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Int. J.

Social Research Methodology


Vol. 11, No. 5, December 2008, 403416

Combining Narration-Based Interviews


with Topical Interviews:
Methodological Reflections on
Research Practices
Elisabeth Scheibelhofer

Received 18 April 2006; Accepted 28 March 2007


Taylor and Francis Ltd
TSRM_A_240023.sgm

While qualitative interviewing methods based on story telling are powerful in eliciting
International
10.1080/13645570701401370
1364-5579
Original
Taylor
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Elisabeth.schiebelhofer@univie.ac.at
EScheibelhofer
000002007
&Article
Francis
(print)/1464-5300
Journal of Social(online)
Research Methodology

narrations that are structured according to interviewees relevance systems, topical inter-
viewing can build upon existing knowledge resulting from prior (interpretational) work.
The problem-centred interview (PCI) is an attempt to integrate both styles of qualitative
interviewing and is presently in wide use in the German-language social scientific commu-
nity. It is especially helpful for research endeavours that focus on biographical experiences
and orientations from individuals perspective. Within one interview session, the PCI
combines an open narrative beginning with a more structured thematic interview. This
article discusses the advantages and limitations of such a combination by introducing an
example of its potential use within a research project on biographical orientations in migra-
tion processes. The PCI is also placed within the existing canon of qualitative interview
methods and methodologies, highlighting its merits as well as its crucial problems.

Introduction
The problem-centred interview (PCI) focuses on reconstructing orientations1 and
structures of meaning within a specific social context. Andreas Witzel (1982, 1996,
2000) developed the PCI in a research project focusing on the biographies of young
people and their coping experiences with unemployment immediately after leaving

Elizabeth Scheibelhofer is a junior faculty member (Universittsassistentin) at the Department of Sociology at


the University of Vienna. She is working in the areas of migration research, interpretative sociology and qualita-
tive methods. Correspondence to: Elisabeth Scheibelhofer, Department of Sociology, University of Vienna,
Rooseveltplatz 2, A-1090 Vienna, Austria. Email: Elisabeth.scheibelhofer@univie.ac.at

ISSN 13645579 (print)/ISSN 14645300 (online) 2008 Taylor & Francis


DOI: 10.1080/13645570701401370
404 E. Scheibelhofer
school. The PCI combines an open approach with minimal interviewer structuring in
the first phase of the interview with a semi-structured part of the interview that allows
for a focus set by the researcher.2 This approach is methodologically interesting
because it gives freedom to the interviewee to structure the narration at the beginning
according to his/her relevance settings. The term narration is used here to refer to a
complete account a person gives, while narrative more narrowly means a sequence
of events and thus parts of a narration (for this differentiation, see also Wengraf, 2001,
p. 115). On the other hand, the researcher has the possibility to introduce questions
that are especially relevant for the research focus at later stages of the interview. As the
current research practice shows, scholars often strive in similar ways to combine narra-
tive questions with semi-structured interview questions if the research questions call
for such a proceeding (see, e.g. Brannen, Moss, & Mooney, 2004); yet, methodological
reflections in such approaches are still largely missing.
During the last few years, the PCI has been heavily used within different areas of
social researchespecially with German-speaking social scientists, one might say
that the method became one of the most popular qualitative interviewing tech-
niques: Research questions within varying areas, such as the sociology of medicine
(Badke, 2001; Dworschak & Lehner, 2001), gender studies (Buchinger et al., 2002;
Pech, 2002), environmental studies (Pregernig, 2002) and social work (Schmidt-
Grunert, 1999) have been addressed with this approach. One trait that these hetero-
geneous research interests have in common is that they emphasise the perspective of
individuals by analysing orientations and personal experiences. They attempt to take
into account the specific structuring conditions under which interviewees gain expe-
riences, incorporate them into their orientations and reflect on them. Thus, the PCI
is a useful method if the research focuses on biographies or on questions closely
linked to biographical experiences.
Although the PCI has become such a popular qualitative research method in
German sociological research, the methodological implications of this method have
not yet been discussed in much detail. Also, it seems that this widespread application
of the PCI is rather due to its seemingly easy-to-use character. The objective of the
present article is to make a contribution and highlight the major methodological
concerns and high demands implied by the method. Up to now, the literature on the
PCI has focused mostly on the demands of such a combination while carrying out the
interviews. The concern of this article will also be to stress the problematic of combin-
ing different interview styles when it comes to analytical work.
This contribution will be based on the concrete use of the PCI within a research
project that focuses on mobility patterns of Austrians who emigrated to New York City
after 1965. It was assumed that classic concepts of migration might not have induced
these individuals international mobility. Thus, it seemed appropriate to concentrate
on the reconstruction of the interviewees main orientations that led to their emigrat-
ing to and settling down in the USA. Using a biographical research approach to recon-
struct migration patterns and orientations from the migrant point of view, the life
histories of 26 persons were collected by conducting PCIs with a focus on openness
during the interview. This seemed appropriate because the study focused on the
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 405
emigrants own constructions and also because pre-existing literature on this specific
issue is scarce. The project was mainly based on data collected through the PCI but also
included participant observation and document analysis into the research process. All
accessible material that could be used to get a dense picture of migration experiences
from the perspective of the individuals was included into the analysis. The main result
of this research project is that three key dimensions of orientation can be distinguished
that chiefly influence the biographical patterns of mobility: the orientation towards
personal relations, the orientation towards occupational matters and the orientation
towards values of self-fulfilment.3

Placing the Problem-Centred Interview within the Existing Range of Qualitative


Interview Methods
If one takes a look at textbooks on qualitative methodologies and methods with a
special interest in current approaches to qualitative interviewing, one will come up
with a long list of varying types of interviewing. This is partly due to the principle in
interpretive sociology to mould the methods of data collection according to the specif-
ics of the social reality we are interested in, and partly to the differing methodological
and theoretical traditions that often ignore each others contributions. If one wants to
locate the PCI within these various qualitative interview methods, it is necessary to
distinguish these methods. One way to draw such a distinction is to look at the different
entry points to be chosen:

Interviews Based on Narrations


Interview methods can be based on narrations and story telling done by the interviewee
in order to minimise structuring on the part of the interviewer. Such interview styles
imply interviewing techniques that leave most of the structuring within the interview
situation up to the interviewee (cf. Gubrium & Holstein, 1997, p. 153). Forms of narra-
tion-based interviewing techniques are, for example, the in-depth interview, the narra-
tive interview and the ethnographic interview: In the course of in-depth interviews, the
interviewer seeks to encourage free and open answers similar to everyday
conversations4 (Johnson, 2002; Legard et al., 2003; Lofland & Lofland, 1995; the open-
ended interview as it was coined by Paul Lazarsfeld in 1944). In-depth interviews are
meant to capture the respondents perceptions and perspectives such that the
researcher can reconstruct meanings attributed to experiences and events. In the
course of the interview, the interviewer asks an initial open question and then uses
different probes and other techniques to achieve a greater depth of answers. Using these
techniques, in-depth interviews and ethnographic interviews generallybut not
necessarilyelicit narrations. Another interview method that is also based on open-
ended conversation is the ethnographic interview (Spradley, 1979). Spradley proposes
descriptive questions in order to allow for openness for the interviewees subjectivity
that is necessary in qualitative interviews. In order to deepen understanding and
contrasting, structural questions are used in this interview framework.
406 E. Scheibelhofer
In contrast to the other forms of narration-based interviews, the narrative inter-
view developed by Fritz Schtze (1977, 1992, 2003)5 reconstructs the interviewees
orientations by focussing on extempore narrative renderings (for more recent
versions of the narrative interview, see Fischer-Rosenthal & Rosenthal, 1997; Haupert,
1991; Wengraf, 20016; Wohlrab-Sahr, 1992). The narrative interview is also based on
the sociolinguistic structural approach of Labov and Waletzky (1967) according to
which the structure of the narration recapitulates the past structures of the original
processes. The methodological implication of extempore narrative renderings is that
they are seen as a powerful means of recollection. They tend to express the personal
experiences of the informant as that human being who acted and suffered then, i.e.
in those former days during which she or he was embroiled in affairs as they are
told throughout the course of narration (Schtze, 19877; Schtze, 1992, p. 191).
Consequently, the narrative interview is often used to study biographical processes.8

Interviews Based on Topic Guides


The second strategy of access within qualitative interviewing is to prepare questions or
themes (called topic or interview guides) and thus conduct semi-structured interviews.
During this type of interviewing, the researcher is free to change the ways prepared
questions are worded, as well as their sequence during the interview. Examples of such
semi-structured interviews are guideline interviews (Fontana & Frey, 1998; Mayring,
1996; Russell, 1996) by means of which the researcher would ensure the comparability
of data gathered across different interviews. Many researchers also use topical inter-
views (Rubin & Rubin, 1995) with an objective to piece together a coherent story from
what a variety of actors in a specific field are saying. Therefore, researchers design ques-
tions to collect data about the same event with different interviewees. They actively
guide the questioning in order to keep on target and obtain relevant information.
Semi-structured interviews place less demands on interviewees narrative competence.
However, they also have their downsides: As the interviewer introduces theme by
theme, semi-structured interviews are highly structured by the researchers concerns.
Thus, a profound goal of qualitative researchthat is, to be open to the social world
we study without implicitly imposing our own ideascan be at risk.
The PCI contains elements of interviewing based on both narrations and topic
guides. In contrast to the active interview (Holstein & Gubrium, 1995) which starts
with a loose set of questions and then proceeds by co-constructing a narrative, inter-
viewers begin a PCI with a broadly formulated opening question in order to generate a
process of story telling that is structured to the interviewees liking.9 Consequently, in
the PCI as developed by Andreas Witzel, interviewers employ thematic aspects of what
has been narrated in order to gain further insights into the story that has been told
(called general explorations). If specific themes of the topic guide are not mentioned by
the interviewee, ad-hoc questions are necessary according to Witzel (2000, p 5). He uses
specific explorations in order to test the knowledge accumulated prior to or during the
interview. Confrontations are employed in order to gain further insights into the
respondents views once a relationship of mutual trust has been established. At the end
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 407
of the interview, a data sheet is filled out containing socio-statistical data such as age
and education, and also details that are important for the given research interest. These
data are used as background information while interpreting prior parts of the interview.
The PCI, as developed by Andreas Witzel, was the basis for the methods employed
in an empirical project on migration experiences; yet for my research interests, an incli-
nation towards a narration-based interviewing style would seem stronger than that
suggested by Witzel. In the following section, the advantages and drawbacks connected
with such a methodical combination of narration-based and topic-guide-based inter-
viewing will be discussed against the background of my empirical research.

An Empirical Example of the Use of the PCI


The research project was triggered by a broad interest in Austrian migrants who had
settled in New York City. Guided by the principles of Grounded Theory (GT),10 I
began to do a literature review and carried out my initial interviews with Austrians who
lived in that city. After some weeks of orientation, I decided to gear my research
towards the process of migration and its intertwining with individual biographies. The
first interviews had at this point already indicated that this groups migration could
only be understood in terms of processes: Reconstructing my interviewees biogra-
phies, it turned out that at the moment they arrived in New York, they had not yet
planned to settle down permanently. Thus, I decided that it was insufficient to concen-
trate on the events that occurred before the interviewees had left Austria. Also, I had to
come to an understanding why interviewees would not perceive themselves as
migrantseven after living in the USA for more than a decade.
Due to these considerations, I decided to do PCIs with a stronger emphasis on the
narrative beginning than Andreas Witzel (1996, 2000) suggested in his work. The
narrative part seemed especially pivotal, as I was interested in constructions of migra-
tion from the interviewees point of view. This method would allow them to structure
the interview as independently as possible from my interventions. To do so, I initiated
the interviews with phrases such as:
Could you please tell me everything that is involved in your coming to New York and how
your life went on since then? I will listen and make some notes and I will not interrupt you
until you have finished. Please take as much time as you feel necessary and tell me all the
details you remember that, in your opinion, are connected to your living in New York.

According to Schtze (1977), the way the initial opening question11 is formulated
has an outstanding role to play within the narrative interview setting. This is because it
is meant to stipulate the main narration involving utmost limitations to interviewers
exercise of influence. The narration is then structured by the interviewee who can
choose which story to tell and how to tell it so that the interviewer may collect mean-
ingful extempore narrations.
As mentioned, I emphasised the first phase of the interview as a narrative part to a
broader extent than Witzel (1996, 2000) proposed along the lines of my research inter-
est in interviewees own structuring of meanings. Therefore, the following will refer
408 E. Scheibelhofer
to Schtzes work on the narrative interview. More generally speaking, a reinforced
narrative phase is necessary if one wants to make a serious attempt to conduct part of
the interview with a minimal proportion of interviewer structuring. Thus, the PCI, as
I adapted it, calls for a well-trained and experienced interviewer who is acquainted
with communicative strategies that allow for extempore renderings. To encourage the
informants (using Schtzes term) to dwell on their own ideas without asking addi-
tional questions or proposing alternatives to what has already been said is not an easy
task and requires a lot of practice. The PCI, as I used it, is thus a method that calls for
a profound training in doing narrative interviews.

Combining the Narrative with Semi-Structured Interviewing Techniques


As Wimmer and Zellweger (2002) point out, the combination of divergent interview-
ing styles within the PCI is still unsystematic and thus problematic. It may lead to
confusion within the interview situation, as the communicative roles are not consistent
when changing from a narrative to a semi-structured interview part. In the following
section, I will propose some thoughts as to how the narrative part can be linked with
the semi-structured part of the PCI drawing upon the research project on Austrians
migration biographies.
After the interviewees finished their first narrative accounts, I asked open-ended
questions relating to topics that the interviewee had brought up in the first place but
then did not further elaborate on specifically. Also at this point, the interviewees would
often go on to narrate.12 These so-called immanent questions (see Schtze, 1977,
p. 35) were based on the few notes I was taking during the interview and were asked in
the order in which the interviewee had brought them up. Some of the interviewees who
did not give elaborate accounts of their biographies after my initial question provided
detailed stories when I got back to the points they had already mentioned.13 Following
the immanent questions, I introduced the themes prepared beforehand if they had not
yet been brought up: The themes that I tackled comprised open questions regarding
interviewees level of education, job biography, ties with relatives and (previous) friends
in Austria, and future mobility aspirations. These issues were brought up and combined
with other themes that the interview partner might have already mentioned during the
first part of the interview in order to avoid a question-and-answer format. For the same
reason, I refrained from using the written topic guide at this stage of the interview.14
My suggestion for a transition from the narrative to the semi-structured part within
the interview is to build a bridge coming from the immanent questions to the questions
introduced by the topic guide. The narrative interview developed by Schtze also
provides for a similar procedure when the external questions15 are brought up. Here,
too, questions are introduced by the researcher and not by the interviewee, although
Schtze pointed to the fact that external questions should not be asked if they cannot
be logically related to what had been said earlier. According to my experience, the same
rationale should be pursued in the PCI such that the interviewee does not feel tricked
into a situation in which he/she was told at the beginning that their perspectives are the
main interests. At this point, it also becomes clear that the PCI with its narrative
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 409
emphasis calls for an experienced interviewer who weighs up during an interview
whether or not a question included in the topic guide is out of the thematic reach of the
communicative situation. An example for such a situation would be that an interviewee
fails to relate the migration experience to his/her family background in the narration.
During the semi-structured interview, direct questions regarding the influence of the
family should thus not be asked.
As described above, Andreas Witzel also proposes the interviewing technique of
confrontation for the PCI. Likewise, other social scientists argue in favour of such
probes within qualitative interviewing in an attempt to bring interviewees to speak
about the issues they left out until the very end of the interview (Douglas, 1985,
p. 138). In terms of methodology, David Riesman pointed out the fact that a challeng-
ing interview style can, under certain circumstances, lead to a revelation of a respond-
ents real feelings (1954, p. 504), such that more accurate interpretations of the
empirical data might be done. One might thus argue that the utility of confrontational
interviewing techniques actually depends on the topic of an interview and research
context, and that its justification reflects the observation that bland styles of interview-
ing may produce bland responses. Yet, according to my view, such strategies endanger
the interview setting as a whole: Confronting interview partners after an open inter-
view beginning in most cases proves problematic. This is because such a communica-
tion style might lead the interview partners to feel uneasy about having a researcher
whom they hardly know points out to them that their narration is not logically
consistentor even asking them to think it over again and maybe correct what has
been said. Besides ethical problems, there is also a methodological difficulty: The
danger of channelling the communication event into a setting in which the interview
partner feels compelled to defend himself or herself. This is a thorny issue, as, during
the analysis of the interview, there can be no more than speculation about the struc-
tural implications of vindications that go beyond their situational meaning. Therefore,
it seems sensible to ask confrontational questions only if the interviewer has a very
well-established rapport with the interviewee so that such probing would not lead to
the described interview dead-ends. In the course of the migration project, I refrained
from asking confrontational questions because of the discussed dangers associated
with this interviewing technique.
In view of Andreas Witzels design of the PCI, I thus argue to strengthen the narra-
tive aspects of the interview situation. To do so, I refer to the work of Fritz Schtze and
his method of the narrative interview. In our research project, the techniques of
encouraging interviewees to elaborate on their experiences and views were introduced
in an attempt to gather data that is self-structured to the best possible extent and not
influenced by my interventions as an interviewer. Within the interview setting, it did
not seem to prevent interviewees from talking after an initial invitation and then being
asked immanent and external questions (in German: exmanente Fragen), the latter
ones being based on prior theoretical work. By means of this strategy of combining the
open approach associated with the narrative interview with semi-structured interview
data, we may also address problems linked with the narrative interview: This technique
presupposes that all interview partners have rather high communicative competencies.
410 E. Scheibelhofer
If an interviewer meets an interviewee who is not used to narrate, the interview does
not have to end at this point, but the researcher can go on and ask questions based on
the topic guide. This way, data established from such interviewees might less likely be
excluded from interpretation.
The PCI thus provides us with data that is initially more strongly structured by the
interviewee and, with immanent and external questions introduced, the interview
setting is changed through the increasing interventions on the part of the interviewer.
Such diverse data qualities also call for appropriate methods of analysis. The following
section puts forth some remarks to contribute to such methods based on the research
project.

Analysing the Interview Data


Working exclusively with narrative interviews, interpreters would generally opt for
analytical procedures that recur on linguistic assumptions, while trying to recon-
struct typical biographical process structures (Schtze, 1992, 2003). Alternately, they
would choose to focus both on the presentation of the narrated life and on the proc-
ess of telling the story, so that in the end the relationship between these two
elements of the narration can be analysed (see, e.g. Fischer-Rosenthal & Rosenthal,
1997; for a reformulation in English, see Wengraf, 2001). On the other hand, social
scientists interpreting semi-structured interviews that were done with the help of
topic guides would usually go for strategies of content analysis. This approach aims
at reducing the data without losing the crucial arguments that are relevant to
research (Mayring, 2000). Andreas Witzel (1996, 2000) also proposes an analysis of
data chiefly based on the topic guide, subsuming the text passages of the interviews.
Additionally, in-vivo codes are created if deemed necessary within the research
interest.
Within my own research on migrants biographies, I have, from the very begin-
ning, been working along the lines of the GT research logic. In analytical terms, this
means that I did extensive coding work as a foundation for interpretation. According
to the well-known basics of GT, fieldwork and analysis are done interchangeably from
the beginning on. At the time of starting the research, the focus of my study was not
yet clearly set and I thus began by doing participant observation at expatriate meet-
ings and at events I was invited to through these meetings. The protocols of these
meetings were the first basis for open and axial coding. I also found my first interview
partners at these meetings: The first three interviews were intensely coded by means
of open and axial coding procedures (as described by Strauss, 1994). The results of
these coding sessions helped me to focus my research and do further empirical work
based on the theoretical considerations brought up during this phase. As an example,
coding the first interviews induced me to decide to look for interview partners who
did not take part in the emigrant circles where I had found my first interviewees. This
redirection of research strategy was based on my hypothesis back then that these
circles reflected only a small and specific part of Austrians living in New York at the
end of the 1990s.
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 411
Doing extensive coding as the main analytical effort with respect to the interviews
reflects the methodological assumption that narratives are the communicative form
within an interview setting in which the interviewee is largely able to choose what to
tell and how to tell itquite unlike the semi-structured interview based on a topic
guide. Such an understanding of the narrative part of the interview calls for a recon-
structive interpretation. Within the migration project, this interpretation was
performed with the GT coding strategies as presented in Anselm Strauss later works
(Strauss, 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). This extensive coding on the narrative parts
of the interviews helped in retrospect to approximate the migrants main orienta-
tions. Open coding was done in the project both with the interview transcripts from
the narrative and with the semi-structured interview parts. However, the codes
based on the narrations much more directly refer to the interviewees relevance
systems than those that are reconstructed through the parts of the interview induced
by the interviewers questionsand thus concerns. Within my analytical work on
migrants, I encountered problems dealing with diverse data qualities such as writ-
ing chronological case histories after coding the interviews in order to make the
decisive moments within the migration biographies clearer. While such a chrono-
logical case history helped to compare the cases with one another, I was not consist-
ently able to transport the qualitative differences between codes based on narrative
sequences and those based on the topic guide. My way out of this dilemma between
reconstructing a biography and distinguishing between the diverse kinds of data was
to give more importance to those codes based on the narration. The others proved
their relevance in further analysis, as data derived from the semi-structured inter-
view parts carry the danger to introduce inadequate data and forced categories. In
order to overcome this serious limitation of PCI analysis, future work should
develop analytical methods that allow for a consistent differentiation of resulting
code qualities (based on narration vs. topic guide). Methods are still needed to iden-
tify these differences throughout the analysis so that they are also reflected within
the results.

Conclusions
By combining the narrative interview and the semi-structured interview with an anal-
ysis based on GT coding, some of the limitations associated with both of these interview
techniques can be overcome. Differences in communicative skills with regard to inter-
viewees narrative possibilities do not necessarily lead to poor interview data that are
later excluded from further research. The main problem of the semi-structured inter-
view that can be overcome by introducing the PCI is that the interviewers concerns
and interests tend to structure the communicative situation. By opening the interview
with a narrative phase, the interviewee can choose what to tell and how to tell it. Thus,
the interviewees relevance systems give structure to the interview with a minimal level
of interviewer intervention. The main goal of qualitative researchthat is, to give voice
to the persons who are studiedis thus more effectively achieved then with classic
semi-structured interviews.
412 E. Scheibelhofer
The pitfalls of the PCI are connected to the very arguments that are in favour of
this method: The combination of interviewing methods calls for highly skilled and
experienced interviewers, as conducting narrative interviews per se is not an easy task.
The reason is that the interviewer has to encourage the narration without, ideally,
affecting its content. In a PCI, the interviewer also has to provide for an interview
situation that allows both for narration and switching to the semi-structured inter-
view.
The discussion above has demonstrated how the passage from the narrative to the
semi-structured interview part can be performed without jeopardising the interview
situation. It has been suggested to introduce the prepared interview questions of a topic
guide within an interviewing logic of immanent and the external questions, as
described by Fritz Schtze (1977). This, too, implies that questions that are out of the
thematic reach of the interviews narrative part are not put forward by the interviewer.
The second main problem with the PCI addressed in this article has been how the
analytical procedures can adequately reflect the diverse data qualities resulting from
different interviewing styles within the interview session. Based on the empirical work
of a migration study, it has been argued that a GT approach of interpretive coding anal-
ysis can provide an adequately flexible research practice. An open question is still how
varying data qualities can be reflected throughout all stages of analysis when working
with a case-oriented approach that also implies biographical chronologies.
The contribution of the PCI to the existing canon of qualitative interviewing
methods thus lies within its capacity to incorporate two strategies of interviewing that
are built on diverse interpretive methodologies. By combining these two research
logics, the PCI allows, firstly, for data that echo the interviewees relevance systems
such that their structuring of meaning can be reconstructed through interpretation.
Secondly, it allows to build on researchers knowledge, as topics can be brought up
that are based on prior interpretational work or the literature. While the article high-
lighted some of its shortcomings, the PCI seems to be a suitable method if the
research questions focus on individuals biographical experiences and on the related
orientations.

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Anton Amann, Kathy Charmaz, Barbara Haas, Ulrike Froschauer
and Ulrike Zartler for their very useful comments on this article and previous versions.
I am grateful to one of the anonymous reviewers of the journal for introducing this
thought.

Notes
[1] By orientations, I refer to the work of Max Weber (1922) and his theory of action. According
1

to Weber, social action is oriented towards specific goals and ends leading to his typology of
social action. The resulting orientations are rather stable over time but can shift due to chang-
ing societal circumstances, as he described it for orientations towards formal rationality in
modern capitalism.
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 413
[2] For a description of the method in English see Witzel (2000).
2

[3] For a detailed discussion see Scheibelhofer (2001, 2003).


3

[4] Yet, as Rubin and Rubin (1995) have pointed out, there are serious differences between every-
4

day conversations and interviewing when it comes to the roles and objectives of those
involved.
[5] The narrative interview is based on interactionist and phenomenological sociological research
5

traditions (Schtz, 1981) with its principle concern to understand how the everyday life
world is constituted. In this respect, the phenomenological sociology of knowledge put forth
by Berger and Luckmann (1966) is crucial for the understanding of reality as a socially
constructed entity.
[6] The work of Tom Wengraf made the narrative interview, as developed by German scholars
6

(such as Schtze and Fischer-Rosenthal/Rosenthal) accessible to the English-speaking scien-


tific community. Up to the publication of his book, the narrative interview was developed by
German-speaking scholars (see Wengraf, 2001, p. 118).
[7] See as an example Fritz Schtzes (2003) analysis of an interview with a migrant. Thus, the
7

interview is carried out so that interviewees would elaborate in the form of narratives and
under the premise of giving those interviewed the utmost amount of freedom in arranging the
themes and choosing the way in which they tell their narratives.
[8] The biographical method relevant here has been largely developed on Schtzes consider-
8

ations by German scholars (see Miller, 2005).


[9] Due to limited space, the following description of the PCI, as formulated by Andreas Witzel
9

(1982, 1996), is very brief. However, an English article of the author is available that focuses
on the different stages of the PCI (Witzel, 2000).
[10] Speaking of GT as a research strategy means to introduce constant comparison as the
10

main analytical process at all levels of empirical work; to gather and analyse the data alter-
nately; and to use theoretical sampling in order to direct the research process (see Strauss,
1994). In my own work, I pursue the GT research logic on the assumption that the
researcher is always part of the research process, data collection and data interpretation.
The positivistic stance of emerging concepts in GT as described by Glaser (1978, 2002) is
thus given up in favour of a social constructivist perspective that urges the researcher to
constantly reflect on the choices made within the research process (see Charmaz (2000) for
a constructivist reformulation of GT, and a discussion of the different constructivist
stances within GT).
[11] As mentioned in the literature on qualitative interviews, the opening question is not the
11

beginning of the actual interview situation. Entering into contact and asking for an interview
involves a lot of work, problems and processes that finally in many ways influence the data
collected. As these aspects have already been extensively highlighted in the literature, I will not
elaborate on them at this point.
[12] For a description of this proceeding, see, for example, Fischer-Rosenthal and Rosenthal
12

(1997); based on their work, Wengraf (2001, p. 119) provided an English description.
[13] If interviewees start to repeat themselves when prompted to elaborate on certain aspects, the
13

analysis may gain from this situation, as one experience is virtually never narrated again in the
very same way. These differences allow for a double-check of the constructed hypothesis
within later analysis. Therefore, these passages can indeed help to assess the quality of the
conclusions drawn up to this moment of interpretation.
[14] Only at the end of the interview did I usually check the topic guide, when I also handed over a
14

socio-statistic data sheet to be completed with the interviewee.


[15] In German, these questions are labelled exmanent questions (Schtze, 1977, p. 35ff), but
15

as such an expression does not exist in English, another term had to be used in this
connection. In Schtzes conception, these questions are introduced to elicit self-
evaluations of past experiences and not, as is the case in the PCI, to focus on the
researchers concerns.
414 E. Scheibelhofer
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