Anton Smolkin 1
  • 1 Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, 82 Prospect Vernadskogo, Moscow, 119571, Russian Federation

Distortions of Self-Descriptions in Unstructured Interviews: Sensitive Situation and Informants’ Self-Justification Strategies

2015, vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 64–79 [issue contents]
The article analyzes the properties of sensitive questions and, more broadly, of sensitive situations in unstructured interviews. Although direct sensitive questions are not typical for unstructured interviews because they can break the flow of communication, there is a quite large class of questions with contextual communicative perspectives that can be correctly considered as conditional/semi-sensitive. In particular, the questions regarding respect for elderly persons are not sensitive enough for informants to avoid answering them, but at the same time, are sufficiently delicate to make informants employ complex excusatory tactics in their answers. This practice supports the well-known thesis that to overcome the questions’ sensitivity, the most effective tactic is “justifying preambles,” which allows the removal of the moral burden either from the informant (in our case, by asking the question, “Are elderly persons sometimes themselves to be blamed for a bad attitude toward them?"), or from the circumstances in general (by creating a game situation/brainstorm on “How not to cede a seat to an elderly person on public transport?”). It should be remembered that, via this kind of research, we do not learn the real causes of rule-breaking as much, but rather a practical representation of the norm from the informant’s point of view, as well as a set of legitimate reasons for not following it. Particular attention should be paid to the informative value of sensitivity. For example, we can measure the level of the repression of social norms in specific areas of social life on the basis of the differences in the answers obtained in different ways.
Citation: Smolkin A. (2015) Iskazheniya v samoopisaniyakh v khode neformalizovannogo interv'yu: sensitivnye situatsii i strategii samoob"yasneniya informantov [Distortions of Self-Descriptions in Unstructured Interviews: Sensitive Situation and Informants’ Self-Justification Strategies]. The Russian Sociological Review, vol. 14, pp. 64-79 (in Russian)
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