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Challenges of Biomedicine – Socio-Cultural Contexts, European Governance, and Bioethics

Final Online Publication, edited by Ulrike Felt and Maximilian Fochler

Ethnographic Interviews: Design, Implementation and Local Analysis

Ethnographic interviews were conducted to complement and expand the project’s data collection via focus group research. Their aim was to gain deeper insights into people’s preferences, decisions and representations of coming to terms with biomedicine. Thirty in-depth ethnographic interviews were conducted, ten in Cyprus, Sweden and Germany respectively.

Preparation, Design and Recruitment

Earlier project research served as starting point for the organisation and research design of the ethnographic interviews. The interviews were conducted by the same researchers who had been co-moderators of the focus group discussions in Cyprus, Sweden and Germany. This was essential for the further ethnographic work performed with regard to the recruitment of interviewees, the development of a trustful research relationships, but also the further design of interview questions on basis of preliminary findings of the focus groups. For their in-depth interviews, the partners involved could draw on extensive knowledge gained in previous ethnographic work and research concerning biomedical issues in their respective country of investigation.

The interview questionnaires were developed in computer-mediated collaborative work, building on experiences from the focus groups. While most questions referred to general, cross-national issues, a number of specific questions were included concerning local public debates or problem constellations that were significant for particular socio-cultural contexts.

Almost all interviewees had taken part in the preceding focus group discussions. In each country, five interviews dealt with issues of genetic testing and five with organ transplantation. For reasons of feasibility and to allow for more narratives based in real experiences, slightly more interviews were performed with affected respondents than with those having no personal experience with the technology under study. The interviews lasted about one to one and a half hours and were usually carried out in the private environment of the interviewees. The respective interviewers supplemented the interview data with concomitant field notes. Transcripts of the audio-recorded interviews were translated into English and extensively annotated regarding original language connotations and local contexts to allow a comparative analysis.


Local Interpretation of the Ethnographic Interviews

The local interpretation of the ethnographic interviews followed a bottom-up approach of analysis. Not a pre-defined set of codes was applied to the interviews, but content related focal points were developed in the analysis of the empirical material. The analysis was characterized by an ongoing interplay between empirical material and descriptive codes on the one hand, and the successive development of more abstract or theoretical concepts on the other hand. The qualitative data analysis software Atlas.ti was used to structure, summarize and analyze the interviews as well as to provide a platform to exchange material between the relevant project partners. In close collaboration in all working steps the local proceedings of analysis were continuously complemented by extensive exchange between the partners. This was of key importance to define common categories for primary analysis, and to discuss preliminary findings, emerging topics in the material, and questions of comparability.


Overall, the incorporation of the focus group research into the research design of the ethnographic interviews worked out very well. While the focus group data rather allowed insights in shared understandings, degrees of agreement and group dynamics of positioning, the interview material facilitated insight in individual narratives, interpretations, and reflections in a biographical mode. Therefore, underlying rationales (styles of reasoning) and values (culturally patterned moral practices) as well as narratives and representations of individual practices and coping strategies became apparent during the interviews.

An important and highly challenging characteristic of the interview research in the framework of the project was the collective process of ethnographic work, more precisely, the close collaboration of three local ethnographic teams, working in different socio-cultural contexts. For ethnography, this still is a very uncommon mode of work and thus the participating project partners had to venture into uncharted territory to some extent. The collaborative work of bringing the three localities of the interview research and local analyses together provided a good starting point for comparative analysis in the subsequent project phases.



Report on the Ethnographic Interviews

The results of the ethnographic interview research were compiled in a comprehensive report. Local findings were presented in separate “national/local” chapters, but followed a common structure with respect to six central topics, namely

  • the assessment of biomedicine and its application (incl. positions on the notion of medical development/progress)
  • the framework of political regulation in the field of biomedicine regarding the organisation of health care, ideas of regulation and visions of adequate participation
  • notions of health and illness, more precisely coping strategies, social implications of disease and understandings of causes of health problems
  • views, concepts and understandings of the body and the bodily consequences of genetic testing and organ transplantation
  • experiences and evaluations of doctor-patient interactions
  • aspects of religion and gender brought up in the interviews
For further information on the Report on the Ethnographic Interviews, please contact:  Stefan.Beck@rz.hu-berlin.de

Cite as: Challenges of Biomedicine. Final Online Publication, accessed at: [Mainpagepage: www.univie.ac.at/virusss/cobpublication]

This Final Online Publication is Deliverable No5, the comprised Short Report on Consequences and Recommendations Deliverable No6 to the Contract of the FP6 Project “Challenges of Biomedicine” (Project no. SAS6-CT-2003-510238)