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Extraordinary Encounters: Authenticity and the Interview

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Volume 28

Methodology & History in Anthropology

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Extraordinary Encounters

Authenticity and the Interview

Edited by Katherine Smith, James Staples and Nigel Rapport

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212 pages, 2 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78238-589-9 25% OFF! $120.00/£85.00 $90.00/£63.75 Hb Published (March 2015)

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“…a diverse group of scholars who have a broad range of experience as ethnographers and whose work with interviews, life stories and biography highlight the extraordinariness of social encounters.” · Tamara Kohn, University of Melbourne

“Each chapter is well written and has something interesting . . . to say about interviewing. . . All in all, a genuinely absorbing read which has prompted me to think about interviewing in new ways.” · Peter Collins, Durham University


Given the anthropological focus on ethnography as a kind of deep immersion, the interview poses theoretical and methodological challenges for the discipline. This volume explores those challenges and argues that the interview should be seen as a special, productive site of ethnographic encounter, a site of a very particular and important kind of knowing. In a range of social contexts and cultural settings, contributors show how the interview is experienced and imagined as a kind of space within which personal, biographic and social cues and norms can be explored and interrogated. The interview possesses its own authenticity, therefore—true to the persons involved and true to their moment of interaction—whilst at the same time providing information on human capacities and proclivities that is generalizable beyond particular social and cultural contexts.

Katherine Smith is Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. She has carried out ethnographic fieldwork in the north of England on the subjects of fairness and equality, social policy, social class, political correctness and humour. She is author of Fairness, Class and Belonging in Contemporary England (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

James Staples is Senior Lecturer in anthropology at Brunel University London, author of Peculiar People, Amazing Lives (Orient Longman, 2007) and Leprosy in India: Journeys With A Tamil Brahmin (Lexington Books, 2014), editor of Livelihoods at the Margins (Left Coast Press, 2007) and two recent volumes on suicide. He has published numerous journal articles and chapters on his work in South India.

Nigel Rapport is Professor of Anthropological, Philosophical and Film Studies at the University of St. Andrews, and founding director of the Centre for Cosmopolitan Studies. His publications include Of Orderlies and Men: Hospital Porters Achieving Wellness at Work (Carolina Academic, 2008) and Anyone, the Cosmopolitan Subject of Anthropology (Berghahn, 2012).

Subject: Theory & Methodology in Anthropology


Introduction: The Interview as Analytical Category
James Staples and Katherine Smith

Chapter 1. The Transcendent Subject? Biography as a Medium for Writing ‘Life and Times’
Pat Caplan

Chapter 2. Using and Refusing Antiretroviral Drugs in South Africa: Towards a Biographical Approach
Isak Niehaus

Chapter 3. An ‘Up and Down Life’: Understanding Leprosy through Biography
James Staples

Chapter 4. Finding My Wit: Explaining Banter and Making the Effortless Appear in the Unstructured Interview
Katherine Smith

Chapter 5. ‘Different Times’ and Other ‘Altermodern’ Possibilities: Filming Interviews with Children as Ethnographic ‘Wanderings’
Angels Trias i Valls

Chapter 6. Dialogues with Anthropologists: Where Interviews Become Relevant
Judith Okley

Chapter 7. Talking and Acting for Our Rights: The Interview in an Action-research Setting
Ana Lopes

Epilogue: Extraordinary Encounter? The Interview as an Ironical Moment
Nigel Rapport

Notes on Contributors

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