Studying Sideways: Displacing the Problem of Power in Research Interviews with Sociologists and Journalists

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


One strand of the qualitative interview literature has been concerned with the normative or otherwise problematic implications of studying down or studying up (i.e., interviewing “disadvantaged” people or elites). This interview literature is part of a tradition of taking up the problem of power inequalities in relation to the people we study. This article argues that not all types of social scientific research interviews benefit from an à priori problematization of power and control, ethics and equality, or emancipation. From a constructivist perspective, the article seeks to displace the methodological concern with power related to the ideas of studying up or down and introduce another set of concerns in relation to producing good empirical material when we “study sideways.” The argument is based on analyses of interview situations from a concrete research project, where researcher and researched share professional background to some degree, where negotiations replace a researcher-imposed dialogue, and where the circulation of shared or common concepts messes up an orderly division between researchers’ vocabulary and interviewees’ vocabularies. It is proposed that when we study sideways, we must cultivate interview methods which cause confrontation and disagreement—not to acknowledge asymmetry but to enhance the quality of research.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Inquiry
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)471-82
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Interview Methods
  • Actors Reflexivity
  • Actor-Network-Theory
  • Symmetry
  • Social Science

Cite this