Art+Village+City: On the Interview as a Method

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Art+Village+City

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

The research studio conducted roughly 15 one-on-one interviews with individuals from the PRD or who had lived there. This resulted in reflections from the class on the interview as a method from individual students’ disciplinary expectations, and insights gained from the aggregate of the class’s presentations of interviews.
— Winnie Wong

“On listening to and watching fellow classmates’ presentations of their interviews, I was struck by the two forms that the interviews took. There is the form of questioning, of the encounter, the manner in which one, the researcher, goes about extracting information from the other, the informant. Then there is the finished form, the completed conversation, the object that can be presented. This later form, the presentable object, is not one that I think about much. In anthropology we are taught to ask open questions, to not push our interlocutors to certain conclusions….The later form, the presentation of the interview, remains fragmented—bits of it appear in articles, anecdotes, and books.”
— Brittany Birberick (Anthropology)

“I personally wish that I had made an audio recording of my interview so that I could go back and confirm the accuracy of and flesh out my notes. Perhaps more importantly, though, I think that by recording the questions I asked along with my interviewee’s responses, I could gain a better understanding of how I may or may not have posed biased, guiding questions, or missed opportunities for valuable follow-up questions….However, I think there is something even more powerful about a video recording because one is able to capture the silent gestures that may not be conveyed in the verbal expressions of an interviewee, adding immeasurable value…”
— Genise Choy (City Planning)

“Perhaps due to the very similar biographies of my two interviewees, I’ve been thinking about the presumable goals of finding a 'good' ethnographic subject or informant. Is it to find the typical, or to search out the exceptional? I get the sense that social science research is motivated by tracing patterns, and perhaps finding a typical case within these narratives to personalize them and cast larger social movements, developments, issues, etc., into a concrete representation. My field of art history often tends to look at the singular or at the odd detail in order to propose counter-narratives to the expected.”
— Susan Eberhard (Art History)

“I decided to report a summary of the interviews in form of video clip. In my idea, it was important to describe the personality of the interviewee, besides reporting their statements. This probably allows a complete understanding of the sample, a more transparent reading of the conversation; and makes possible to establish relations between given informations and interviewee personality.”
— Ettore Santi (Architecture)

“In choosing my interview subject I did not consider the possibility of a virtual interview. For me the word ‘interview’ immediately brought to mind a face-to-face interaction somewhere in the Bay Area. I was quite pleased others took the notion of the interview beyond our geographical location.…Each of these interviews presented the story of someone living elsewhere….In my own research I communicate frequently with artists via Facebook and Skype in order to keep up to date on the most recent art happenings in Indonesia. Some of these conversations are incredibly rich yet ephemeral as I generally do not view them as interviews. Sben’s documentation of Facebook and Skype conversation as well as Ettore’s recording of his Skype chat caused me to think more critically about how I position or utilize my virtual interactions with those I consider key informants and/or collaborators in my project.”
— Katie Bruhn (Southeast Asian Studies)

“Notes to self: 1) Allow the person you interview to have space to speak -even if that means long pauses. Although you can reveal your desires in the conversation, just try to do 20% of the talking. 2) Remember written interviews/correspondence as a valuable/valid form. TAKE NOTES. 3) Any subject is a good subject.”
— José Figueroa (Art Practice)

“This being my first ever assigned interview in the history of my education, I am wondering why this is not a more frequently used pedagogical tool across disciplines. The layering and intersection of personal anecdotes with the broader patterns we have been reading about asks a level of critical thinking and connection making that felt extremely illuminating and productive. People are a fascinating resource, and I loved the excuse to be nosey about someone’s life and thoughts. Each of our presentations was a glimpse into a life and mind, and so full of information that I find it hard to remember the details.”
— Story Wiggins (Landscape Architecture)