Much of my thesis centers around the notion of internal conversation. Leaving aside broader theoretical issues (what it is, how it works and why it’s important etc) it also poses an obvious epistemic question: if you’re using interviews then how can you claim to gain knowledge of people’s internal conversations? I’ve never thought this was much of an issue but I have always recognised it as a legitimate question to be asked of any empirical research that operationalizes the concept.
However I find myself, currently knee deep in transcription while also writing my methodology chapter, wondering whether it’s actually a pseudo-problem. In my interviews my participants constantly report, unprompted, on their internal conversations. I’m not comfortable posting data on my blog but here are some examples of the kinds of constructions (i.e. as opposed to the actual internal conversations subjects refer to) I’m talking about:
- So I’m like “why should I do this if that’s how she’s going to be with me?”
- I’d do it for a few years, then I’d be “right, I know how this works, I can move onto something else now”
- And I was like “ah, i see what’s really going on here”
There is obviously much more to the internal conversations of the people than these examples suggest. However I think it’s important to recognise that when you talk at length to person a about topic b, they will frequently report on internal conversation c when it is relevant, exists and they feel comfortable recounting it. This seems quite naturally really: if you are recounting past events to a present interlocutor, it would produce strange truncated accounts if inner speech was categorically expunged from the description as a whole.
Does this ring true of other people’s experience conducting semi-structured interviews? I’m a bit shocked this point hadn’t occurred to me previously and now I’m wondering how far to pursue the line of argument.
I’m also cautious that there’s a risk of reducing actual interview conversations to their empirical recounting in the interview situation. Furthermore, the participants who seem to do what I’ve described above the most are also the most communicative more broadly. For instance they’re the ones who will tend to describe social interactions through recounting both sides of a dialogue (e.g. I was like “X”, then she was like “Y”, then he butted in and was “Z’) which is perhaps why I hadn’t picked up on this earlier. Do those who practice other forms of reflexivity naturally recount internal conversations in external speech? Do they do it more/less? Do they do it differently?