As a videographer and while working as a journalist years ago, I did a slew of interviews. As an anthropologist, not too many. Maybe you’d expect a ditto on interviewing as an anthropologist. After all, much of my time was spent learning about people’s culture, and don’t you do that in an interview? Well, not really.
First of all, we have this fieldwork model called participant/observation that encourages us to participate as much as possible while observing and learning. So much of the time, you learn more while doing and observing than just asking. In truth, it is interesting to compare and contrast what people tell you they do with what they actually do.
The way I’ve always preferred interacting is by conversation rather than interview. An interview implies that one asks questions and the other answers. A conversation means that two people engage in an exchange. For me, the first has the taint of colonialist anthropology – an anthropology that tends to make objects out of the culture or community being studied. You tell me your pedigree, I create your kinship chart and describe your kinship system in a journal article.
By the way, while working as an applied or practicing anthropologist, I did collect kinship information. But it often was collected in free-ranging conversations where my family was discussed along with theirs. “Your Uncle Ted did what? Well, let me tell you about what my uncle Lenny did.”
It’s a dangerous fallacy to think they are uninterested in you because you collect information about them. It is a truism that relationships are built on reciprocity, a give and take, a balancing of inputs.
I’ve always suspected there’d be a bit of turmoil at my old Department of Anthropology if they ever listened to my fieldwork recordings or read my journals. They’d wonder just who was being studied, me or them? In fact, no one was really being studied because my work wasn’t centered on producing something for the anthropological community. It was centered on creating programs, text, and video for the community itself. Yes, some of that was of interest as an anthropological work, but its goal was primarily to be of worth to the community.