Space, Time, and Reflexive Interviewing: Implications for Qualitative Research with Active, Incarcerated, and Former Criminal Offenders

Steven Downing, Katherine Polzer, Kristine Levan


Space and time are concepts familiar to physicists, philosophers, and social scientists; they are operationalized with varying degrees of specificity but are both heralded as important to contextualizing research and understanding individual, cultural, and historical differences in perception and the social construction of reality. Space can range from, at the macro level, geographic region, to at the micro level, the immediate physical surroundings of an individual or group of persons. Similarly, a conceptualization of time can range from era or epoch to the passing of seconds and minutes within a situational dynamic of human interaction. In this article we examine the microcosmic end of the space-time spectrum, specifically as it relates to doing qualitative interviews with current or former criminal offenders. Through a comparative discussion of interviews with incarcerated, recently released, and active offenders, we pose questions and offer insights regarding how interviewers and interviewees perceive physical space and the passage of time and, most importantly, how these perceptions relate to the interview process and resulting data. Notably, we suggest that interviewer reflexivity should take into account not only the relationship, dialogue, and discourse between interviewer and interviewee but also space and time as perceived and constructed by both parties. Finally, we offer several key strategies for incorporating these considerations into the interviewer toolkit.

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