Dec. 2013: What To Do When Our Interviews Don’t Support Our Cause?

What To Do When Our Interviews Don’t Support Our Cause?

Monday, December 2nd, 2013
1:00 – 2:15pm EST

Rebecca Lorins, Program Director, Texas After Violence Project; PhD Comparative Literature; Groundswell Practitioner Support Network Working Group
David Anderson Hooker, Mediator, Community Organizer, Adjunct Professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. In addition, David is completing a PhD focusing on social constructionism at the University of Tilburg. Co-author, Transforming Historical Harms (with Amy Potter Czjaikowski) (EMU 2013).

The question that frames this PSN chat points to an assumption of many oral history practitioners with social justice goals: that the interviews they conduct will always be in alignment with these goals. This PSN chat seeks to problematize this assumption from a few  angles: for example, what happens when oral history practitioners seek, by design, interviews that oppose, are in conflict with or complicate those social justice goals?; what happens when the social justice movement is nascent and the people we interview do not have clearly articulated views about it quite yet; what of views in flux!; what of interviews with social movement activists that still contain moments (large or small) that voice and perpetuate stereotypes and prejudicial thinking?

The PSN chat will consider these questions in light of the common aim of oral history practitioners to not only record and preserve/archive publicly the interviews they conduct, but also to use these interviews in public programming. How to balance honoring the narrator’s voice and the authenticity of the interview encounter with social justice goals? If one wishes to mobilize (rather than merely document) social change, than what is the role of conflictual dialogue in this process, and what sorts of interview techniques and designs may we implement?

We will consider what these questions mean for our practice, and also brainstorm concrete interventions the oral history practitioner may take at various stages in the process: during the project design phase, the pre-interview phase, the interview space itself, and the post-interview interpretation and program preparation.