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Unstructured Interviews

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Examine the advantages for sociologists in using unstructured interviews in their research.
(20 marks) Unstructured interviews are interviews, that can be a group or one to one interview, that has no or very few predetermined questions. There are many advantages from both a practical and ethical standpoint, however there are also concerns. This method is favored by
Interpretivists due to its production of qualitative data and subjectivity in addition to its ability to enable verstehen. Feminists also prefer unstructured interviews as they allow a deeper connection to the interviewee to be formed and can be conducted in a way that ensures the participant is not oppressed, whilst exploring sensitive subjects. Unstructured interviews are high in validity as the data created is qualitative, this means the data can be deeply analysed and is true to life, this benefits sociologists as they are able to draw up valid scientific conclusions and find out the root cause of certain sociological topics, for example: the reasons behind the formation of an anti­school subculture. Additionally as unstructured interviews are highly flexible there is the opportunity for the interviewer to ask the participant to elaborate on a particular point they find to be of interest, or adapt the question types to follow a new route. This is beneficial when exploring new topics as the researcher may not know what to expect prior to the interview taking place. However due to its high validity and flexibility, caused by its lack of a formal structure, unstructured interviews are largely unreliable as if you were to repeat the interview the answers gained would not be the same. Furthermore there is more of an opportunity for the researcher to go off on a tangent or get distracted from the main aim of the research which could be damaging to their research. Another benefit of unstructured interviews is that they allow the interviewer to build a rapport with the interviewee. This is particularly helpful in the context of education as children may feel intimidated or uncomfortable in the presence of a stranger and so may be reluctant to answer or to be entirely truthful. Due to the informal tone of an unstructured interview the participant is more likely to build a positive relationship with the interviewer and be more used to a similar informal environment. consequently causing them to feel comfortable, answer honestly and go into more detail. Additionally the sense of trust created by the rapport can be beneficial when researching sensitive topics such as abuse as it is less likely to cause distress and the researcher is more likely to get a response. Once a rapport has been formed a child is less likely to see the interviewer as a ‘teacher in disguise’ and so will be less likely to censor their answer to what they believe the ‘teacher would want to hear which further serves to increase the validity. In circumstances where less able people, younger children or people with different language types (dependant on social class or ethnicity) are being interviewed researchers are able to use their lack of a script to explain or re­word a question that may have been misunderstood by the participant, this means unstructured interviews are suitable when interviewing most people which is advantageous for sociologists when trying to collect data from a variety of types of people.

There is a high chance a participant will provide their informed consent due to the comfortable tone of an unstructured interview however the pressure from the rapport may make a participant feel pressured into disclosing more information than they originally consented to which can cause distress. The amount of data that can be collected from an unstructured interview is potentially limitless however they can be very timely, especially when collecting an excess of information and therefore costly.

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