Can you feel your research results? How to deal with and gain insights from emotions generated during oral history interviews

Gammerl, Benno. 2015. Can you feel your research results? How to deal with and gain insights from emotions generated during oral history interviews. In: Helena Flam and Jochen Kleres, eds. Methods of exploring emotions. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 153-162. ISBN 9781138798694 [Book Section]

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If emotion is inseparable from cognition, then the researcher’s feelings cannot be disconnected from the analytical process. This holds true for every kind of research, but it is particularly obvious when emotions themselves are the phenomenon under consideration (Probyn 2011; Bondi 2005). On the one hand, pretending to proceed in a completely objectivist fashion fails to acknowledge the effects emotions have on knowledge production, and thus renders them non-transparent. On the other hand, interpretations based on intuitive empathy and the assumption that researchers and research subjects share the same understanding of emotional phenomena can be equally misleading. Such a supposedly direct approach is particularly problematic in the history of emotions, which presumes that emotional patterns and practices change across time. Thus it is necessary, for example when interpreting oral history interviews, to differentiate between the reported emotion and the emotions that accompany the report. Simultaneously, one has to be aware of the interrelations between the feelings pertinent to the period under research and the emotions generated during the research process. These are intertwined by the intricate dynamics of memory, as well as by the (re)constructive historiographical endeavor itself. Thus, past and present emotions are distinct, yet not clearly separable from each other (Gammerl 2009). Instead of pushing aside these entanglements, or empathetically reducing their complexity, researchers should, rather, reflect upon them. In the following pages I will demonstrate the analytical potential of such contemplations by discussing three examples taken from my current research about homosexuality and emotional life in rural West Germany between 1960 and 1990. This oral history project is primarily interested in the change of emotional patterns and practices accompanying the gradual emancipation of lesbians and gays, or the growing normalization of homosexualities since the 1970s. By focusing, first, on emotional interactions between interviewee and interviewer; second, on the bodily display of feelings during the conversation; and third, on clashes between diverging emotional styles, I will show how fresh methodological perspectives on the emotions generated during the research process enable empirical insights that would otherwise have remained unexplored.

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Book Section


Oral history, Interviews, Emotions, Emotional interactions

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27 March 2015Published

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Date Deposited:

16 Jan 2019 15:30

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16 Jan 2019 15:30


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