Feminist Interview Methods and Ethnographic Research Ethics

Using interviews to address unequal power dynamics and increase transparency in fieldwork

Anja Riebensahm, Illustrating Immigration

Scholars have critiqued feminist ethnographic research methods because of their potential to create a false sense of friendship and intimacy or to downplay power differences, rather than acknowledging that unequal power dynamics cannot be completely eliminated (see, e.g., Kirsch 2005). Drawing on interviews and fieldwork conducted in the United States and Mexico between 2017–2020 on the subjects of transnational relationships and migration, this paper examines how to use interview methods to address unequal power dynamics and increase transparency. In doing research that uses participant-observation and semi-structured interviews, I find that interviews can be a powerful tool for ensuring participants understand what I am studying, setting clearer boundaries, and creating space for participants to shape my research agenda. Sharing my own experiences as an immigrant who maintains close transnational relationships also allows me to increase transparency about my social location and the ways it might limit my perspective.

Kristina Marie Fullerton Rico
Kristina Marie Fullerton Rico
Fellow, Center for Racial Justice and PhD Candidate in Sociology