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What good are interviews for thinking about culture? Demystifying interpretive analysis

Abstract

This article evaluates the claims of a small but active group of culture scholars who have used theoretical models of bifurcated consciousness to allege important methodological implications for research in culture. These scholars, whom I dub ‘cognitive culturalists’, have dismissed the utility of in-depth interviewing to access the visceral, causally powerful level of ‘practical consciousness’. I argue these scholars are misguided in their diagnosis of a problem (interviews can only access people's after-the-fact rationalizations), and their vision of a solution (culture scholars need to access the ‘snap judgments’ that map onto the subterranean level of practical consciousness). I contend these flaws are tied to a limited understanding of the kind of information available in interviews, particularly the in-depth interview subjected to interpretive analysis. Using data from a recent book project on commitment, I elaborate on four kinds of information harbored in interviews: the honorable, the schematic, the visceral and meta-feelings. I rely on these forms of data to argue for scholars to expect, and to use analytically – rather than strive to ‘solve’ theoretically – the contradictory cultural accounts that our research subjects evince. Furthermore, I demonstrate how interpretive interviewing allows researchers access to an emotional landscape that brings a broader, social dimension to individual motivation.

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Pugh, A. What good are interviews for thinking about culture? Demystifying interpretive analysis. Am J Cult Sociol 1, 42–68 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1057/ajcs.2012.4

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Keywords

  • culture
  • emotions
  • theory
  • methods
  • interviews