published quarterly by the university of borås, sweden

vol. 24 no. 2, June, 2019

Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science, Ljubljana, Slovenia, June 16-19, 2019

What can we make of our interview data? From interdisciplinary to intra-disciplinary research

Eystein Gullbekk

Introduction. This paper considers materially enriched interview data through practice lenses and explores how performativity in practices is accentuated in the data. Particular emphasis is placed on the kinds of knowledge that are justified by the data.
Method and analysis. The paper distinguishes between element-based and post-humanist practice lenses. The distinction is exemplified by an analysis of two interview abstracts from a study on literature searching among interdisciplinary scholars.
Results. Depending on the lenses applied, materially enriched interviews produce different epistemic objects, enabling different kinds of research results. The element-based lenses are attuned to practices as ordered products, indicating that interviews re-enact practices. The data justifies knowledge about dynamics inter disciplines or inter scholars. A post-humanist lens views practices as a mode of ordering, where interviews (and the data produced) become a part of an intra-disciplinary becoming through the intra-acting of human and non-human agencies alike.
Conclusions. The element-based lenses indicate that interviews inform about performances happening in situ elsewhere, whereas the post-humanist lens views the interviewing researcher as part of practices-in-their-making. This entails a shift from a concern about researcher reflexivity and valid representations, towards an awareness of researchers’ responsibilities in the joint performance of the phenomenon studied.


The body of literature that addresses information-related activities through a practice lens has grown large during the past decade. While the authors lend an ear to different practice theories (e.g. Bourdieu, 1977; Giddens, 1984; Reckwitz, 2002; Schatzki, 2002; Wenger, 1998), they generally understand practices as socio-materially regulated performances. Practice-based information behaviour researchers highlight information-related activities as embodied and corporeal (Lloyd, 2010; Veinot, 2007), as materially mediated (Pilerot, 2014), as routinized (Schreiber, 2014) and as discursive (Schreiber, 2014; Sakai, Awamura and Ikeya 2012). A critical potential of applying a practice lens is that it enables us to analyse information-related activities as complex ongoing relational accomplishments within and across a variety of settings (Irvine-Smith, 2017; cf. Halkier & Jensen, 2011; Gullbekk, 2016). A number of the studies include qualitative interviews as a source of data (e.g. Schreiber, 2014; Nordsteien, 2017; Gullbekk and Byström, 2019; Lloyd, 2007; Pilerot, 2013). Nevertheless, the attention to situated sayings and doings, to activity and to matter poses a challenge to the idea that data produced linguistically within the interview can inform us about practices performed elsewhere.

Researchers who apply a practice lens are advised to combine interviews with other methods such as direct observation, multi-sited ethnography and document analysis (Pilerot, Hammarfelt and Moring, 2017;Thomson, 2018; Niccolini, 2009; Schatzki, 2012). Some use interviews as 'part of ethnography writ large' (Shatzki, 2012, p. 25) and see them as partial access points to articulable aspects of practices (Pilerot, Hammarfelt and Moring, 2017; Martens, 2012). Others propose materially enriched or hybrid interviews. Examples are visual elicited talk (Hicks and Lloyd, 2018), interviews to the double (Bruni and Gherardi, 2001; Niccolini, 2009) or guided tours (Thomson, 2018). In guided tours interviewees 'lead the researcher through the location […] while describing and explaining its features […]' (Thomson, 2018, p. 515) . These propositions follow a set of ontological and methodological commitments (cf. Nicolini and Monterio, 2016). They seek to reconcile a naturalistic research paradigm (Lincoln and Guba, 1985) that 'emphasizes rich depictions of the behaviours, perspectives, and feelings of individuals in situ, in natural settings' (Thomson, 2018, p. 528) with considerations of the interview practice as 'a representational activity and vocabulary' (Nicolini and Monteiro, 2016, p. 114). In this paper, however, I pursue the claim that practices and their performativity challenge the idea that interview data represent practices out there (cf. McLure, 2013; 2015). I explore two different approaches regarding what we access by interview data. Is interviewing itself a social practice that can represent something out there; or are interviews situations that are part of practices running across the socio-material building of the interview setting itself? How can these different approaches assist the critical potential of using a practice lens in a study of literature searching in interdisciplinary settings?

The first approach posits that interviews make accessible at least some elements of the practices we study. This approach calls for a reflexive methodology emphasising which practice-elements are suited for articulation and representation (cf. Martens, 2012). To ensure validity in the ways we foreground performativity in the everyday activities of participants, we must make explicit the researcher’s role in the joint articulation of practice elements within interview situations (cf. Nicolini, 2009, p. 199). The second approach posits that methods, interviews included, can never represent realities out there (McLure, 2013; Barad, 2003; Kuntz & Presnall, 2012). Methods are knowledge practices and are themselves performative (Law; 2009; Barad, 2007; Orlikowski and Scott, 2015, Kuntz and Presnall, 2012), meaning that interview data emerge through humans, materiality and discourses entangled. Researchers become co-producers of the phenomena under study.

A consideration of the methodological differences in how performativity is accentuated through interviews is particularly relevant to studies on interdisciplinary scholarship. In this paper, I view interdisciplinarity as an emergent and open-ended phenomenon. One dominant position in the literature on interdisciplinarity assumes interdisciplinary research to be a complex of activities whereby disciplinary differences among participants become subsumed by 'an integrated framework with a common vocabulary' (Klein, 2005, pp. 43–44 in Holbrook, 2013, p. 1870), i.e. as something that negates disciplinarity (Madsen, 2018). As opposed to this integration thesis, I view interdisciplinarity as a discipline-inclusive mode of knowledge production (Madsen, 2018) within which both disciplinary and interdisciplinary 'boundaries and practices are continuously in flux' (Frickel et al., 2016, p. 8 in Madsen, 2018, p. 466. ) As will become evident, I (a scholar interviewing scholars about information-related activities), easily add further complexity to this flux.

In this paper, I discuss two interview-abstracts from a study on literature searching among interdisciplinary scholars. These interviews were materially enriched. They were carried out within the office spaces of the interviewees and included interactions with material arrangements such as manuscript drafts, databases, personal computers and bookshelves filled with literature. I put the two approaches presented above to work in an analysis of the abstracts by pursuing the following questions:

  1. How do data produced through the materially enriched interviews accentuate the performativity of practices about which we seek knowledge?
  2. What can we make of the interview data in terms of articulating knowledge about interdisciplinary information practices?

In what follows I present the two approaches to interviewing in terms of two different practice lenses. I then describe the interview situation to which the interview abstracts belong. Next, I provide an analysis of the abstracts. First, I look at differences between lenses regarding kinds of knowledge justified by the data produced. Second, I look at difference in how I as a researcher become part of the data produced. Finally, I present a concluding discussion.

Interviews and performativity

Silverman (2013, p. 50) claims that qualitative researchers tend to treat interview data 'as a simple window on experiences' by which they mine out authentic perceptions, attitudes, and experiences of individuals. He thus describes an attitude towards data that we may refer to as representationalism (Barad, 2003; Kuntz & Presnall, 2012). This attitude depends on a series of dualisms. It separates an inside (experiencing and acting members of social worlds) from an outside, (observing and interpreting researchers detached from social worlds under scrutiny) (Kuntz & Presnall, 2012, p. 734). The attitude also distinguishes discourses from discourse-supporting material practices (Barad, 2003, p 820). The different practice lenses discussed below, and the way they deal with performativity, constitute different responses to these dualisms.

Performativity denotes acts and processes by which 'apparently stable phenomena have been constituted or deconstituted' (Butler, 2010, p. 147). In terms of practices, we look at how phenomena emerge, change or dissolve as relational accomplishments (Halkier and Jensen, 2011). Methodologically, relational accomplishments are differently articulated across lenses. In what follows, I build on Gherardi’s (in press, p. 1-2) distinction between element-based practice lenses that stress practices as empirical phenomena and as ordered products, i.e. as ontologically prior to interactions, and a post-humanist lens that view practices as a mode of ordering, i.e. as an epistemology.

Proponents of element-based practice lenses direct attention not so much to the performativity of the interview practice itself, as they do to the objects of our studies (e.g. Nicolini, 2009; Martens, 2012; Halkier and Jensen, 2011). They foreground the performative character of the everyday social life about which we seek knowledge. They share an interest in studying how activities are configured by the interconnected dynamics between elements such as procedures, understandings and engagements (Warde, 2005), competencies, meanings and materials (Shove, Pantzar and Wilson, 2012) or understandings, rules, teleoaffective structures and material arrangements (Schatzki, 2002).

Methodological considerations, from within an element-based practice lens, address the reach of interview data in the study of these configurations. When we study practices, we seek insights about phenomena not necessarily linguistically available to us. The question becomes whether practices are observable via interview talk or not. One scholar who articulates this problem is Martens (2012). Her argument is that interview talk both 'form a resource and an obstruction when we want to think about mundane practices in scholarly ways' (para. 1.4, emphasis in original). The interview encourages what Martens calls performance-related silences. Concepts related to activities (sayings and doings) and to materiality that belongs to the practices we intend to study only become vaguely articulated by interviewees. However, elements that belong to practices’ organization, such as engagements or understandings, do occur as tellable talk in interviews, because interlocutors typically negotiate understandings and rules. Hence, interview data can inform an analysis of practices as ongoing relational accomplishment, but only as representations that provide an indirect window through the normative organizations of practices. This methodological consideration deals with the problem of representation across the interview practice and practices studied. It separates between an inside and an outside of interviews, and between materiality and discourse. Performativity translates to a discussion of limitations set by language or by the interactivity between sayings and further practice elements and materiality.

A post-humanist lens operates according to different assumptions (cf. Gherardi, in press; Orlikowski and Scott, 2015). Performativity in practices, including interviewing, is addressed 'as emergently relational ways of knowing' (Kuntz and Presnall, 2012, p. 741). The lens is informed by Barad’s (2007) agential realism and by her material-discursive notion of performativity. According to Barad (2007), phenomena are intra-active becoming, where intra-action 'signifies the mutual constitution of entangled agencies' (Barad, 2007, p. 33). This implies that distinct agencies, e.g. interviewer and interviewee, 'do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action' (Barad, 2007, p. 33). Phenomena, e.g. interdisciplinary literature searching, are produced through intra-actions. The production of phenomena through intra-actions and participants’ knowledge about phenomena are not separable. Furthermore, Barad also states that matter does matter in the unfolding of intra-active becoming, thus, she stresses that materiality and discourse are not separate entities. Barad (2007, p. 151) explains that matter is not 'a fixed support, location, referent or source of sustainability for discourse'. A practice, e.g. interviewing, is constituted through entangled discourse-matter because 'neither is articulated/articulable in the absence of the other; matter and meaning are mutually articulated' (Barad, 2003, p. 822).

A focus on the materialization of discourse, rather than on a mutual support of meaning between discourse and matter, entails attention to 'how discourse is materially enacted in practice' (Introna, 2011 in Orlikowski and Scott, 2015, p. 700). In the context of this paper, the discussion is not about how the interaction between interviewer and interviewee can be analysed as a discursive practice that invests search tools, texts, citations, databases or even our bodily presences with meaning. Nor are they elements that organize, facilitate or mediate action. Rather, focus is on how they all take part in producing a phenomenon through intra-acting. Following Barad (2003, p. 816, emphasis in original>), methodological instruments, e.g. interviews, are not mere instruments for collecting data. They are 'dynamic (re)configurings of the world, specific agential practices/intra-actions/performances through which specific exclusionary boundaries are enacted'. When we think of the interview this way, it becomes an open-ended practice, an ongoing intra-activity of reconfigurations.

The interview situation

The interview abstracts discussed in this paper come from a series of interviews belonging to a study on information-related activities in interdisciplinary research. (See also Gullbekk and Byström, 2019.) I conducted these interviews with scholars who work in a department located at a Scandinavian tertiary institution. The department describes its research groups as exceeding disciplinary boundaries, and as exploring their topics through diverse methodologies and theoretical perspectives. Group members come with a broad range of disciplinary backgrounds including education, the humanities, social sciences and health sciences. Equally, I, the interviewer, come with a background in sociology, information research and professional experience as an academic librarian.

I informed potential participants that the study was part of a project within information research, and that I was interested in how scholars who publish research conducted in interdisciplinary settings identify, evaluate, and apply citations throughout the process of writing for publication. I recruited 14 PhD students and senior researchers. I interviewed them individually two or three times in their office spaces over a period of 6-18 months. The abstracts presented in this paper are from interviews with seniors. All personal details that would risk the anonymity of the participants are modified, including names and affiliations.

The interview guide included questions about interviewees’ disciplinary, educational or professional background, fields they drew upon in their current writing and their interactions with colleagues and co-authors. The interviews also included conversations about the reference lists of their most current publications, conversations about received peer-reviews, and a talk-aloud search session. The location chosen for the interviews was one where the interviewees assumedly regularly engage with the information activities under scrutiny. By including the practical task of literature searching in our conversations, I intended to elicit talk that made available for analysis their understandings and interpretations of tools, works, authors and disciplines. I asked the participating scholars to define a need or a goal that would guide their search, preferably something for what they currently were working on. The participants explained their steps while searching. They were free to choose where to start looking, and as a result, the search sessions took a variety of routes.

The interviews shifted between sitting and tactile situations. In the sitting situations, the interviewees and I sat opposite from each other and conversation dominated our interaction. In the tactile situations, most clearly manifested in the talk-aloud search sessions, tools, texts, physical space and movement became central to the interview. Initially, I assumed it practically difficult to observe doings in the unfolding of information practices, as these doings occur at unpredictable moments and in unpredictable places. I was inspired by the argument that interviews gain value if they prompt re-enactments or talk about articulable elements of the practice under scrutiny (Nicolini, 2009; Martens, 2012). Motivated by an element-based practice lens, I wanted to make accessible the interpretations of how to do, principles for what to do, and 'emotional and normative orientations related to what and how to do' (Halkier and Jensen, 2011, p. 104).

It occurred to me however that in the tactile situations, more than the articulable elements gained analytical value. I here use the term tactile similar to the way Kuntz and Presnall (2012) describe the tactical in their wandering interviews with teachers. In these interviews, conversation is carried out while walking together both inside and outside of the school buildings. They describe these interviews as a material wandering in which the materiality of space and bodies prompt the expression also of that which an element-based practice lens leaves as performance-related silences. Kuntz and Presnall (2012, p. 733) explicate the interview as

[…] the movement of bodies through space, in time, the negotiation of paths and unforeseen interruptions – and this material wandering encourages the metaphorical wandering of thoughts, the expression of affect, such that what may not find proper expression in the visible-strategic, finds voice.

From knowing-in-practice to becoming-with-knowing

When I asked the participants to tell me about how they find relevant literature, most participants described systematic processes based on more or less clear principles. Mary, for example, explained how she uses a form she received during a library course. She gave me details about how she filled it out as her search progressed. The form helped her to keep track of the results of specific search terms across different disciplinary and comprehensive databases. In a similar vein, Thomas reported that he starts his searching by using an indexing tool that 'is comprehensive like Google Scholar', one that 'doesn't, sort of narrow you into a box of disciplinary identity'. He admits, 'I don't use a particular strategy that's very sophisticated, that's for sure. I used to. During my PhD I had Endnote […] I was totally disciplined on filing everything in to Endnote'. However, he usually includes an account of his literature searches in the literature review section of his manuscripts.

In these situations, I encouraged the participants to talk freely about how they went about finding literature. Similar to what Martens (2012) observed in her study on kitchen practices, the participants translate this as an invitation to convey what is important to them regarding interdisciplinary literature searching (e.g. not narrowing down your disciplinary identity or keeping standards of systematics across disciplinary databases). The participants construct their narratives around rules and understandings associated with correct ways of mapping literature. Instead of giving accounts of what they actually do, they state principles showing that they certainly know how literature searches should be done, namely according to some systematic procedures. Martens (2012) points out that the activity that unfolds in the interview is the activity of conversation belonging to the interview practice. According to her argument, the understanding- and rule-elements of the literature-search-practice make this practice available for interview talk. In terms of material and activity components of the practice, the interview is only '[…] exhibiting a limited set of unambiguous practice-implying do and materiality concepts […]' (Martens, 2012, para. 5.1). In the examples above these would be filing or fill out and databases, form or endnote.

An element based practice lens as applied above is tuned towards the outside of the interview. It brings to view the normative organisation of the practice under scrutiny, and the negotiations of rules and understanding of how to do within a practice. Focus is on justifying interviews as a source to participants’ knowing-in-practice (cf. Reich and Hager, 2014 in Gherardi, in press, p. 4). The analysis is concerned with elements that structure participants’ activities. Agency is placed in the progressive duality between individuals and social structuration. However, the talk-aloud-search session made me aware how mobilizing the tactile brings to view agency in a different way. The talk-aloud session with Thomas is illustrative as to how technology, discourses, meaning and the materiality of bodies acquire agency in being entangled in the interview situation.

Talk-aloud with Thomas

Thomas looks for literature that exemplifies combinations of a particular set of theoretical positions from both medicine and the social sciences. He and his co-authors will explore the usefulness of combining them in their planned publication. 'There are all sorts of people floating around, working on this thing' he states, 'so I know for example that across the hall, Anna and Jim are working on it. I might take a look at their work'. Thomas opens his drop-box folder and looks through filenames indicating author names and titles. He does not identify anything interesting, so he says, 'I’ll look in Google Scholar, just to get some ideas'. Thomas combines search terms related to two of the theoretical positions he and his co-authors are eager to combine. He immediately discovers by title several articles that apply the concepts in question. He points out that these articles belong to a field of research that he has been engaged with in the past. 'So, I have the notebook from a conference within this field that I attended a couple of years back'. Thomas gets up from his chair. As he rises, he complains about a bad back and about getting older. He walks across the floor and starts looking through his bookshelf. After a moment, he produces a notebook from the lower shelf while making a joke about how dusty it is down there. Thomas is standing in front of his shelves proclaiming, 'This’ll provide me with further references'. He is still looking at the lower shelf when he adds, 'Okay, but then, I’ll just go through this first'. He holds up a book written by his older sister. Thomas calls his sister his 'cheat-person'. She is a scholar within a discipline Thomas draws on in his research, but that he himself never received formal training in. Thomas flips the pages while saying, 'and then I might look through the references she has here. See, she is not familiar with my field of study, though she thinks she is. So, I only use this stuff so much, because I know there is other stuff that she just doesn’t know about. So she has Smith, and that is useful, on the particular theoretical position'.

The sitting situations silence our bodies, the computer, proximity to peers across the hall, and the presence of books. Contrary, in the talk-aloud session above, they all contribute meaning in the situation. Through the talk-aloud search session, if viewed through a post-humanist practice lens, Thomas becomes entangled in material-discursive intra-actions. That which was hidden from view as performance-related silences (Martens, 2012) become evoked within the tactile situation. In the moment of the talk-aloud-session the interdisciplinary literature search is enacted as relational becoming. During the interview, Thomas and I are located in his office. It brings his mind across the hall to colleagues in fields relevant to his project. The search for relevant literature is relationally meaningful within the department, producing certain examples of coupling disciplinary approaches. Quickly, however, Thomas discovers that the concepts in questions are in use within a research field that he has engaged with in the past. This past is mattered through the sensing body. His back hurts, reminding him that he has been in the game for some time, and he brushes away the layer of dust covering the books at the lower shelf. Out of this mattered past, he fetches his sister’s work. His wandering across the office seems to have transported him from the community of peers at the department, to other experiences and intra-actions, including kinship. The materialized closeness to both the past and to the here and now of the interview, and to his sister’s work seem to entangle Thomas with discourses that exclude certain ways of making literature relevant to his current writing. His sister is his 'cheat person', a source of both relevant references to and of better understanding of works within a discipline of which he himself is not a trained scholar. Is this okay? Is it one of those questionable shortcuts that will be disclosed by reviewers who are more knowledgeable in that discipline? He negotiates the mattered discourse however, by pointing to how he combines insights and references selected from different sources.

With an element-based lens, the methodological challenge in focus is how to access knowledge-in-practice out there, i.e. knowledge as embodied practical rationality. Thinking with an element-based practice lens, performativity becomes a methodological obstacle in that it is only partly accessible. In the tactile, talk-aloud search session, when viewed through a post-humanist lens, on the other hand, performativity moves in with the core of knowledge production. Performativity moves in with the interview. The post-humanist lens brings to view becoming-with-knowing (Kuntz & Presnall, 2012). Knowledge in this sense 'manifests as an event', it is a 'becoming within embodied experience' (Kuntz & Presnall, 2012, p. 738). The interdisciplinary researcher searching for literature emerges within the interview, i.e. in the discursive-material intra-activity of bodies, computers, databases, notebooks, office spaces and physical distances.

From reflexive to diffractive data production

Interviews are as much part of mundane performativity as any social practice. Methods are encounters between people and should be analysed as such (Warren, 2012, p. 130). Considerations about how encounters between researcher and participants affect data is one of several main concerns within reflexive methodology (Gemignani, 2017, p. 185). In Barad’s (2007, p. 86) phrasing reflexivity is 'a proposed critical scholarly practice that aims to reflect on, and systematically take account of, the investigator’s role as an instrument in the constitution of evidence'. Thinking with an element-bases lens, this translates to a reflection about the interviewer’s part in the mutual articulation of practice-elements within the interview. Focus is on the constitution of evidence through individuals' discursive interaction. A post-humanist practice lens points toward another way of thinking of researchers as part of the world about which they seek knowledge. It implies a transition from understanding reflexivity in methods in terms of reflecting individual participants, the interviewer included, and towards thinking of it as diffraction (Niccolini and Roe, 2014, p. 77). Originally, a physicist notion signifying waves bending when encountering obstructions, Barad explains diffraction in terms of method as 'a practice of reading insights through one another while paying attention to patterns of difference (including the material effect of constitutive exclusions)' (Barad, 2011, p. 445). Knowledge always emerges from the coming together of multiple forces, humans, discourses and matter included. The interview abstract below demonstrates how in the tactile situations reflexivity emerges 'in-between heterogeneous bodies and agents' (Hultman & Lenz Taguchi, 2010, p. 536), including me the researcher, rather than as a phenomenon tied to the cognition of encountering individuals.

Talk-aloud with Kim

Kim looks for literature for an article she just started working on together with two colleagues. The purpose of the article, she explains, is to develop an analysis of a phenomenon by applying a concept from neuroscience. In terms of finding literature, she states that the goal now is to explore the development of the concept from traditional neuroscience towards modern applications across disciplines. 'That is how I work', she says, 'I go to these minefields, meaning they aren’t really my fields of expertise'. When I encourage her to start searching for literature the way she usually would, she is reluctant to start working on the computer. She points her finger at the computer at her desk. 'Are we supposed to be in there? Work at it in there? There?' 'Maybe some?' I replied. 'Okay' she answered, 'but I haven’t practiced'. She starts typing into Google Scholar. 'Well, it’s either Google Scholar or the library online catalogue. But, honestly, I prefer visiting the library and having you to help me'. She disrupts her typing. 'Actually, I’ve found some books that I find interesting to start with'. She walks across the floor and fetches her bag from a peg by the door. 'No, I have it at home'. She explains about a PhD dissertation she thought was in her bag. 'Maybe it’s being a cheat. That I found this PhD dissertation. It applies the concept in another field. I’ll look at how he understands the concept […] And I’ll scrutinize his reference list'. When I ask how she found the dissertation she tells me that she came across it when attending a meeting in a colleague’s office in another university. It sat on his desk. 'I looked through it and ordered it for both my co-authors and myself. We’re going to discuss it in our next meeting'. 'You see', she says, 'I’m good at detecting relevance, but not good at finding'. 'Not that I’m cheating or anything, but there’s no systematics to how I get hold of stuff, so that I know that I have covered the field’s literature'. 'I’m better at understanding what I read', and as she tells me this she says that she is 'blushing with embarrassment'. 'There are others, far more diligent in using available tools for searching literature across fields. But then again, they just skim vast areas, which is how you have to go about if you are to say that you have covered what you claim to have covered'.

In the sitting situations, when viewed through an element-based practice lens, I came to matter by taking part, together with the interviewee, in a mutual fixation of meaning through articulation. Focus was on discursive interaction. This focus creates a divide between on the one hand the cultural, social and material realities to be accessed, and on the other hand, the language-based means by which we might access these realities. The interviewee and I negotiated understandings that arose as tellable talk in the interview, such as standards of systematics in literature searching. In the talk-aloud session above, however, an entangled relationality that includes the realm of the non-linguistic emerges to view. I came to matter as part of material-discursive entangled intra-activity. Even though I made explicit that Kim was free to start in any way she preferred, she immediately points to her computer and asks, 'Are we supposed to be in there?' When I admit that working on the computer is an alternative, Kim replies that she has 'not practiced'. Kim and I are physically present in her office, and she seems to expect me to observe, question and evaluate her specific ways of searching for literature. Clearly, she would rather reposition me as a participant within an activity she usually engages with, namely that of working with a helping librarian. Kim, the computer and I seem entangled with discourses of systematic searching in which search tools are essential means. Then she looks towards the bag by the door, remembering a dissertation she discovered in a colleague’s office. Dissertations are for reading and for broadening her understanding. How did the author use the concepts she is exploring within a field different from the concept’s field of origin? If it is relevant, it can also provide references to further reading. Moving (literally) away from the computer, away from me the librarian-researcher, away from the systematic approach, and towards the bag by the door, she steps into community with her co-authors. She steps towards academic discussions, colleagues elsewhere, reading, and scholarly minefields. A moment of puzzlement occurs. Kim wonders if the dissertation is 'a cheat', a shortcut to bringing literature together, but then she points out that she is better at detecting relevance than she is at finding. The conflict between systematic mapping across disciplines and going with a hunch about a random finding occur as blushing. The computer, the dissertation, me the researching librarian, moving and blushing bodies, and the co-author’s office come together in the event as a dynamic relationship in which all add meaning.

If the post-humanist practice lens moves performativity to the core of knowledge production, this also includes me the researcher-librarian to the entangled becoming-with-knowing. In sitting situations reflexivity surfaces as a consideration of myself as an interlocutor in the articulation of elements of a practice external to the interview. Diffraction on the other hand, opens our awareness to the unforeseen, to sudden shifts and to contestations occurring in the tactile interview. Kim, me the researcher-librarian, the dissertation, the computer, our moving bodies and the surrounding discourses are entangled forces producing differences in the unfolding of intra-active becoming of the interdisciplinary literature search. Nicolini and Roe (2014, p. 77) points out that diffraction is 'attuned to widening possibilities'. Following their way of putting it, the elaboration taking place in Kim’s office is dispersive, 'it multiplies what a practice may be rather than trying to reveal its inner core' (p. 78).

Concluding discussion

By studying practices and their performativity, we get the opportunity to analyse information-related activities as situated complex ongoing relational accomplishments. Because these accomplishments partly constitute the unspoken, the embodied and the mattered, empirical researchers have proposed enriched interview techniques that hybridize aspects of interviews and observation. In the current paper, I have highlighted how materially enriched interviews, in a study on interdisciplinary literature searching, can produce different kinds of epistemic objects that enable different kinds of research results.

In response to how performativity is accentuated in data produced by materially enriched interviews, the analysis illustrates how performativity and data are differently coupled across lenses. Element-based practice lenses are attuned to practices as performed ordered products (cf. Gherardi, in press). The question is how interview data can represent these ordered products. Viewed through an element-based lens, the interviews make visible interviewees’ negotiations of the normative aspects of the literature-search-practice (cf. Martens, 2012; Nicolini, 2009). According to Thomson (2018, p. 513), data produced through materially enriched interviews can also connect 'spatial, material and embodied qualities of information behaviour and practice'. We can keep interviews consistent with the naturalistic paradigm of qualitative research and justify them as data sources that inform us about performances happening in situ elsewhere (cf. Thomson, 2018, p. 513). This is an important justification for practice-based empirical research where naturalistic observations not always are obtainable (Thomson, 2018; Nicolini, 2009).

Nicolini (2009) and Thomson (2018) seem to view enriched interviews as data-collecting devices aimed at producing valid representations. A post-humanist lens, conversely, does not accentuate performativity as representable enactments of ordered products. Gherardi (in press, p. 11) takes notice of Shotter (2013, p. 41) who states, ’small changes in words can provide big changes in our orientations'. The transition from thinking with inter to thinking with intra is according to Shotter (2013, p. 36) 'a shift from living in a world of already made things to a world of things-in-their-making […]'. When we read the interview-abstracts through a post-humanist lens, it is not the ordered products of performances happening elsewhere that come into view. Rather, what comes into view is the phenomenon – e.g. the interdisciplinary literature search - as a practice-in-its-making. Practices-in-their-making come into view when we take into account the inseparability of materiality and discourse, matter and meaning (cf. Barad, 2003, p. 822), and see the interview as an event of intra-actions. We move away from discussing the interview as a data-collecting device, and towards discussing it as a joint analytical practice, i.e. a mode of ordering (cf. Gherardi, in press).

This shift in orientation is consequential as regards the second question of this paper, namely, what we can make of the data produced in terms of articulating knowledge about interdisciplinary information-related activities. Thomson (2018, p. 528-530) describes enriched interviews, in which researchers are co-present with participants through embodied interaction, as an opportunity of increased researcher reflexivity. When we seek to make practices visible for representation, researchers should observe limits set by inter alia the capacities of our bodies, personal perceptions and expectations. We should acknowledge that interview-based knowledge about practices is tenuous. These are surely important considerations when we seek to represent disciplinary and interdisciplinary practices from an information research point of view (e.g. Pilerot, 2016; e.g. Gullbekk and Byström, 2019). In shifting towards thinking with intra, however, we articulate a different kind of knowledge. Instead of collecting data for an analysis of dynamics inter disciplines or inter scholars, I enmeshed with the literature search as an intra-disciplinary becoming. The intra-disciplinary becoming is entangled with the performativity of the method (cf. Law, 2009). Intra-disciplinary becoming is the enactment of a phenomenon through intra-acting agencies. In the tactile situations, these were the different disciplinary discourses surrounding the literature search, me the embodied researcher-librarian, interviewees and their past encounters with scholars of different disciplines, relatives trained in particular disciplines, time materialized as dust and aching backs, and systematics materialized as indexing tools. I become part of a boundary making practice of inclusions and exclusions. The intra-action of other questions, spaces, tools or bodies would probably enact other phenomena (cf. Gherardi, in press, p. 6).

Intra-disciplinary becoming implies a diffractive reading of our data, meaning, 'we look for events of activities and encounters, evoking transformation and change in the performative agents involved' (Hultman and Lenz Taguchi, 2010, p. 535). Because we are part of these events, and paraphrasing Hultman and Lenz Taguchi (2010, p. 540), our engagement through interviews in particular places and points in time are interventions with the world. Intra-disciplinary becoming may entail new possibilities for all parties involved. Interviews imply responsibilities: they are ethical practices.

In conclusion, materially enriched interviews, viewed through an element-based lens, contribute to analyses of practices from an outside point of view. Materially enriched interviews, viewed through a post-humanist lens, makes researchers part of practices-in-their-making. This paper’s discussions of this difference are based on a limited set of interview abstracts from a single study on literature searching in an interdisciplinary setting. The paper also forwards a restricted set of lenses. Broader future explorations is recommended of the opportunities and restrictions associated with differences between interview-based epistemic objects.


Thanks are due to the participants of the study. Thanks to Katriina Byström for guidance and stimulating discussions. Thanks also to Liv Ingeborg Lied and Therese Skagen for valuable comments. The author also acknowledge the anonymous reviewers for their useful remarks.

About the author

Eystein Gullbekk is a PhD student at the Department of Archivistics, Library and Information Science, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway. He is also Head of Research and Teaching Services at The University of Oslo Library. Gullbekk’s research interests include information literacy, scholarly information practices and interdisciplinarity. He can be contacted at eystein.gullbekk@ub.uio.no


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How to cite this paper

Gullbekk, E. (2019). What can we make of our interview data? From interdisciplinary to intra-disciplinary research. In Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science, Ljubljana, Slovenia, June 16-19, 2019. Information Research, 24(2), paper colis1934. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/24-2/colis/colis1934.html (Archived by the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org/web/20191217180727/http://informationr.net/ir/24-4/colis/colis1934.html)

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