[A]n interpreter can no longer claim to teach the reader the meaning of a text, for without a subjective contribution and a context there is no such thing. Far more instructive will be an analysis of what actuallyhappens when one is reading a text, for that is when the text begins to unfold itspotential;it is in the reader that the text comes to life…. In reading we are ableto experience things that no longer exist and to understand thingsthat are totally unfamiliar to us; and it is this astonishing process that now needs to beinvestigated.Iser, 1980, p. 19
We have seen that standard practice in qualitative research – semistructured interviews followed by analysis through coding – embodies contradictory ontological commitments and notions of subject and object and of subjectivity and objectivity. On the one hand, each person is assumed to be a separate individual with personal and private experiences, beliefs, thoughts, and desires. On the other hand, scientific knowledge is assumed to be objective and general, impersonal and detached, with all personal elements eliminated. How, then, can scientific knowledge be derived from subjective experience?
The qualitative research interview also draws confusingly from two models of language: discourse as a joint construction and language as a conduit. In the conduit model, what someone says is an “expression” of their experience or subjectivity. In the joint practice model, what is said is a product of two people, interviewer and interviewee. The semistructured interview uses the collaborative resources of language asymmetrically to render the interviewer invisible and encourage “disclosure” by the interviewee. The interviewee is encouraged to contemplate and reminisce about a topic outside the here and now, to confess to a patient but skeptical listener. In this respect, the interviewee's subjectivity is an effect of the semistructured interview, not a preexisting, independent personal experience that is the content expressed in what is said.
Ironically, the ontological and epistemological assumptions embedded in the standard practices of qualitative research today turn out to be more or less the same as those of empirical-analytic inquiry. Individuals are assumed to be separate, with properties – opinions, experiences – that are internal and hidden. Rather than conduct surveys to measure these personal and private experiences, qualitative researchers try to gain access to them through the conduit of a language that they assume is composed of common concepts.
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