Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 153–171 | Cite as

Methodological Pluralism and the Possibilities and Limits of Interviewing

  • Michèle Lamont
  • Ann SwidlerEmail author


Against the background of recent methodological debates pitting ethnography against interviewing, this paper offers a defense of the latter and argues for methodological pluralism and pragmatism and against methodological tribalism. Drawing on our own work and on other sources, we discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of interviewing. We argue that concern over whether attitudes correspond to behavior is an overly narrow and misguided question. Instead we offer that we should instead consider what interviewing and other data gathering techniques are best suited for. In our own work, we suggest, we have used somewhat unusual interviewing techniques to reveal how institutional systems and the construction of social categories, boundaries, and status hierarchies organize social experience. We also point to new methodological challenges, particularly concerning the incorporation of historical and institutional dimensions into interview-based studies. We finally describe fruitful directions for future research, which may result in methodological advances while bringing together the strengths of various data collection techniques.


Interviewing Ethnography Methodology Cultural sociology Methodological pluralism Theory 



An earlier version of this paper was presented in a session on “Varieties of Evidence and Method in Cultural Analysis” at the American Sociological Association Meetings, New York City, August 9–13, 2013. We thank Mabel Berezin for soliciting our contribution and for her comments, and the participants in the Culture and Social Analysis Workshop of the Department of Sociology at Harvard University, particularly Curtis Chan and Larissa Buchholz, for their comments and suggestions. We also thank Bart Bonikowski, Matt Desmond, Annette Lareau, and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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