Relational constructionism

by Dian Marie Hosking


There is no such thing as ‘a relational constructionist method’. This means that there is no such thing as a relational constructionist way of doing interviews. All acts – whether or not someone calls them a research method – have the potential to contribute to local reality constructions. This said, when researchers wish to put social constructionist premises ‘to work’ they will (a) view interview texts as co-constructions (not individual narratives) and see themselves as part of the story they analyse, and (b) look for multiplicity – for different stories or discourses - rather than trying to describe some average case (see page on narrative). When it comes to interviewing, social constructionists will often use some sort of narrative interview.

Narrative interviews as social constructions

Explicitly narrative inquiry often proceeds through interviews that are relatively unstructured. The interviewer leaves space for the Other to tell their story in relation to some broad question such as: “could you tell me about - your experiences of the corporate change program - the changes you have tried to introduce since you arrived…” Part of the inquirer’s intention is to get out of the way, so to speak, of what the other person wants to say (given this particular question [text]), and to encourage a conversation of equals. Inquirers also may try to be as explicit as possible regarding their relevant narratives such as why they are asking the question(s) and who may do what with the texts so produced. They view these constructive acts as contexts that contribute to the particular narrative that is (co-)produced in the interview. The ‘interviewee’ can be thought of as producing a ‘twice constructed’ text (Riesman, 1993) so to speak: first, by being “relationally responsive” (McNamee and Gergen, 1999) to the interviewers questions - selecting, and ‘punctuating’ some phenomenal stream of lived experience - and second, by re-constructing their experience for the interviewer in relation e.g., to her/his stated purposes (see Riesman, 1993).

Narrative analysis of interview texts

Social construction processes continue when the text is transcribed from a tape recording and decisions are made about what to do e.g., with over-talking, unclear words, pauses, and punctuation. Then the transcription is analyzed - perhaps it is more appropriate to say re-constructed - in relation to con-texts such as those of the inquirers own local cultures (gender, professional, ethnic…), ‘thought style’ (social constructionist or…), narratives of purpose… and last – the resulting narrative is re-constructed every time someone reads it.
A critical constructionist thought style implies a particular approach to narrative analysis. In general, it aims to preserve text-context relations, to articulate muted, suppressed, and excluded voices, and in this way to re-situate dominant voices/stories, enable a ‘play of differences’, and open-up new possible realities and relationships. Some speak of this as “de-construction” (Culler, 1982). It involves breaking-up the seeming unities in a text (the organisation, the way we do things around here…), suggesting taken-for-granted dualities (management-employee, old timers and newcomers…), pluralizing, de-entifying, de-naturalizing… re-contextualising and opening-up new possible local practices of power (Boje, 1995; also his website).
Boje (2001) has given some guidelines for story deconstruction that can then resource re-storying - viewed as enabling many local cultures - and not just one hierarchy and one dominant narrative. Seven interrelated tactics are proposed. These are: search for dualities (the system-me; positive-negative); re-interpret the hierarchy; look for rebel voices and for the “other side” of the story; deny the plot; find the exception; and trace what is between the lines.

Example: Boje’s (1995) analysis of Walt Disney Enterprise

Boje investigated the possibility that there might be stories about Walt Disney and the “Magic Kingdom” that did not fit the (official) universalizing tale of happiness… eg voices of employees & former employees, historians…What were they and how were these competing voices silenced, excluded...? The focus of the inquiry was on the multiple & contentious relations between stories, & on how research can become complicit in constructing one happy story over the competing voices. Boje used the Disney archives: (a) tape & video recordings of Disney leaders making speeches, giving interviews, impromptu conversations… (b) PR films (c) tapes of meetings… Deconstructive analysis: eg looked at multiple variations of stories - not just positive, not just negative – assuming the ‘plurivocality’ of texts & showing how each version ‘covered up’ a great deal of ambiguity; looked at who gets a voice, who does not (eg absence of screen credits for artists, removal of Roy Disney from the studio sign…), and: at how people & things were ‘essentialized’, looking at cacophony & discord rather than ‘the managed harmony of the official story”…showing organizational culture as fragmented & conflicted…a site of multiple meanings engaged in a constant struggle for control.


Kerlin's net provides an overview of references on interviewing.