Qualitative interviewing

Course introduction

This intensive workshop aims to provide participants with a solid basis in qualitative interview for social science research purposes. It is intended for two types of participants: those who are quite new to qualitative interviewing, but have concrete intentions to use interviews in the not-to-distant future; and those who already have some experience with qualitative interviewing and would like to deepen their practical skills as well as their theoretical understanding of interviewing as a research method. Through lectures, readings, discussions centred on the participants’ research and concerns and practical exercises, the participants should gradually develop both a wider and a deeper understanding of interviewing as a method, gaining not only practical skills, but also a better sense of how to adapt standard interviewing advice to their own research.

The main topics covered during the workshop are the following:

  • Main types of qualitative research interviewing (semi-structured, unstructured, narrative interviews, expert interviews, exploratory interviews, etc.);
  • Theoretical and epistemological bases of research interviewing;
  • Understanding the nature of the interview interaction in different constellations (interviewer and interviewee roles; perceptions and interpretations of roles; power analysis etc.);
  • Interviewing different types of participants (experts, elites, “ordinary” citizens, vulnerable groups, activists, etc.), in different types of contexts (consolidated democracies, autocratic contexts, contexts of political conflict etc.), and in different constellations (one-to-one; one-to-many; interpreter-mediated; online, etc.);
  • Links between theory, practical interviewing, and the analysis of interview data (research strategies, various usages of theory, “operationalising” theoretical ideas for interview topic guides);
  • Interview topic guides (open questions, probes and prompts, content-deepening and -widening questions, etc.);
  • Basic and advanced interviewing skills (sensitive questions, “difficult” respondents etc.); the importance of “going ethnographic” (in spirit if not in method) for successful interviewing;
  • Recruiting interviewees – process and strategies
  • Analysing interview data (briefly)
  • The ethics of interviewing

Format and activities

The workshop will include various types of activities: input lectures by the instructor; hands-on exercises; discussions of readings; short presentations by participants of their own research (if they wish), etc.

The workshop will be intense and requires the participants to be fully engaged throughout. The indicative timetable is 9.00-12:00 and 13:00-16:30.

Preparatory work

About a month ahead of the workshop, the participants will receive a number of preparatory readings that they will be asked to have done before the workshop starts. They will also be requested to provide some information about their research interests and their profile.

The instructor

Lea Sgier is a (part-time) senior lecturer in qualitative methods at the Political Science Department of the University of Geneva (Switzerland), and a private consultant for qualitative methodology and research ethics (with past and current mandates for instance from the evaluation firm Evalux, the Luxemburg Institute for Socio-Economic research, and the Canton of Geneva). She also teaches qualitative methods and academic writing for a number of graduate programmes such as the Essex Summer School in Data Analysis and Collection (qualitative data analysis), Concordia University in Montreal/WSSR (discourse analysis), Hong Kong University (HKU), CUSO Doctoral Programmes in Switzerland, the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, the Federal Polytechnical Institute in Lausanne (EFPL), the ECPR Winter School (2015-19). From 2013-19, she was part of the Steering Group of the ECPR Standing Group on Political Methodology. She has recently completed research projects involving 80+ interviews with elderly people and care home staff in Switzerland; and 30+ interviews with youth workers and public health stakeholders for a youth programme evaluation in the canton of Fribourg in Switzerland.  

Indicative readings

  • Liamputtong, Pranee (2007). Researching the Vulnerable. London: Sage.
  • Lilleker, Darren (2003). "Interviewing the Political Elite: Navigating a Political Minefield", Politics 23(3): 207-14.
  • Mosley, Layna (ed.), Interview Research in Political Science. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press.
  • Pahl, J.M. and Pahl, R.E. (1971). Managers and their Wives. A Study of Career and Family Relationships in the Middle Class. Harmonsworth: Penguin (Appendix).
  • Weiss, Robert (1994). Learning From Strangers. The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies. New York: The Free Press.
  • Yeo, Alice et al. (2013). "In-Depth Interviews", in Ritchie, Jane, Lewis, Jane, McNaughton Nicholls, Carol and Ormston, Rachel (eds) (2013). Qualitative Research Practice. A Guide for Social Scienists and Researchers. London: Sage.