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Int. J. Social Research Methodology

Vol. 11, No. 5, December 2008, 403–416

Methodology Vol. 11, No. 5, December 2008, 403–416 Combining Narration-Based Interviews with Topical

Combining Narration-Based Interviews with Topical Interviews:

Methodological Reflections on Research Practices

Elisabeth Scheibelhofer

Received 18 April 2006; Accepted 28 March 2007

TaylorTSRM_A_240023.sgmand Francis Ltd

While qualitative interviewing methods based on story telling are powerful in eliciting 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.

10.1080/ of Social(online)Research Methodology


The problem-centred interview (PCI) focuses on reconstructing orientations 1 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 (‘Universitätsassistentin’) 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:

ISSN 1364–5579 (print)/ISSN 1464–5300 (online) © 2008 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13645570701401370

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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 research—especially 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

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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 conversations 4 (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 generally—but not necessarily—elicit 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 interviewee’s subjectivity that is necessary in qualitative interviews. In order to deepen understanding and contrasting, structural questions are used in this interview framework.

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In contrast to the other forms of narration-based interviews, the narrative inter- view developed by Fritz Schütze (1977, 1992, 2003) 5 reconstructs the interviewee’s orientations by focussing on extempore narrative renderings (for more recent versions of the narrative interview, see Fischer-Rosenthal & Rosenthal, 1997; Haupert, 1991; Wengraf, 2001 6 ; 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’ (Schütze, 1987 7 ; Schütze, 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 researcher’s concerns. Thus, a profound goal of qualitative research—that is, to be open to the social world we study without implicitly imposing our own ideas—can 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 interviewee’s 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 respondent’s views once a relationship of mutual trust has been established. At the end

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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 group’s 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 migrants—even 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 Schütze (1977), the way the initial opening question 11 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

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to Schütze’s 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 Schütze’s 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 Schütze, 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 Schütze also provides for a similar procedure when the external questions 15 are brought up. Here, too, questions are introduced by the researcher and not by the interviewee, although Schütze 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

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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- ent’s ‘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 consistent—or 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 Witzel’s 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 Schütze 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.

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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 (Schütze, 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.

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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 it—quite 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 interviewee’s relevance systems than those that are reconstructed through the parts of the interview induced by the interviewer’s questions—and 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.


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 interviewer’s 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 interviewee’s relevance systems give structure to the interview with a minimal level of interviewer intervention. The main goal of qualitative research—that is, to give voice to the persons who are studied—is thus more effectively achieved then with classic semi-structured interviews.

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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 Schütze (1977). This, too, implies that questions that are out of the thematic reach of the interview’s 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.


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.


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

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2 [2] For a description of the method in English see Witzel (2000).

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

4 [4] Yet, as Rubin and Rubin (1995) have pointed out, there are serious differences between every- day conversations and interviewing when it comes to the roles and objectives of those involved.

5 [5] The narrative interview is based on interactionist and phenomenological sociological research traditions (Schütz, 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 [6] The work of Tom Wengraf made the narrative interview, as developed by German scholars (such as Schütze 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 [7] See as an example Fritz Schütze’s (2003) analysis of an interview with a migrant. Thus, the 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 [8] The biographical method relevant here has been largely developed on Schütze’s consider- ations by German scholars (see Miller, 2005).

9 [9] Due to limited space, the following description of the PCI, as formulated by Andreas Witzel (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] 10 Speaking of GT as a research strategy means to introduce constant comparison as the 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] 11 As mentioned in the literature on qualitative interviews, the opening question is not the 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] 12 For a description of this proceeding, see, for example, Fischer-Rosenthal and Rosenthal (1997); based on their work, Wengraf (2001, p. 119) provided an English description.

[13] 13 If interviewees start to repeat themselves when prompted to elaborate on certain aspects, the 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] 14 Only at the end of the interview did I usually check the topic guide, when I also handed over a socio-statistic data sheet to be completed with the interviewee.

[15] 15 In German, these questions are labelled ‘exmanent’ questions (Schütze, 1977, p. 35ff), but as such an expression does not exist in English, another term had to be used in this connection. In Schütze’s 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 researcher’s concerns.

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