Constituting Data: Experiencing and/or remembering

Year: 2012

Author: Peter, Sandra, Farrell, Lesley

Type of paper: Abstract refereed



Ethnography is one of the most widely used research methodologies in social sciences and humanities. It often involves interview data and/or observation and the idea of the self/other people's selves is central to it. Various claims to authenticity and explanation are made on the basis of that data. The status of the claims one can make in relation to the data is very frequently taken for granted. The interview is a primary method of ethnography. Much has been written about how to understand interview data and in particular how to avoid viewing interview data as if it were a factual account of events and of real time feelings.


Our concern in this paper is how interview data is constituted differently when people answer questions about their past experiences compared with their immediate ones. We distinguish between an “experiencing self” and the “remembering self” (Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux; Kahneman, D., & Riis, J. (2005). Living, and thinking about it: two perspectives on life. The science of well-being, 285–304). We will discuss ethnography in general and use institutional ethnography and (analytic) autoethnography as examples.


Our discussion illustrates what the warrants for those different kinds of data are. We argue what is this data and what can you claim in relation to it because of the nature of the data. We are not concerned with the truthfulness or otherwise of the interviewees. We are concerned with the nature of their accounts.


We provide an avenue for researchers to understand and engage with the nature of various types of data in ethnography and the warrants for those different data.