Social Constructionism in the Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty: From Theory to Methodology and Methods

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 46 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Judith ECKERT, Institute of Sociology, University of Freiburg, Germany
As a lesson of her research on fear of crime, Wendy Hollway noted that the common assumption of the interview ‒ “you ask, they answer and then you know” ‒ should be overcome. While she argued on a psychoanalytic basis, social constructionist methodologies also refuse such a conception of the interview as unproblematically transparent. When social reality is continually under construction, interviews cannot be regarded as a neutral technology to collect data, but have to be considered as a particular form of social interaction in which the participants co-construct meaning. However, while social constructionism has found its way (more and less) into central theories of the sociology of risk and uncertainty, its implications and potentials for methodologies and methods are far from being exhausted.

Based on Kathryn Roulston’s writing about different interview epistemologies, Karen Henwood et al.’s reflective risk research, Jan Kruse’s integrative hermeneutical analysis and my own research on contemporary fear, this paper will demonstrate the consequences of such a social constructionist epistemology for the conceptualization and analysis of interviews as well as the usefulness of such an approach. It will be argued that methods for analyzing interviews should not only focus on what has been said as a product of the interview, but they should also include how the process of interactive meaning-making has evolved. As some examples from my own research illustrate, the usefulness of taking the interaction into account applies even for projects that are more interested in the “what”, for instance when it comes to possible effects of researchers’ risk framings and wordings on the results respectively on what interviewees think they should and may talk about (or not).