Geography Geographic Methods: Interviews
Mark Holton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0164


Interview skills have been a fundamental component of the qualitative researcher’s toolkit for decades. Since the cultural turn in the social sciences in the 1990s, researchers have sought to recognize the delicate subjectivities attached to people’s lived experiences that challenge (and reject) the objectivist and constructivist ideologies that form the basis for quantitative scientific approaches. Importantly, interview skills constantly evolve, and, for decades, qualitative researchers have interrogated the power imbalances and positionalities involved in the production of knowledge. Here, questions arise as to the interplay between researcher(s) and participant(s); the affective complexities of interpreting speech, gestures, and body language; and the difficulty of representing (and articulating) received knowledge in a responsible and credible manner. Crucially, as with much of the qualitative methodological canon, interviews cannot be positioned as discrete, disembodied entities—indeed, to exercise a well-worn phrase, “geography matters” when conducting interviews. Following work on emplacing the interview, researchers have taken seriously the implications for the symbiotic coproduction of spaces, places, and people. Acknowledging these relationships develops more-critical understandings of the ways in which knowledge is produced and shaped by environments and locations. In geography, modern contemporary research has examined the interplay between place and mobility in informing such knowledge to determine how interactions between subject, researcher, place, and activity may (re)configure during research encounters. This exposes, quite literally, the relationships between what people say and where they say it. More-recent research has begun to interrogate these geographies further through the use of technology in interview encounters. While voice and video recording are ubiquitous in most interview scenarios, researchers are increasingly augmenting their interview research design with innovative techniques that capture multiple (and often affective) aspects that just recording may miss. Global positioning system (GPS) technologies, for example, have transformed our ability to research “on the move,” capturing experiences “in place” and maintaining rigor in research. Likewise, lightweight video cameras (e.g., GoPro’s) and smartphone technology provide researchers with opportunities to become part of experiences that they would not normally be privy to. Finally, innovations in video communication (e.g., Skype, Viber, and Zoom) and social media (e.g., Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook) have enabled researchers to gain access to interview participants over vast distances that may previously have been costly or difficult to arrange. Recognizing the geographies of the interview encounter therefore affords researchers more-holistic (and critical) understandings of people’s everyday lives and the spaces in and through which they experience them.

General Overviews

Numerous “how-to” guides exist that can assist researchers with designing, conducting, analyzing, and disseminating qualitative interviews. Valentine 2005 provides one of the most accessible texts on interviewing, and this straightforward, step-by-step guidance is particularly informative for those teaching undergraduate methods, as well as for their students. Likewise, Robson and McCartan 2016 includes fantastic cross-disciplinary advice for those learning how to develop projects, and advises investigators on how to recognize and avoid certain pitfalls in the research process. For more-detailed guidance regarding research design, Bennett 2002, Maynard and Schaeffer 2006, Dunn 2016, and Longhurst 2016 offer illuminating and highly detailed advice concerning the methodological, ethical, and practical considerations involved in interview research. For more insight into the philosophical and epistemological dimensions of interviewing, Holstein and Gubrium 2003, Miller and Glassner 2016 (cited under Positionality and (Self-)Reflexivity), and McDowell 2010 provide substantial guidance on power, positionality, and representation that will assist both novice and established researchers with designing projects. Finally, Crang 2002 and Dowling, et al. 2016 provide useful critical overviews of some of the more complex approaches—such as utilizing technologies in interview encounters—that are both direct and instructive.

  • Bennett, Katy. “Interviews and Focus Groups.” In Doing Cultural Geography. Edited by Pamela Shurmer-Smith, 151–164. Doing Human Geography. London: SAGE, 2002.

    Bennett’s informative and practical guide is good preparation for students and novice researchers seeking to utilize qualitative interviews in their projects. Bennett accompanies the reader through the conceptual, methodological, and epistemological practicalities of designing and conducting interviews.

  • Crang, Mike. “Qualitative Methods: The New Orthodoxy?” Progress in Human Geography 26.5 (2002): 647–655.

    DOI: 10.1191/0309132502ph392pr

    In this critical reflection of qualitative research methods, Crang examines the staple method of the qualitative interview to question its potential to be reinvigorated by accounting for place, position, and power within interview contexts.

  • Dowling, Robyn, Kate Lloyd, and Sandie Suchet-Pearson. “Qualitative Methods 1: Enriching the Interview.” Progress in Human Geography 40.5 (2016): 679–686.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132515596880

    This review paper scrutinizes the embellishment of modern interview techniques (through diaries, photographs, video, etc.) and how additional elements might supplement or enhance the interview encounter, building more-dynamic and flexible methodological techniques.

  • Dunn, Kevin. “Interviewing.” In Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography. 4th ed. Edited by Iain Hay, 149–188. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    Dunn’s highly accessible and comprehensive guide for interview techniques provides new researchers with excellent practical advice for developing interview-led research projects.

  • Holstein, James A., and Jaber F. Gubrium, eds. Inside Interviewing: New Lenses, New Concerns. London: SAGE, 2003.

    This edited collection cleverly unpacks the complex moral and ethical subjectivities involved in interview practices that critique the relationality between interviewer and subject.

  • Longhurst, Robyn. “Semi-structured Interviews and Focus Groups.” In Key Methods in Geography. 3d ed. Edited by Nicholas Clifford, Meghan Cope, Thomas Gillespie, and Shaun French, 143–156. London: SAGE, 2016.

    Longhurst’s chapter on semistructured interviews and focus groups provides an accessible entry point for new researchers considering employing interview techniques in their projects. This comprehensively guides the reader through the practicalities of designing, conducting, and transcribing an interview event.

  • Maynard, Douglas W., and Nora Cate Schaeffer. “Standardization-in-Interaction: The Survey Interview.” In Talk and Interaction in Social Research Methods. Edited by Paul Drew, Geoffrey Raymond, and Darin Weinberg, 9–27. SAGE Research Methods. London: SAGE, 2006.

    Maynard and Schaeffer’s chapter highlights how the subjectivity involved in what are classically defined as standardized survey interviews challenges recognized notions of replication and rigor.

  • McDowell, Linda. “Interviewing: Fear and Liking in the Field.” In The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Geography. Edited by Dydia DeLyser, Steve Herbert, Stuart Aitken, Mike Crang, and Linda McDowell, 156–171. London: SAGE, 2010.

    DOI: 10.4135/9780857021090.n11

    An excellent starting point for novice qualitative researchers, McDowell’s chapter sets out a practical and philosophical framework for conducting interviews that incorporates the interactive, interpretive, and representative questions that are likely to be posed when preparing, conducting, and disseminating interviews.

  • Robson, Colin, and Kieran McCartan. Real World Research. 4th ed. London: John Wiley, 2016.

    This textbook contains a comprehensive guide for designing and conducting interview techniques, including preparing questions, developing interview schedules, and exploring different interview situations.

  • Valentine, Gill. “Tell Me about . . . : Using Interviews as a Research Methodology.” In Methods in Human Geography: A Guide for Students Doing a Research Project. 2d ed. Edited by Robin Flowerdew and David Martin, 110–127. Harlow, UK: Prentice Hall, 2005.

    Valentine’s chapter is simply the “go-to” guide for undergraduate students who are considering the use of interview techniques in their dissertations. This text provides context on the practical, political, and ethical issues surrounding interviewing, in a highly accessible format.

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