Research Methods (1) Interviews

1. What is an interview?

An interview is a conversation for the purpose of collecting information. Following the work of feminist sociologist, Ann Oakley (1981), the interview has been understood as a relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee, jointly producing knowledge, rather than an ‘objective’ exercise of extracting information from an interviewee or research participant.

There are two traditions in conducting interviews:

  1. using them to collect data about people;
  2. as a way of allowing people to speak for themselves- to discuss their own experiences and reflect on their understanding of them (Peake 2018).

In practice, interviews can incorporate both functions, as they do in the GenUrb project.

Interviews are particularly useful as a feminist research method because they:

  •      provide insight into women’s experiences
  •      allow women to narrate their experiences in their own terms
  •      they provide insight into women’s standpoint, perspectives and understandings of their experiences (Anderson and Jack 1991, p. 11).

When we research the city interviews are used for two main purposes:

  1. understanding the experience of everyday life – how people live their lives in the city; and,
  2. charting sets of power relations within and beyond the city, understanding the city as spaces of political, economic and social power (Peake 2018).

These two purposes are not incompatible but they do have different emphases and epistemologies.

Different types of interviews that are commonly used in qualitative research include:

  • Unstructured interviews: an open-ended way to explore meaning.
  • Structured interviews: very focused and specific, involves closed questions.
  • In-depth semi-structured interviews: give insight into the lived experience of participants and the ways that they understand their experience, often focused on issues.
  • Oral/Life history interviews: gives insight into a participant’s entire life story.
  • Focus group interview: gain information from a group of people.
  • Walking interviews: a way of understanding social relations in relation to place.

Next, we will examine some of these different types of interviews in greater detail.



  • Oakley, A. 1981. Interviewing Women: A contradiction in terms. In: H. Roberts, ed. Doing feminist research. London, England: Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 30-61.
  • Peake, L. 2018. Presentation at the ‘Workshop in Urban Feminist Research: Ethnographic Research Tools’, Ramallah, Palestine, July 2018.
  • Anderson, K. and D. Jack (1991) ‘Learning to Listen: Interview Techniques and Analysis’, in S. Gluck and D. Patai (eds) Women’s Words: The Feminist Practice of Oral History. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.