• The use of objects to enhance online social research interviews

      Zakher, Maged Sobhy Mokhtar; Wassif, Hoda (University of Bristol: Policy Press, 2021-09-28)
      The ongoing COVID-19 health emergency, and the restrictions that it has placed on research, led many researchers to the re-evaluation of how social research interviews need to go online and how these can be enhanced. The online space presents a platform that brings participants and researchers together in an environment owned by both regardless of who hosts the online session. Online methods are likely to continue through emergencies and crises in general and beyond, and this calls for innovative ways to enhance online research interviews. This chapter discusses a study of a series of online interviews where interviewees were invited to bring an object of personal value with the aim to facilitate a discussion on ‘happiness in lockdown.’ The selected topic served as a vehicle to explore this approach to online interviews while contextualising it in a crisis situation. It also helped to anchor the discussion around a positive theme in the middle of a global crisis. The study aimed at exploring the dynamics observed and the type of thematic materials gathered in this research context. The focus is to investigate the research technique and explore the benefits and challenges of using objects in social research interviews online. As participants select objects related to the research, they are given some control to steer the discussion. Hennigar (1997) discussed the shift in thinking when artefacts are placed at the center of the conversation, and the participant’s own values, beliefs and views about the world could be explored in more depth resulting in what Rubin and Rubin (2012: 95) call an ‘extended conversation.’ The purpose of such a conversation is to explore in depth some themes of relevance to the interviewee through their choice of objects. Using Thematic Analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006), we explored the richness, depth and genuineness of the materials gathered in object-based online research interviews. The chapter details the research process, discussing the benefits and challenges of using objects as enhancing tools in social research interviews conducted online. It considers how participants chose their items, how the tool compares with other enhancing tools, and some methodological implications. The chapter concludes with our reflection as interviewers offering advice to researchers who may choose to use this enhancing technique in their online interviews.