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International Journal of Social

Research Methodology
Publication details, including instructions for authors and
subscription information:

The self-interview: a new method in

social science research
a a a
Emily Keightley , Michael Pickering & Nicola Allett
Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University,
Leicestershire, UK
Published online: 31 Jan 2012.

To cite this article: Emily Keightley , Michael Pickering & Nicola Allett (2012) The self-interview: a
new method in social science research, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 15:6,
507-521, DOI: 10.1080/13645579.2011.632155

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2011.632155


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International Journal of Social Research Methodology
Vol. 15, No. 6, November 2012, 507521

The self-interview: a new method in social science research

Emily Keightley*, Michael Pickering and Nicola Allett

Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK

(Received 11 May 2011; nal version received 11 October 2011)

This article presents the new method of self-interviewing as an empirical tool

specically for use in memory studies research. The article traces some of the
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empirical limitations specic to the eld of memory studies and reviews the
existing tools used in this area. It particularly focuses on some of the limitations
of qualitative interviewing, the memory work method and diary methods in gen-
erating data on the processes of vernacular remembering at the same time as
making visible the meaning that remembering has for participants in their every-
day lives. We propose the self-interview as a method which addresses some of
these limitations. In elaborating the value of the self-interview, we draw exten-
sively on eldwork that we have conducted using this method. Although the
self-interview does not divest memory studies of the need for a range of other
methods, the self-interview is an important addition to its currently rather sparse
methodological tool kit.
Keywords: memory studies; interviewing; qualitative; everyday remembering

Over the last two decades, the academic eld of memory studies has seen unprece-
dented growth, with contributions from a wide variety of disciplines including his-
tory, psychology, sociology and media and cultural studies. This heterogeneity has
brought with it a pair of attendant and reciprocally related difculties. Firstly, there
has been a dearth of empirical research in the eld. With some notable exceptions,
there are very few large- or indeed small-scale research projects actively collecting
data on remembering practices and processes.1 Secondly, critical discussion of meth-
odological approaches is generally absent (Cubitt, 2007; Keightley, 2010). Even in
the empirically based research literature, there is little reection on methods of inves-
tigation or the nature of the data being used. An inventory of empirical tools and
conceptual frameworks available for researchers in the eld is singularly lacking. In
contrast, critical reection on historiographical methods, which includes the use of
memory as a research tool, is an established part of social history. Oral historians
such as Luisa Passerini and Allessandro Portelli have gone to great lengths to evalu-
ate the epistemological issues at stake in the use of memory as a research tool in oral
history interviews (Passerini, 1982, 1987, 1992; Portelli, 1981, 1991). They have
explicitly argued for oral data to be considered as historical evidence and in doing so
explored the processes involved in generating and analysing them in a critical and
rigorous way. The equivalent has yet to be developed in memory studies.

*Corresponding author. Email: E.Keightley@lboro.ac.uk

ISSN 1364-5579 print/ISSN 1464-5300 online

2012 Taylor & Francis
508 E. Keightley et al.

Oral historians recognise that memory operates, not as a window on the past,
but as a reconstructive process of making sense of experience through talk. In meth-
odological accounts of the kind provided by Passerini and Portelli, reexivity in
their use of memory means that, to some extent, memory is a tacit object of the
research alongside whatever historical phenomenon is under explicit consideration.
However, in memory-studies research, it is frequently the practices and processes
involved in individual, social and cultural dimensions of remembering that are
under investigation. Without a distinctive set of methodological approaches, or
indeed a methodological dialogue which might produce one, it is unclear how they
can be investigated and how we can adequately assess attempts to do so.
As oral history demonstrates, the qualitative interview makes it possible to
explore memory itself alongside an investigation of an historical issue or period,
but straightforwardly adopting oral history methods without consideration of their
value in investigating memory as a research object is problematic.2 Accordingly we
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shall argue that the qualitative interview characteristic of oral history research can
be modied and developed in various ways in order to situate everyday remember-
ing as the primary research object, rather than leaving remembering as essential but
nevertheless secondary to its main focus of investigation. From these modications,
we have developed the self-interview. This method is particularly suited to the
exploration of everyday remembering as it is able to incorporate long pauses and
discursive disruptions, record both practices of remembering and reection on them
without imposing restrictive genre conventions on responses and retain a focus on
the dynamic relations between individual and social dimensions of remembering.

Interviewing and its discontents

Interviewing is by denition a two-way exchange in which questions are asked and
answered, experiences shared, attitudes outlined and perspectives on particular top-
ics set out and explained. All sorts of methodological principles and values are then
applied to this, but the expectation in qualitative interviewing is that two or three
people will participate in spoken discourse which is reciprocal and reasonably bal-
anced between talking and listening. In this article, we want to discuss a particular
departure from this methodological norm.
The self-interview has arisen out of the specic nature of a current research pro-
ject, and in order to explain what this departure involves and why we have elected
to develop it, we need rst to provide an outline of the research. We are interested
in two key topics: rstly, the use of media technologies in everyday life for the pur-
poses of self-representation, along with individual and small group identity mainte-
nance; and secondly, the facilitation and fostering of acts and practices of
remembering in peoples lives through these technologies. In pilot sessions used to
prepare for this research, we found that the two communication technologies which
people use or associate with memory and remembering more than any others are
photography and recorded music. These are accordingly the two media of remem-
bering we are focusing on in the eldwork associated with the project.
When we rst began this research we concentrated on one-to-one qualitative
interviews with people associated with different social categories, and then widened
this out to include family discussions and community-based focus groups. It was as
a result of our experience of the practical use of interviews in particular, along with
our assessment of their conduct and the quality of the data generation resulting
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 509

from them, that we began to think about developing a different approach to the
investigation of memory and media in everyday life and in relation to popular con-
ceptions of a life cycle and stages within it. The consequence of this was the self-
interview. We shall elaborate on the method later in the article, but in short it
involves respondents recording themselves as they talk on the two key topics we
have outlined.
In our early interviews on everyday remembering, we realised that in response
to certain questions, informants needed more time to think about what they wanted
to say or what they could possibly say, about the appropriate way in which to speak
about their experience or practice, or about whether a particular example or case
would best illustrate their point. Interviews require ow and inhibit discontinuity in
the use of the spoken word. Prolonged silence would be met with awkwardness and
embarrassment. Now, of course, as a metacommunicational axiom of the pragmat-
ics of communication, it is generally accepted that one cannot not communicate
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(Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1968, pp. 4851). We can and do communicate
through silence or withdrawal (Jaworski, 1993), but if in the course of an interview,
someone withdrew their voice and sank into silence, it would spell disaster for the
research. Interviews prohibit the lapse into not speaking, even for a relatively short
spell. They are assessed as successful only when they are full of owing words,
and not when they are full of the gaps and lacunae in the transcription which would
be indicative of such lapses.3
In response, we wanted to create for our informants the opportunity to stop and
think, to cease speaking and take however much time out they required in order to
go over certain memories, to connect certain memories together, to think about the
experiences, occasions or stages in their lives which looking at photographs or lis-
tening to music brought back for them. Such things cannot necessarily be done on
the hoof. So we decided to experiment by asking some of our potential informants
to record themselves talking about photographs and recorded music and the ways in
which they operate as vehicles of memory in their lives. We asked them to inter-
view themselves.
We did not of course simply leave our informants to proceed as they saw t,
once they had agreed to record themselves. We discussed the topic of investigation
with them beforehand and provided them with a guide sheet setting out the areas
we would like them to cover. These were more or less the same areas we had been
covering in face to face interviews, but in removing our physical presence from the
time of the recording, we had simultaneously removed the prohibition on pausing.
Whenever they desired, our informants were able to press the pause button on the
digital voice recorder we supplied them with. This created new spaces in which
they could reect on certain images or sounds, with photographs spread out in front
of them or chosen items of recorded music playing in the background. The infor-
mants themselves were able to choose when to talk about the memories and pro-
cesses of remembering associated with these sounds and images, and for how long
at any one time.
This is particularly well-suited to our topic of investigation. Sometimes certain
memories do not come back to mind all at once; they do not necessarily arise at
will in any fully-edged way. It can be benecial to allow someone sufcient time
to think over a certain period in their life, to re-explore what was involved in a par-
ticular event or occasion. This may for example involve the backstory associated
with an event or occasion memorialised in a photograph, or signalled by a song or
510 E. Keightley et al.

piece of music. Some memories in their association with a photographic image or

an item of music may be disturbing. The association may be with someone who
has passed away, or with a lost love, and its emotional power may be such that it is
not easy or possible to launch straight away into talk about the mnemonic associa-
tion. Affording people the time to come to terms once again with their feelings,
some of which may touch them very deeply, means that when they do come to talk
again into a recorder, they are able to do so more calmly, and perhaps more fully
and coherently. These are just a couple of the benets of the self-interview. They
seem to be especially helpful in researching vernacular forms and practices of
remembering, primarily because the chief opportunity the self-interview creates is
that of allowing legitimate csurae to become a constructive part of the process of
qualitative research.
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Existing mnemonic methods

Our new approach to generating self-oriented data emerged out of concerns around
the communication of memory in the research interview. By enabling sufcient time
for remembering and reection, the self-interview provides a suitable research space
for respondents to communicate their remembering practices. It is of course not
unique in attempting to move beyond the limitations of the conventional in-depth
interview in researching everyday processes of remembering. The memory work
method, for example, captures and examines memory experiences through story-
writing and analysis. Developed by Haug (1987) with a focus on gendered frame-
works of memory (Kouttroulis, 2001; Small, 1999), the Birmingham CCCS Popular
Memory Group also used it to investigate the ways in which private memories
became connected to public versions of history (Johnson, 1982). The method was
elaborated in Crawford, Kippax, Onyx, Gault, and Bentons (1992) study of the
social construction of emotion through the introduction of a set of rules and proce-
dures which have become a template for many memory work researchers. Their
study identied three phases of memory work: the writing and collection of detailed
memories in the third person; the collective analysis of memories focusing on their
social meanings over autobiographical ones, followed by the rewriting of memories
to address what is not written and what might be expected; the collective reap-
praisal of memories involving a broader analysis comparing and contrasting all of
the memories generated. This three-stage process avoids some of the practical dif-
culties associated with using in-depth interviews to elicit memory. The structured
setting and process systematise the elicitation of memories, preventing unexpected
silences and forestalling disruptions.
A practical drawback with the method is that working in a group closes down
the possibility for extended periods of self-reection, but its major methodological
limitation is that in examining single, specic memories elicited for the purpose of
collective analysis, the memory work method inevitably excises memories from
their wider context in everyday remembering practices. Memory as product rather
than remembering as process is the object of study. This means that the meaning of
memories in their contexts of use is not manifest in the data. The consequence of
this is that the ideological structures found in the memories are emphasised over
the meanings that the memory may have in the context of a life-narrative. The crea-
tive ways that it may be used in everyday remembering and over the course of time
are not the intended research object of this method.
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 511

The solicited diary is another method that can accommodate temporal disrup-
tions in data collection. The solicited diary is a researcher-driven diary completed
by a participant often with a time frame, guidelines and a focus (Kenton, 2010).
The diary is written as and when the participant wants to, so allowing time for
reection. The method places emphasis upon the respondents interpretation and
freedom to follow or ignore the given focus. The method is sometimes accompa-
nied by an interview after completion of the diary to discuss what has been
recorded and in this way the method can ll in details and provide information that
can be probed further to gather richer research data.
The written diary method does have its own limitations. The lightness and exi-
bility of an interview method cannot be replicated in diary keeping. The act of writ-
ing and remembering using elicitation materials in an extended or naturalistic
fashion is difcult. Entries on remembering will usually conform to the generic fea-
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tures of diary writing. In terms of content, this revolves around an emphasis on per-
sonal reection and individual meaning. In terms of form, written diaries use
conventional prose and develop a storied structure of some kind, often with an
emphasis on personal progression or development over time. While everyday
remembering can be eclectically structured, moving apace between memories, peri-
ods and the locations of remembering, in its written form, a diary imposes narrative
coherence and episodic structure. Memories have then to be recorded through the
prism of these genre conventions. When used to record everyday remembering, a
diary method produces a synthesis or summary of the remembering one has done in
a day, a week or other period of time and as such records ones thoughts about
remembering, but not those acts of remembering themselves as they occurred.
Whilst the face to face interview can involve these post-hoc reections, in allowing
for stories to be told, photographs to be browsed at length or in movement from
room to room, it can also record remembering in the moment of its performance.
The diary method involves a separation of the remembering practice from reec-
tions upon it. The self-interview differs in that it records both the reection on
remembering and remembering in practice, and does so even more effectively than
the conventional one-to-one interview in allowing for natural pauses and disruptions
to these practices to be recorded also, often with an explanation of why they have
Diary methods have evolved to make use of media technologies such as video
cameras and audio recording equipment. These formats enable respondents to delete
and edit content and pause at will and so can offer space for reection in the pro-
cess of data collection whilst also capturing remembering as it occurs. The video
diary is used as a means for respondents to share their daily information, feelings
and reections about events in a familiar way, due to the popularity of reality televi-
sion programmes which broadcast participants video diary entries (Buchswald,
Schantz-Laurseen, & Delmar, 2009). The audio diary has emerged as a means to
tackle the problems of completion and motivation associated with written diaries.
Audio diaries are used as a means to gather daily experiences because of their ease
of use for the respondent. In researching sleep, Hislop, Arber, Meadows, and Venn
(2005) used audio diaries to collect personal interpretations of sleep over consecu-
tive nights. Similarly, Johnson, Williamson, Lyttle, and Leeming (2009) used the
method as a means to get mothers to record their breast feeding experiences, often
as they happened. Audio diaries can provide much in the way of day-to-day activi-
ties, but the extent to which participants talk about what these mean to them is
512 E. Keightley et al.

dependent on the self-reexivity of the participant. The self-interview aims to incor-

porate both of these features, rstly by allowing space for reection and pauses as
it can be stopped and resumed at any time by the participant, and secondly by facil-
itating this reection by using a guide sheet, and at the same time allowing the pro-
cesses and practices of remembering to be recorded as they are performed during
the time of the interview. This is especially crucial for researching remembering.
The virtue of the self-interview is that it involves a combination of performing acts
of remembering and reecting on them. This can provide a distinct route into the
meanings of memory and experience of remembering not so readily available via
other social science methods.
In some research, the audio diary has been deliberately structured to incorpo-
rate respondents responses to the research process. Worths (2009) research on
visually impaired young peoples experiences and reections of growing up intro-
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duced audio diaries in order to capture the thoughts and interpretations after an
initial interview. Her participants were given a guide which outlined thematic ele-
ments of the research plus a list of optional questions. Worth highlights the partic-
ular advantage the audio diary had in offering the participant the ability to edit
and delete content before submitting it to the researcher. Additionally, she found
that the audio diaries encouraged a stream-of-consciousness response that was not
present in interviews or written diaries. Worths use of the audio diary most clo-
sely resembles our self-interview method, not only because participants are audio
recording their reections, but also because they are using a guide sheet that clari-
es the themes and interests of the researcher and so directs the recorded entries.
It can therefore record the experiences of social processes in action and partici-
pants reections on them. Nevertheless, the everyday practices of remembering
routinely include the use of material objects and specic spaces and places. The
retrospective diary format does not easily allow the role of these to be investi-
gated. In contrast, the self-interview allows respondents to record themselves
actively engaging with their personal mundane vehicles of memory. In our
research, respondents were asked to use the elicitation devices of photographs and
recorded music. This particular advantage of self-recording has been utilised by
researchers pursuing mobile methods or conducting visual ethnography. Allowing
participants to record their experiences or to show the researcher elements of their
lives can give a glimpse into their everyday worlds as well as their everyday per-
formances and strategies of self-presentation (Bscher, Urry, & Witchger, 2011;
Pink, 2007, 2009).
Mobile methods record visual and audio movement, experiences and thoughts
between spaces by using an audio or video recorder to record a participants conver-
sation and journey, alone or talking to an interviewer, as they walk a particular
route or go about their daily activities. In his use of mobile interviewing, Anderson
(2004) considers that talking whilst walking allows the possibility of accessing
the relationship between people, place and time. Mobile methods generate richer
data than would emerge out of a normal, static interview setting. They have been
utilised by Murray (2009) who got the young people in his research to lm their
journey to school and describe feelings and responses to mobile space. This kind of
mobility can be incorporated into the self-interview. Moving around their mnemonic
environment, participants not only reect on their experiences and memories but
also give an account of them in process and in situ as they look through photograph
albums, traverse their living room looking at photos on the wall or mantelpiece or
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 513

listen to recorded music of their choice. Many of the studies that have utilised
mobile methods are phenomenological approaches to place. They attempt to under-
stand everyday experience through focusing on embodied, multi-sensory research
experiences. While self-interviews incorporate opportunities for this kind of mobil-
ity, they do not impose them. In our research, the focus on remembering allowed
interviewees to move around as much as was appropriate to their everyday remem-
bering. This allowed participants to dictate the particular combination of stillness
and extended reection, and movement between different mnemonic locations and

Virtues of self-interviewing
While self-interviews address some of the limitations of in-depth interviewing,
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memory work method and diary keeping as ways of gathering empirical data for
the investigation of remembering in everyday life, they also retain some of their vir-
tues. This can be seen in the self-interview transcripts. As we have already noted,
the self-interview method has emerged from the wider ongoing research project,
Media of Remembering, which aims to explore how media technologies are used in
everyday remembering. We had initially planned 90 in-depth interviews as our main
methodological strategy, using elicitation techniques to encourage people to explain
the role of photographs and recorded music in their everyday remembering prac-
tices. However, as we began the interviews, we found that in some cases our ques-
tioning produced a rather random and disconnected account of respondents
practices and that in looking through their photographs and listening to music, the
opportunity to sit and reect was missing. The temporal frame of the interview
seemed to limit possibilities for constructing considered and reective accounts. On
this basis, we trialled what we are now calling the self-interview with two respon-
dents, and these are the examples we present here. Based on the success of these
pilots, we have integrated self-interviewing as a complementary method alongside
one-to-one in-depth interviews and group interviews. By the end of the project in
2013, we expect to have between 10 and 15 self-interview recordings.4 Participants
were given a guidance sheet which included some key questions to consider when
talking into the voice recorder such as: What are your photographs and music col-
lections like? What their size, content or organisation? How do they feature in your
everyday life and in your home? What do particular photographs/music remind you
of? How important are these memories to you? How does it feel to look or listen to
your photographs/music? Can you describe those feelings? The guidance sheet
notes that these are not compulsory questions and the list is not exhaustive so they
should feel free to explore how their photographs and music connects them to the
past in any other ways.
An examination of the self-interview transcripts offers further illustration of
the value of this method as an additional resource in the memory-studies methods
tool kit. In the rst instance, the self-interview provides a way both to accommo-
date and make available for analysis some of the discursive features of remem-
bering that may prove disruptive in the conventional in-depth interview, such as
extended pausing for the purposes of reection or the disruptions which pattern
and structure everyday activities of remembering. This can be seen in Extract 1,
taken from a self-interview with Daniel, a middle-aged British man in his late
514 E. Keightley et al.

Extract 1

Ill have to sign off now, guests have arrived, Ill resume later [break]. Okay, erm,
Ive had to repair to my ofce because Im no longer alone, I have to keep my voice
down, because theyll think Ive gone mad. Right, err, where was I, oh thats right I
was talking about the way in which, yeah, unlikely connections.

Extract 1 reveals the way in which this method allows data collection to respond to
practical and logistical interruptions to it. The voice recorders portability means
that the everyday practicalities of remembering, such as the sharing of domestic
space, which intervene and structure processes of remembering, can be managed in
the research space. The participant was able to pause, relocate and resume the inter-
view around the demands of family life. This has practical advantages. Interviewing
busy middle-aged people juggling a host of commitments can make them a difcult
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group to access for extended interviews. In this example, an interviewers presence

may have proved problematic in negotiating the relocation of the interview or may
have drawn the interview to a premature conclusion. Instead, the participant is able
to continue his memory narrative.
As this example also demonstrates, disruptions are not only accommodated by
the self-interview method, they are actively recorded, providing an insight into the
ways in which remembering is integrated into the practices and processes of every-
day life. The domestic space of the interview is a mnemonic environment which
has to be shared and access to it is negotiated. So whilst resources for family
remembering may be located in communal areas, the space most suited to carrying
out independent and personal remembering is my ofce. This is later re-empha-
sised in the extract below where the individual act of changing the background of
the computer desktop is described as a personal remembering, which stands distinct
from the activity associated with generating familial sources of remembering where
it is his wife who is responsible for collecting and organising family photographs in
albums (see Extract 4). Although for Daniel the shared resources of the family
album bring great pleasure in the viewing, they are not his personal constructions.
On an individual level, the computer is his canvas for remembering and the ofce
an important mnemonic space.
While conventional in-depth interviewing is unable to accommodate satisfacto-
rily some of the everyday disruptions to remembering that occur, it is able to retain
a focus on and record both remembering as it occurs in practice and thinking reex-
ively by participants about that very process. This is a crucial feature of the method.
Neither the memory work method nor diary is able to record the practices of
remembering and reections upon it simultaneously since they are organised so as
to separate them out from one another. The self-interview method brings the two
together through written guidance. This is carefully constructed to ask participants
to focus on both modes in the interview. The following extract from a self-interview
transcript conducted by Helen, a British woman in her late-forties, demonstrates the
interweaving of reection with the practice of remembering.

Extract 2

Im listening to Loving Spoonfuls What a Day for a Daydream and this has a very
specic memory associated with it. It triggers something almost like a photograph of
me standing in a window of my atmates room. We were students at university 1967
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 515

and I can feel it was a hot day, er, the window was half in sunshine and half in
shade. I cant remember what I was wearing cos I know it was summer. I wasnt look-
ing out of the window for any reason I can remember. I have actually no memory of
whether this was on the radio or my atmate was playing a record but that memory is
absolutely clear as far as it goes.

The extract clearly records an act of remembering in its own right. The phrase I
can feel it was a hot day communicates the quasi-tangible dimension of the
memory itself, even though its sensory quality is rmly located in the present, the
immediate now in which she feels the heat of a day long since passed. At the
same time, the narrative has a reective dimension, commenting both on the stark
clarity of the memory as she notes that it comes back to her almost like a photo-
graph, and the absent details of the memory such as what she was wearing or
whether the music she refers to was a record or heard on the radio. What is notable
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is the inextricability of these two aspects of the narrative. The cross-temporal rela-
tion between the remembering present and the remembered past is exactly captured.
In-depth interviews which use elicitation methods can undoubtedly incorporate this
by asking a participant to explain a particular image, song or other memory object
and then describe the experience of remembering, but self-interviews allow added
exibility and freedom for the participant to absorb themselves in their own photo-
graphs and explore their own remembering practices, moving in and around their
own memories without the intrusion of interviewer talk that provides extensive
opportunities for this to be recorded at length.
When investigating remembering as it occurs in everyday life, it is important
that the communicative mode by which acts of remembering are expressed is identi-
ed and accounted for. Even more importantly, the research itself must be aware of
the difculties associated with imposing genre conventions on accounts of remem-
bering, so altering the mode by which they are expressed in the normal run of
things. This is not to suggest that the self-interview does not involve any discursive
conventions, rather, as discussed earlier, recognisable literary forms such as diaries
can encourage reections on the meaning of memory to take a consistent and rather
particular form. The self-interview aims to provide a research space where the inter-
viewer has a choice of how to express their remembering and engage in reections
upon it. For example, in Extract 3, Daniels account of his remembering activities
can be haphazard and does not necessarily adhere to recognisable narrative

Extract 3

My own images on the computer, and one of the things I love doing, when I listen to
music is changing the background and you know its a damp, its a damp, well it is
actually a damp Thursday in the middle of July, what do I do, oh you know, what am
I going to do, so what I do is set the desktop as background if its a picture of, a pic-
ture of Croatia, the Adriatic ipan or something like that, an image from a wonderful
holiday, beautiful place. I love doing that, I love constantly changing the image and
always theyre pictures of sunshine, of holidays, of happy times. Erm, okay Ive ram-
bled on a bit there.

The account here tacks erratically between remembering with images and music,
between pleasurable activities in the present and memories of a great holiday,
between an imagined remembering scenario to the present context of a damp July
516 E. Keightley et al.

Thursday. The physical absence of an interviewer and the absence of a structured

interactional response format allow the respondent a greater degree of discursive
freedom than is found in conventional face to face interviews, diaries or the mem-
ory work method. This freedom allows for the articulation of a convoluted train of
thought which makes connections between various memories, and facilitates a par-
ticipants talking while moving around their mnemonic environment, in ways which
do not necessarily conform to the structures of a conversation or a diary entry.
The lack of an immediately recognisable narrative structure is even self-reexively
identied in the extract as rambling. By taking away the formal conversational
structure of the interview and resisting the imposition of a diary format, the self-
interview is able to reveal the diverse narratives and genres that everyday remem-
bering involves, and the absences, silences, condensations and displacements that
were related, in complex ways, to the dialogic moment in which memories are told
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(Radstone, 2000, p. 11).

Of course, even in the self-interview, the researcher is not entirely absent. They
are an imagined presence for the participant, not least through the form of the writ-
ten guidance. Extracts 1 and 3 explicitly demonstrate the interviewee speaking
directly to an imagined interviewer. In this sense, researchers do have a role in
directing the interview. So the freedom we are identifying is a freedom to express
memories and accounts of remembering in a range of discursive forms, rather than
a complete freedom to speak as one wishes. This qualied freedom not only allows
a closer approximation of everyday remembering; it also provides fertile ground for
comparing the discursive structures of remembering that emerge across a cohort of
As self-interviews are being used in this research to allow for greater exibility
in exploring the practices of remembering in everyday life, the data collected must
be able to record the social dimensions of individual remembering. The memory
work method provides an excellent route into revealing the social structures which
inform and shape individual memories, but is less suited to exploring the individual
and collective everyday meaning and pleasures derived from them. Conventional in-
depth interviews have hitherto provided a way of exploring the individual and the
social dimensions of remembering but self-interviews provide an alternative way for
this to be achieved. As the following extract from the self-interview with Daniel
shows, the individual and social aspects of remembering are clearly in evidence:

Extract 4

Ill come back to what that might be about in a minute, but just going back to the
photograph side, err, but anyway from about the early 90s onwards, suddenly some-
thing else happened, L and I got married, the kids came along and I suppose err, Ive
kind of reverted I think back to err, err to what happened before I left home. Erm, L
is very organised, L is very organised in the way she collects images, the way she cat-
alogues them, the way she puts them in, she buys very nice err presentational, what I
call albums, theyre organised, she puts dates in there, err, somebody once said in,
you know in relationships, err you know, women have to remember, they assume the
role of rememberer in the family unit and err, well this may an aspect of that, she is
the archivist, the family archivist and Im err, Im ashamed to say Im too willing to
let her full that role and Ive beneted from it greatly, so actually now we have a
fantastic set of a very well organised, err photographs and theyre pictures mainly of
family life, erm, kids, growing up, holidays, the normal stuff, but, and I have to say
that theyre the ones that I value, that I like to look at most.
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 517

As the participant himself is aware, the gendered politics of domestic life permeate
remembering practices and shape resources of remembering. Album building and
the associated construction of familial memory is self-consciously discussed as part
of womens domestic responsibilities, although participation in the performance and
articulation of those memories through acts of viewing are something that the par-
ticipant is actively involved in. In this example, it is revealed not just how much
gender is a category which determines remembering practices, but also how gender
is actively constructed and reconstructed through cultural practices of remembering
(Zoonen, 1994, p. 123). By situating the social frameworks of remembering in the
context of their personal and familial meanings, it is possible to resist the reduction
of the narrative to an example of patriarchal ideology in practice, and to explore the
personal meaning and value of the images for the participant and their own mne-
monic activity within the family. Whilst a conventional interview might allow these
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social aspects to be probed further, the self-interview allows those social dimensions
of remembering that the participant regards as important to be freely articulated as
an embedded part of their broader narrative.
In conventional interviews, we have found it common for less condent inter-
viewees to repeatedly caveat their responses to questions with queries about the
adequacy of their answers. This only disrupts the ow of the interview. The evi-
dence of self-consciousness suggests that participants are formulating their talk as
much around their perceptions of the interviewers requirements as around their
own experience. This means that some of these interviews have been lacking in the
contextual information which would allow a thorough exploration of the social
dimensions of remembering in everyday life. With self-interviewing, the physical
absence of the interviewer and the removal of the demands of polite conversational
structure allow participants to give independently contextualised accounts of their
remembering, allowing additional space for them to reect on the wider signicance
of their memories without feeling immediate pressure to conform to the perceived
expectations of the interviewer.
Participant responses to self-interviewing have been broadly positive. After the
trial interviews with Daniel and Helen, we discussed their experience with them.
They welcomed the freedom to trace their own path through their photographs and
music and enjoyed the opportunity to linger over particularly pleasurable or in some
cases enigmatic images and music. They both noted that they did not feel compelled
to rush through to the photos they felt other people might nd the most interesting or
meaningful. In his recording, Daniel registered some discomfort speaking aloud
whilst alone, although this quickly diminished as the interview progressed and his
condence grew. Helen seemed to feel immediately comfortable with this mode of
talk. Clearly, the method is not suitable for every interviewee as some respondents
are not condent or comfortable talking to themselves. Some people who have been
approached to do self-interviews have instead requested one-to-one interviews. For
others, the practicalities of using a digital voice recorder may be prohibitive and so
the physical presence of the interviewer is required. This can be addressed by using
self-interviewing as one technique in a mixed economy of methods. Although in
some cases, we have recommended a particular method to participants, our main
approach has been to offer respondents information on individual in-depth interviews,
group interviews, electronic journals and self-interviews and allow them to select
their preferred method. Self-interviewing does not divest us of the need for other
methods in exploring everyday memory. It is one valuable tool amongst several.
518 E. Keightley et al.

The self-interview, like other memory-studies methods that we have discussed

here, is concerned with examining memory as a post-hoc representational practice
of making sense of the past (Prager, 1998, p. 215). It provides an opportunity for
exploring how the past is made sense of in the present. As with accounts generated
through in-depth interviews, self-interview narratives will inevitably be selective,
perspectival and constructed to present a particular interpretation of the meaning of
the past and its relation to the present. It is the content and form of these selections
and connections between past, present and future that is of interest and value (see
Keightley, 2010 for further discussion). The self-interview does not provide data
that is somehow more valid or reliable than other memory-studies methods; it is
simply that it allows respondents to provide a more detailed and reective account
independent of some of the discursive demands of a conventional interview. As
interviewees move freely through their mnemonic social media and their personal
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memories in an uninterrupted manner, the ways in which media of memory spark

interactions between memories and between past and present experience can be
examined without an interviewer disrupting these processes as they occur. As a
result, the relations between memories and the overall structure of the account are
very important when analysing self-interview data. The other side of this methodo-
logical advantage is that a researcher cannot ask for elaboration or explanation dur-
ing the course of the interview. The request for details of this kind therefore has to
be built into the guide sheet and clearly explained to participants prior to commenc-
ing the interview.
When using the self-interview in a suite of methods, the data generated from the
various methods have to be considered with reference to their modes of production,
with differences between them not being elided when analysing the transcripts. For
example, as we have used it in our own research, the self-interview is individual-
centred. This means that although the social frameworks of remembering are obser-
vable in the data produced, group interviews would be necessary for the practices
of remembering collaboratively to be observed in practice. In this context, different
interviewing methods offer alternative perspectives on remembering practices and
should be regarded as complementary. The data generated must not be piled into
one analytical pot because doing so might indicate generalised differences in the
nature of remembering between groups of respondents which are in reality a facet
of the method employed to elicit their accounts.
The physical absence of the interviewer entails a number of ethical consider-
ations in the use of self-interviews. While issues of consent and anonymity apply
to self-interviews just as they do to other qualitative social research methods, the
freedom that the format offers interviewees in their formulation of narrative
accounts certainly rebalances the relationship between researcher and participant in
favour of the participants own discursive demands by allowing them more control
of the interview and its prosecution. Releasing the participant from at least some of
the cultural expectations associated with eldwork interviews allows participants to
craft the time and space of the interview into a structure they feel comfortable with,
whether that is protracted or episodic, continuously narrated or punctuated by
reective pauses, static or mobile. Participants can even delete sections of their talk
they are unhappy with or do not wish to share. This is of course far from an
entirely value-free or utopian space. The expectations of the interviewer are mani-
fested through the guide sheet and they are imaginatively present in the intervie-
wees talk5. Both Daniel and Helen, at certain points in their self-interviews,
International Journal of Social Research Methodology 519

addressed the researchers directly. However, some structure is essential if the data
gathered are to be on topic and in adequate detail. Daniel even suggested that we
expand the guide sheet in order to provide participants with more direction in their
discussions of their photographs and music. He felt this would mitigate some of
the feelings of uncertainty and unfamiliarity which he experienced at the start of
the interview. In this sense, guidance must be detailed enough to facilitate the
interview but open enough to allow participants to exibly explore their mediated

The self-interview is a valuable tool for investigating remembering as it is per-
formed in everyday life. The temporal exibility enabled by removing the inter-
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viewer and the formal parameters of an interview enhances the process of

reection, incorporating pauses and interruptions as part of normal remembering
practice, rather than treating them as disruptions to the conversational ow of an
interview. In doing so, this allows for some of the ways in which remembering is
integrated into the wider practices of everyday life to be made observable in the
data. Recording ones own memories and thoughts about remembering practices
using a guide sheet does not t neatly into any well-known genres of remembering,
such as diary keeping. This frees participants from conventional genre expectations
and so allows the self-interview to incorporate and represent practices of remember-
ing as they occur in conjunction with a reection on that process. Both the practice
and the meaning of remembering are available for analysis. This also allows for an
exploration of the social dimensions of remembering. By recording everyday acts
of memory in situ, the self-interview method is able to account for the ways in
which individuals negotiate the social norms and cultural conventions of remember-
ing without denuding the role of the individual rememberer.
In this article, we have primarily argued that self-interviewing is a useful contri-
bution to the currently rather sparse methodological tool kit of memory studies. It
is, of course, not suitable for all memory-studies research and indeed, not necessar-
ily for all research participants. It seems to us to be best employed as a complemen-
tary contributor to a multi-method approach. Its suitability may extend to the use of
other media of remembering, and it may also have a utility in research beyond
memory studies in the exploration of other aspects of everyday life, as for example
where researchers are looking to collect empirical data on mundane practices and
their meaning to the people who conduct them, such as the use of material objects
in the home or the use of domestic space itself. We would suggest that wherever
data are required that combine a record of everyday practice along with a reexive
account of their meaning to participants, the self-interview method is eminently
worthy of consideration.

1. See for example Rosenzwieg and Thelen (1998), Kuhn (2005), the cluster of research
projects co-ordinated by Ann Rigney on the dynamics of cultural remembrance and the
TOTeM project led by Chris Speed funded by the ESRC.
2. See Keightley (2010) for further discussion.
3. Short pauses or ellipses may of course be of interest, e.g. when applying conversation
analysis to the data. Our reference is to pauses of much longer duration.
520 E. Keightley et al.

4. Currently we have eight self-interviews completed or in the process of being conducted.

Whilst some of the self-interviewees have been recruited through community networks
in the same manner as those participating in in-depth interviews, we have found it par-
ticularly useful to invite participants in group interviews to explore and expand on their
accounts given in a group interview by doing a self-interview.
5. This has also been observed in audio diary data. See for example Monrouxe (2009).

Notes on contributors
Emily Keightley is a lecturer in communication and media studies at Loughborough
University. Her research interests include the ways in which time and memory is
experienced in everyday life and the particular ways in which media forms act as vehicles
for time and memory. She is currently principal investigator on the research project Media
of Remembering funded by the Leverhulme Trust and is currently working on a book
called Creative Memory with Michael Pickering, and an edited collection called Time, Media
and Modernity both of which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan.
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Michael Pickering is a professor of media and cultural analysis in the Department of Social
Sciences at Loughborough University. He has published in the areas of social and cultural
history, the sociology of art and culture and media and communication studies. His recent
books include History, Experience and Cultural Studies (1997); Researching
Communications (1999/2007), co-written with David Deacon, Peter Golding and Graham
Murdock; Stereotyping: The Politics of Representation (2001); Creativity, Communication
and Cultural Value (2004), co-written with Keith Negus; Beyond a Joke: The Limits of
Humour (2005/2009), co-edited with Sharon Lockyer; Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain
(2008); Research Methods for Cultural Studies (2008); and Popular Culture, a four-volume
edited collection (2010). He is currently working on a book called Creative Memory with
Emily Keightley, which will be published by Palgrave Macmillan, and a study of music in
the workplace, Rhythms of Labour, with Marek Korczynski and Emma Robertson, which
will be published by Cambridge University Press.

Nicola Allett is a research associate at the Department of Social Science, Loughborough

University. She is currently working on the Leverhulme Trust funded project Media of
Remembering: Photography and Phonography in Everyday Remembering, which
investigates how photography and music act as vehicles of memory in everyday contexts.
Her PhD explored the nature of attachments, investments and commitments to Extreme
Metal music and subculture. Her research interests are in collective identications, music in
everyday life and qualitative methodologies.

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