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Any cross-cultural interaction between a researcher and the subjects of research may be considered an interview. These interactions may range from asking directions of someone along the way, or a formal interview with a locally knowledgeable expert. Interviews are an important part of many different data collections methods. For ethical interaction the purpose of research and the dissemination of the information needs to be explained. When a test is administered the researcher will need to explain the purposes and process of the test. Formal interviews are a valuable way to gathered signficant information. These interactions are considered cross-cultural because we can expect that the researcher comes to the interview with a different set of values, assumptions,expectations, and goals than the interviewee. There are three important parts of interviewing technique: basic interaction, question design, and analysis.

Basic Interaction

When the researcher meets with a person for an interview, two aspect must be recognized and understood: the cultures involved and the context. Each person carries with them a set of values, assumptions, expectations, and goals in the interaction. Some of these values and assumptions may be culturally conditioned, but personnal disposition may be more important.

The researcher needs to be very aware and cautious of the potential for misunderstanding and conflict between the values, assumptions and goals of the participants of an interview. A researcher obviously values honesty and completness in the interview. The researcher should have an expectation that the interviewee will not fully understand the purpose of the research, will make assumptions based on his/her values and expectations, and will not be able to answer for more than his/her knowledge and experience. A good researcher should suspend assumptions as much as possible, but being human it may not be possible to be completely void of assumptions.

It is advisable for the researcher to have an attitude of benevolant scepticism. This term refers to an expectation that some information given by an interviewee will not be accurate. The researcher shouldn't assume that all interviewees want to be as helpful as possible, but this isn't to suggest an attitude of paranoia or suspicion. Some cultures may believe that it is dangerous to give an outsider truthful and complete information. Due to the subject matter of an interview the interviewee may want to deceive, but the researcher should not assume that the interviewee has malicious intentions. These cultures and interviewees may have good reasons for being cautious. It is the burden of the researcher to understand and adapt to the perspective of the interviewee.

The researcher can only understand the context of the interview based on the researchers quantity and quality of interaction with the interviewee and his/her culture. In some cultures it may be very uncomfortable for an individual to be separated from the group for a private interview. This context may cause the interviewee to give cautious and incomplete answers. In some cultures the individual may not feel they can speak for the larger community. Some researchers have arrived in a community at a time of festival only to find that everyone is drunk. This context will obviously affect the quality of an interview.

For more description on the kinds and variation of different perspectives see:

  • Borofsky, Robert. 1987. Making History: Pukapukan & Anhropological Constructions of Knowledge. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Foley, William A. 1997. Anthropological linguistics: an introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Keenan, Elinor Ochs. 1976. The universality of conversational postulates. Language in Society 5(1). 67-80.
  • Robbins, Joel. 2001. God is nothing but talk: modernity, language, and prayer in a Papua New Guinea society. American Anthropologist 103(4). 901-912.

Question Construction

This section is not meant to replace the larger and more thorough section on questionnaires, but to make more general comments on the questions used in interviews.


Interview information is generally more qualitative than quantitative data. It is important when analyzing data from an interview to remember that these are the responses of individuals and are, therefore, dependant on the individuals perspective and experience. It is also important to be honest and complete about the source of information when reporting conclusions based on the responses of individuals.