The research interview

The research interview

Harvey Humphrey

We face each other at this surface made of wood 
this space familiar to you – the walls hold history 
new campaign posters you explain, I nod; understood 
you don’t define the terms, do I see you reading me? 

so why did you decide to participate I ask 
emphasising decide – to be involved is a choice 
reminding us both that this chat is a research task 
one in which I hope I will do justice to your voice 

Hours later I’ll check you still consent to the study 
but now we sit together in a moment in time 
with your words you bring to life decades of history 
interruptions of questions and laughter – yours and mine 

as you speak the stories grow around us in the air 
made solidly of words they flourish in this present 
older terms once forgotten reappear as you share 
you hesitate clocking me have you caused me offense 

no tell me more about this language, your terms, your words 
the air grows thick with history, older terms emerge 
terms from others: embraced, refused; reclaimed names; codewords 
then language a battleground as communities merge 

Your memory nurtures the stories grown in this space 
speaking back but looking up to the walls’ current work 
seeds of which sown in worn documents in the bookcase 
now though newer generations take the reigns; teamwork 

fresh voices with new terms, some offshoots from older texts 
some brand new homegrown in grassroots’ imagined future 
some are old-made-new terms reimagined with new depths 
you teach me delighted to be an introducer 

I gather your words old and new in my hands gently 
keeping safe, holding them in Dictaphone-arms with care 
recorded while they grew not wishing to miss any 
placed with the others; stories from those who chose to share 

you smile now as our conversation draws to a close 
can I keep that sense of you as words are analysed 
will I keep in touch let you know how the research goes 
careful not to lose these gently gathered living-person-words when research-words are revised and revised

Critical commentary

This poem embraces the research interview as a site of care (Harrison, MacGibbon, and Morton, 2001). It explores the mutual relationship of trust and care between participants and researcher. The poem highlights relationships that emerge within interviews including being welcomed into a participants’ space and hearing their stories. The poem represents the shared trust of an interview and the need for reminders of research including questions, Dictaphones and consent processes. The poem is framed by this with the detached title The Research Interview and the last line that captures the desire to do justice to participants’ stories and the sense of them as a whole complex person while academic texts such as journals articles, theses, and abstracts go through revisions. Writing this poem was a way for me to discuss some of the joy and care that can be found in conducting an interview. The poem is drawn from fieldwork notes of qualitative interviews with trans, intersex and LGBTI activists undertaken by an openly trans researcher with previous involvement in activism (Humphrey, 2021). The complexity of ‘insider’ interviews is highlighted in the poem with references to “reading me” and “clocking me” and the ways in which I felt read by participants (Harris, 2015; Meadow, 2013). This is also shown with the use of language “define the terms”. Language was important to the interview interactions and the wider project. The project embraced a poststructuralist approach to language that acknowledges that words performatively construct the world: “made solidly of words they flourish in this present”. The broader research project addressed the ‘iterability’ (Derrida, 1973; 1988) of language particularly in relation to identity terms and this is seen through references to “reclaimed names” and “reimagined terms”. This poem brings out the importance of language throughout the interviews, the project, and as way to capture the joy and care in qualitative interviewing.


Derrida, J. (1973). Speech and phenomena, and other essays on Husserl’s theory of signs.  Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Derrida, J. (1988). ‘Limited Inc abc…Limited Inc.  Illinois: Northwestern University Press, pp. 29-110.

Harris, M. (2015) “Three in the room” embodiment, disclosure, and vulnerability in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research, 25 (12), pp. 1689-1699.

Harrison, J., MacGibbon, L. and Morton, M. (2001). Regimes of trustworthiness in qualitative research: The rigors of reciprocity. Qualitative inquiry, 7 (3), pp. 323-345.

Humphrey, R. H. (2021). “We are finding our voice is so unheard that it‘s being erased by these bigger voices”: Investigating relationships between trans and intersex activists in Australia, Malta and the UK. Unpublished: University of Glasgow. PhD. 

Meadow, T. (2013). Studying each other: On agency, constraint, and positionality in the field. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42 (4), pp. 466-481.