Professor Rory Sommers Presents Research on Active Interviewing

During June of last year, Professor Rory Sommers traveled to St. John’s Newfoundland to present a paper at the 2022 Qualitatives Conference titled “Negotiating Boundaries in Active Interviewing: Engaging with Ascribed and Achieved Positionalities”. Based on data collected from an ongoing collaborative research project with colleagues from the University of Guelph and University of Waterloo, the paper compared active interview experiences focusing on how social similarities and differences impact the interview interaction.  The paper offered further insights into how emphasizing commonalties is one way to facilitate more meaningful exchanges between interview participants, although it can hinder conversation when interviewees hold back where common knowledge is assumed. Likewise, social differences, in the foreground or background, can both hinder or be leveraged to foster deeper and more candid conversation (or put the interview at risk of going off the rails). 

As Professor Sommers explains, “Interviews are one of the most common methods of collecting data in the social sciences. Traditionally researchers have been encouraged to take more passive approaches during an interview, accepting the responses offered by participants at face value. While not abandoning the importance of building rapport, active interview techniques exist along a continuum of strategies ranging from mere accommodation to more challenging approaches and even confrontation. The goal of the active interview is to engage respondents in ways which resembles something closer to “everyday talk” with the aim of producing more meaningful and authentic data. At the same time, active interview interactions are impacted by the positionalities of both researcher and respondent. These positionalities include, but are not limited to sex, gender, race, ethnicity, social status and understanding of the subject under investigation.”

Congratulations Professor Sommers on your Research!