Free association narrative interviews

Doing Qualitative Research Differently was a seminal contribution to the literature on psychoanalytic qualitative research methods. It followed other important works such as George Devereux’s (1967) From Anxiety to Method in the Behavioral Sciences, Jennifer Hunt’s (1989) Psychoanalytic Aspects of Fieldwork, and Steinar Kvale’s (1996) InterViews. The authors, Wendy Hollway and Tony Jefferson, introduced the “free association narrative interview” (FANI) in the book, positioning it at the intersection of inner worlds, outer experiences, and intersubjective relations – the psychosocial realm.

One contribution of the book was its critique of the assumptions researchers made about the research process and what happens in a qualitative research interview. In particular, the book argued that researchers cannot assume “participants are ’telling it like it is’, that participants know who they are and what makes them tick…” (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000, p. 2). In light of this, they argued, researchers need to adjust how they generate and analyze qualitative data. This is so because the “truth” of what interviewees tell us is always questionable, shaded by unconscious motivations, defenses, and memory gaps.

The free association narrative method comprises four principles, or techniques: ask open-ended questions, avoid asking “why”, mirror participants ordering and phrasing, and foster the emergence of stories. In some ways the method follows the fundamental rule of psychoanalysis “by eliciting narrative structured according to the principle of free association [in order to] secure access to a person’s concerns which would probably not be visible using a traditional [interview] method” (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000, p. 37).

As such, this approach grapples with the anxiety and defensiveness of both researchers and participants, acknowledges that interpersonal interactions are filled with projections, introjections, transferences, and countertransferences, and draws our attention to the need for reflexive research practices.

In the twenty years since Doing Qualitative Research Differently was published the literature developing, deploying, and critically appraising psychoanalysis as a research method has blossomed across disciplines – continuing the discussion begun by Freud himself. The pitfalls, possibilities, and practicalities of psychoanalysis in qualitative research remain debatable (see for example the 2008 PCS Special Issue – British Psycho(-)Social Studies). Yet, the promises of psychoanalysis for theorizing, researching, and intervening in organizations and organizing are still worth pursuing.

Find the book on Amazon (2nd edition)

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