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Should social scientists believe what people tell us?

03. April 2019

The extensive use of interviews in sociological research has in recent years met with different kinds of criticism. In an article in Norsk Sosiologisk Tidsskrift, Jon Horgen Friberg argue that the criticism tends to be exaggerated, but still points towards real challenges that need to be addressed. In line with a pragmatic understanding of science, he argues that the way in which these challenges are met depends on what you want to do with the data. To illustrate, two dimensions are described – between discourse-oriented and action-oriented approaches, on the one hand, and between experience-oriented and critical approaches on the other.

  • Together, these form an epistemological space, where different strategies for interpretation and analysis of interview-based empirical data can be placed. Using this epistemological space as a starting point, I discuss some methodological challenges in a study of migrant beggars and street workers from Romania which was based on a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative interview material. Here, three concrete strategies were used to strengthen credibility: thick descriptions, triangulation and confidence. These strategies made it possible to draw valid conclusions about social practices based on interviews with informants who were not always interested in being honest. I conclude by discussing how credibility in interview-based analyses always depends on an element of tacit knowledge and discretion in our relationship with informants.



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