Interviews – Theory and Methods

Lesson objectiveTo explore interviews
Lesson outcomes• Assess how and when to use them
• Evaluate their usefulness
• What interviews are

For your introduction, you need to always mention:


What, who, why.


Interviews are a list of questions from which the participant has to respond accompanied by the researcher. They can either be open or closed questions depending on the aim of the research. 

Who and Why

Interviews are mainly used by interpretivists and are one of the most widely used methods of gathering data in sociology. They are usually conducted face-to-face. They are normally criticised by Positivists because they

use they lack ecological validity. Interviews can be used to gather quantitative or qualitative data or both as both open and closed questions can be asked. There are four types of interviews: structured, unstructured, semi- structured and group. (You will only be asked structured and unstructured in your exam). 


Unstructured Interviews

*Imposition Problem: When asking questions in interviews or self-completion questionnaires, the risk that the researcher might be imposing their own views or framework on the people being researched, rather than getting at what they really think

Studies you need to refer to.

 Structured interviews – Young and Willmott (1962) 

  • Young and Willmott used structured interviews to research the nature, extent and importance of the extended family in the area of London. 
  • Time restrictions had to be placed on the interviews and a structured approach was taken to ensure high generalisability with a large sample size. 

Unstructured interviews – Dobash and Dobash (1971).  

  • Dobash and Dobash used unstructured interviews along with police reports to gain insight into domestic violence. 
  • They gain strong verstehen and rapport with their PPTs. This helped PPTs open up and respond about difficult conversations. They produced detailed and rich findings about the experiences of women who had suffered repeated domestic violence and discovered things that were not mentioned in police reports. 
  • The findings the full extent of domestic violence in some relationships.

Semi-structured interviews – Archer (2003). 

  • Archer researched Muslim boys and education in the content of race, masculinity and schooling. 
  • Archer conducted semi-structured group interviews with two Asian women. 
  • Findings: Her presence as a white woman made PPTs reluctant to speak about racism. (Interviewer effect). 

Semi-structured interviews – Wright et al. (2005).

  • Wright et al. used group interviews in their research into the reasons why African-Caribbean boys are five times more likely to be excluded from school.
  • Using group interviews where the students were with friends allowed the respondent to open up and give fuller, more valid answers. The research revealed that the boys felt labelled and discriminated against in the education system. 

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