Oral tradition

The interview (1)

Every interview begins with a previous instance, in which the researcher and the interviewee make contact and prepare for the talk and the collection. Since it is necessary to relax before the recording –and since nerves are usually habitual in both parts–,seeing the interviewee with some time in advance helps to soften the situation, to relax and to create a cordial atmosphere.

An important point when attending an interview is the personal appearance with which the interviewer goes to the appointment. The non-verbal tone given to the interviewee may be more important to the success of the interview than what is going to be said. The researcher's look tells the interviewee a lot about how s/he is seen, about how s/he is going to be treated and about the interview itself. Informal clothing can speak of a relaxed atmosphere, but it can also mean disrespect; on the contrary, formal clothes may suggest a more serious environment, but they can intimidate. Therefore, the aspect must be adapted according to the interviewee, so that s/he feel comfortable with the researcher and the interview.

The time prior to recording is a good time to prepare the tools. After some pre-talk, permission can be requested to assemble the equipment (some people may be offended if they are working while they are talking, as it may give the impression that they are not being given proper attention). Hardware should be tested, carefully double-checking the sound quality.

Some people get nervous at the mere thought of being recorded. A good policy, in this sense, is to make people comfortable about this point before beginning the interview, answering all the necessary questions about the recording process.

Before starting, it is convenient to find out if the interviewee wants copies of the interview. Some families love to keep it. If such materials are promised, the promise must be fulfilled.

Last but not least, the pre-interview is the right time for the signing of informed consent.

Since the collected material will be disseminated and/or will become a part of the collection of a library or an archive, the interviewee must provide a written or recorded permission in which, as the owner of that knowledge, s/he expresses agreement with the destination that will be given to the information (destination that s/he should already know). This permission is often referred to as informed consent. One way to get it is to use a consent form. It states what you intend to do with the information, and the interviewee signs it. A widely used way, however, is to record a verbal consent. In both cases, the information recorded is basically the same. An example of the latter case would be as follows:

  • My name is Edgardo Civallero, the date is June 27, 2005. I am talking to Osvaldo Choque, from the Carahuasi community, in the province of Jujuy, in Argentina. I would like to interview you about local legends. I will use this information to write a report [or other format] that can be used for school broadcasting [or other purpose]. I will also use it for dissemination in libraries [or other uses]. Do I have your permission, Mr. Choque?
  • Yes, Mr. Civallero, you have my permission.

It is important to ask the interviewee if s/he wants to be with someone during the interview. Many people feel more comfortable this way, and sometimes the companions can help to remember things. It is preferable to have interviews individually: the interviewer's attention can be better focused. However, if a group interview cannot be avoided, make sure to identify each person who participates in the interview, remembering that the consents of each participant are needed.

It usually happens that some people join the interview spontaneously, once it has already begun. On the one hand, it is necessary to make clear who the interviewee is (which does not mean denying the possibility of a private interview with another potential informant at a future time). On the other hand, it is necessary to ask those "unexpected contributors" the corresponding permission, although that may depend on the importance of their contribution.

At all times a friendly attitude must be maintained, of integration into the interviewee's space, of trust and cordiality. The person to be recorded is opening a part of his/her life to the researcher, and such an attitude deserves all the possible respect and gratitude.