Compassionate Interviewing

This one-day class will focus on interviewing others about sensitive, traumatic, and emotional topics. First, I will provide a history and context for collaborative interviewing practices. Then I will discuss and demonstrate an approach called “compassionate research,” which includes compassionate interviewing and storytelling. In this process, researchers and participants build a relationship over time, work collaboratively, and share vulnerably. Researchers concentrate on the life stories of participants as developed and expressed in conversations, in multiple sites of memory, and through various forms of interaction (for example, group discussions, lectures, informal meetings, family gatherings). In this research, a participant’s wellbeing is always a consideration; the possibility of relieving suffering and contributing to a meaningful life with purpose and a better world goes hand in hand with asking questions and telling a life story. Products of this process might be scholarly articles, collaborative stories, social action, documentaries, or expressive arts.

Using my work with Holocaust survivors as an example, I will guide workshop attendees through how to think about these kinds of interviews, general principles and considerations, emotionality, cautions, ethical concerns, and possible outcomes. Videotapes of interview segments will stimulate a discussion of these issues. I will end with a short documentary of a trip I took to Treblinka (a death camp in Poland) with a survivor, a film that features the tensions of doing compassionate research as a friend and researcher. Workshop attendees will be encouraged to think about how they might broaden and deepen their understanding of interviewing and consider ways in which they might incorporate some of these practices into their research interests.