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Participants' perspectives of risk inherent in unstructured qualitative interviews Open Access


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Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
McIntosh, Michele J
Supervisor and department
Moore, Katherine N. (Nursing)
Examining committee member and department
Clark, Alexander (Nursing)
van den Hoonaard, Will (NB Sociology)
Morse, Janice M. (Nursing, University of Utah)
Clandinin, Jean (Education)
Faculty of Nursing

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The purpose of my dissertation research was to ascertain participants' perspectives regarding perceived risk in unstructured qualitative interviews. The impetus for my research was the current crisis in research ethics governance; namely, its lack of evidence with respect to research participants' perspectives and experiences and to the appropriateness of the current normative context of research ethic oversight to qualitative research. My hope was the actual experiences of participants would inform the moral conduct of interviews and their ethical review. Research Ethics Boards and some researchers regard emotional distress as a predominant risk to participants in interview research. My first paper, "Research Ethics Boards and the Ethics of Emotion", is a conceptual analysis of this phenomenon. Contemporarily, emotion has been conceptualized in terms of valence and polarity; that is, either negative or positive and one opposite to another. Thus, emotional distress is regarded as negative and harmful and the opposite of benefit. However, this conceptualization is too simplistic to capture the complexity of emotion. My paper contributes to the literature an explication of emotion as well as an elucidation of the factors of ethics oversight that perplex the proportionate review of emotional distress and confound the presumptions of emotional distress as harm. In my second paper,"The Diversification, Utilization and Construction of the Semi-structured Interview", I elucidate various types of semi-structured interviews that I discerned within the literature. The descriptive/corrective type of semi-structured interview is selected for my study because of its unique capacity to describe, compare and correct dominant conceptualizations of risk that reflect non-participants' perspectives with the actual experiences of participants themselves. In my final paper, "Participants' Perspectives of Risk Inherent in Unstructured Qualitative Interviews", I describe participants' paradoxical responses to interview participation. They experience distress but report benefit, not harm. Participants believe unstructured interviews provide a unique and profound opportunity to tell their stories. Most find interview experiences to be revelatory and transformative. Despite REB presumptions of risk to participants in unstructured interviews, participants report no experience of harm. I discuss the implications for ethical conduct and oversight of interview research.
License granted by michele McIntosh ( on 2009-10-16T19:50:38Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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