Last week the research team had our first meeting of the New Year. We reflected on the transcription process that the ROP students did at the end of last semester and discussed further analyses for later this semester. Doing that transcription definitely taught me a lot about human interaction! After listening to the interview over and over again for hours on end, I was able to really examine the subtleties of the interviewee’s wording and body language. I was also reminded that any ethnographic “knowledge” we can glean from our research is necessarily incomplete, because the researcher always in some way influences the interaction, and we have to acknowledge that certain answers might arise due in large part to the wording of our questions.
One of the things I found very interesting was that my interviewee tended to answer questions very narrowly, and since the questions posed tended to be about his objective experiences rather than his emotions, needs, desires, personal judgments, etc., after listening to the interview innumerable times I was still unsure how the interviewee felt about many of the interactions he had recounted. This experience also taught me how important it is to do pilot projects like this one so we can learn the effects of our questions and our frameworks on our participants.
At our meeting last week, we discussed follow up questions to ask our participants to gain more insight into our participants’ lives, with the understanding that we can never “know” all there is to “know.” This understanding was somewhat new for me, because I have experience working with lawyers and studying legal theory, and a lawyer’s job (or especially a judge’s job) seems to be to try to figure out what happened, or to take what happened and present it in the most favorable light. This necessarily requires trying to gain the fullest possible understanding of a situation, but working on this transcription and reflecting on it reminded me that it is never possible to gain a “perfect” understanding of a situation because people’s lives and feelings are so fluid and there are so many components of every situation that it would be impossible to gain full knowledge of everything. This was an interesting thing for me to ponder.