, but especially in how, what was told, will be interpreted by the researcher. Because of the large influence a researcher has on the things being said and how these are interpreted, Dunbar et al. (2003) are astonished that too often researchers did not describe their background and the way this could influence their results. When this is done, a criticism is that some make their reports too much a personal tale, rather than addressing matters that are scientific relevant.
    Difficult in studying ethnic minorities to which a researcher does not belong, is that there are larger possibilities of misunderstanding, bias and error, because The Other is not known well yet (Shah, 2004). Familiarity with social structures and behavioural patterns on the other hand, would improve understanding (Shah, 2004; Tinker & Armstrong, 2008). Another problem of studying The Other is the possibility that diverse discourse styles of minorities are neglected or not understood well (Dunbar et al., 2003). An example is trickster, language that is used to talk about outsiders by insiders. Because this talk is unknown to the researcher, it cannot be understood and as a consequence disrupts the idea that we can understand ethnic minorities by just listening to what they say. DeVault (1995) assumes that people in marginalized groups learn skills, that adapt speech for different cultural contexts. Ethnic minorities would then talk different to an interviewer, than to the people they normally communicate with. It would therefore be difficult to understand their normal life experiences. Tinker and Armstrong (2008) pose another problem of studying a group to which a researcher does not belong: because outsiders do not understand everything well of the respondents, they often simplify their results by making categories. This strategy often fails to take account of the flexible and multifaceted accounts of the identity of respondents.
    As described, it has many disadvantages to not belong to the group that is being studied. But according to the literature, belonging to this group does not only has advantages. Because of the same background and perhaps shared experiences of an interviewer and the respondent, empathy and self-disclosure may be the consequence, which can lead to some ‘contamination’ of results (Dunbar et al., 2003). Also it might raise the problem that respondents do not want to share information with other insiders, because they are afraid interviewers will judge them badly (Shah, 2004). Socially acceptable answers can then be the result (Tinker & Armstrong, 2008). Familiarity furthermore may blunt criticality, because everything is taken for granted by the researcher (Shah, 2004; Tinker & Armstrong, 2008). With a white researcher this would not be the case, and other results would be obtained then because of his ‘fresh’ perspective.
    Being an outsider studying The Other, can thus been seen to have some advantages, next to the disadvantages. Because the interviewer and interviewee do not have the same ethnic identity, taken-for-granted assumptions that would remain below the surface with an inside researcher, now need to be made more explicit, because otherwise these two persons will not understand each other (Carter, 2004). To make sure outside researchers understand them, respondents are more willing to offer detailed explanations of their world-view, because they assume a lack of knowledge (Gibson & Abrams, 2003). Also it enables to go beyond everyday assumptions (Tinker & Armstrong, 2008). In this way more insight can be created, because we can know more exactly what a respondent thinks, instead of just assuming what the person thinks. To let this happen, a researcher can position the respondent in the role of expert, and let him make in-depth accounts of his underlying beliefs and assumptions (Tinker & Armstrong, 2008). Less confident respondents might also be encouraged by this strategy to talk more freely. Being an outsider, who let respondents explain their thoughts extensively, can make text, that in a situation with an inside interviewer would be latent, explicit and so enrich the results of the research.
    Conclusion and discussion
    This literature review made clear that there are some specific considerations that a researcher should take into account when he wants to study ethnic minorities with interviews, when the researcher self does not belong to this group of people. First a researcher needs to be prepared to the problems of access that this group can give. Although cultural differences can cause these problems, it seems that also more general problems, which have nothing to do with ethnicity, can be the source of these problems. Furthermore it is clear that scholars should try to overcome eventual problems of access, because their research can give the often neglected group of ethnic minorities the possibility to voice their opinions and feelings. This might on the long run result in more emancipation of this group, just as women succeeded in getting more equal rights and duties, probably for some part by feminist research. When respondents are talking, researcher should be aware that what is being said at that moment, is the result of a subject position that the respondent is in at that moment. Moreover the researcher is in many instances the cause of this position from which a respondent acts. The researcher is after all in power, and his actions (like questions and assumptions) and the circumstances he chooses will determine to some part the vessel of answers a respondent will use, because of the subject role. Finally the researcher should not only be aware that he is to some extent the cause of what is being said by respondents, but he should also be conscious that what he interprets and concludes is for a great part determined by his cultural background, and that it is nearly impossible to describe social phenomena without comparing it to the circumstances in which one lives himself.
    It seems that these can be large problems for white researchers studying an ethnic minority, but the literature made also clear that researchers who do belong to an ethnic minority will also have problems, some even the same. First criticism is that they will be less critical and take more things for granted. But it can also be assumed that when a person belongs to both the ethnic minority community and to the group of academic researchers, people from the ethnic minority might see him not longer as part of their group, but as an outsider, who will as a consequence have some of the same problems as a white researcher.
    Although there are without doubt some difficulties in interviewing ethnic minorities by interviewers who belong to the majority, my conclusion is that they are outweighed by the positive consequences giving voice to this minority might have for their emancipation in society. Moreover, these problems can largely be nuanced by being aware as a researcher how the results are influenced by his behaviour, presence and interpretation. Furthermore the answers given to white interviewers, which would not be given to black interviewers, might give a specific insight into topics about race. Because it is likely that to white interviewers, other answers will be given than to black interviewers and both are just as valuable, it would be interesting to compare these in a research. I would therefore suggest using both an interviewer that does belong and an interviewer that does not belong to an ethnic minority in a research about ethnic minorities’ opinions about race issues. This could result hopefully in a deeper understanding of how respondents think or feel about such a topic.
    This literature review had some limitations that perhaps resulted in some things that might be overlooked. First it was regrettable that I had no experiences yet with interviewing ethnic minorities, on which I could reflect the literature. If I had certain experiences, I did not have to rely fully on the literature that was found. Furthermore it is not clear to what extent the Digital Library of the University of Amsterdam contains all important literature of this topic. Although I do not know if it exists, in the literature that I found, I missed for example information about various subject positions that ethnic minorities probably often do fill.
    I believe these limitations did not hinder me in describing fully the considerations a researcher should take into account when he wants to interview ethnic minorities. The most important is that researchers are aware which subject positions are activated by their behaviour and what consequences the background of this researcher might have for the interpretation of the conversations that take place. Briefly, researchers can not help that they will influence the results of their study, they should just be conscious in which ways this might happen.
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