walk in my shoes

I entered sociology not knowing what I wanted to study or how I wanted to study it. My department is pretty quantitative, which is not a problem for me because I love math and numbers – always have. But I found out something about myself, both in my master’s program year and last year, and that is that I love doing qualitative work, in the form of particpant observation and interviews.

I’m doing interviews for my candidacy paper, which we do in lieu of qualifying exams. It’s so time consuming and so hard to make sense of what’s going on, but it’s also amazing. I’m interviewing mothers, as parenthood is something that I’m really interested in (wonder why?), and the things they tell me, a total stranger, for no compensation, is wild. They let me into their lives for 2 hours and tell me things that they’ve told no one, not even their closest family and friends. The reveal things about their marriages, their relationships with their parents, their children, that are extremely painful for many. It’s such an act of generousity, to tell me these things for my research, I often do not know how to repay them.

But interviewing is a lot of work. Not the interview itself – I’m able to establish rapport really quickly, first by being really friendly and professional over email, and then just being open in the interview, and I am truly fascinated by people’s lives and the issues you would never know lurked right under the surface. But the scheduling and driving, the coding and analyzing – it’s a lot. I have a goal of completing 50 interviews by the end of the year, and I’m halfway there. There are some demographic groups that I haven’t been able to contact yet, but I think that will end soon as I have a meeting with an “insider” next week. Scheduling means nights and weekends and early mornings. The actual interview means sometimes driving a hour each way. It means less time with my kids, less time with my family.

But I love it anyway. I often find myself in another mother’s shoes, understanding the stresses that parents go through to do what they think is right for their kids. I get such a sense of satisfaction everytime an interview ends that I’ve gotten something important that the world of sociology needs to know. It’s also sad, because I find myself liking the women I meet, wishing we could be friends, but know that we cannot.  I promise them all that I will send the finished product, and all I can do is hope they like it and appreciate their contribution to increasing knowledge.

6 thoughts on “walk in my shoes

  1. I can relate. For my dissertation, I did many formal interviews to supplement my ethnographic data. My participant-observations took place is fairly noisy, busy spaces, and I wanted to get some of the key players alone in a quiet place to talk. But that meant a *lot* of driving, scheduling, and rescheduling. Not to mention, as you say, the coding and analysis end of it.

    But it’s a blast. I’m getting ready to start a new ethnographic project soon.
    Good luck!

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  2. Nice! It’s always good to find out something about yourself professionally that you didn’t expect…

    I had the opposite reaction though — I did interviews with caregivers (usually Moms) and kids and found them wrenching and exhausting. It was a tough population and topic (kids who had a parent incarcerated) and I had a lot of difficulty maintaining distance (I got teary during one). It tended to throw off my whole day — the positive is that this makes me human but I worry a bit about the usefulness of the interviews (did I ask the right questions, spot inconsistencies, etc). I’m so glad I did them, I understand things so much better than if I had only done my quantitative analysis but I will also think hard before doing it again. [I also learned I have a lot to learn about interviewing.]

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  3. Congratulations on getting so far already! I hope that someday I am able to do qualitative interviews/participant observation work. All of my work to date has been VERY quantitative, but there are so many questions that I think I will only be able to answer qualitatively.

    Good luck!

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  4. Congratulations on everything: your progress, love and enthusiasm for the project, and gratitude to your co-participants! I thoroughly enjoyed my qualitative analysis.

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