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"I don't know if I should believe him": Knowledge and believability in interviews with children
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology. (Welfare and Lifecourse)
2014 (English)In: British Journal of Social Psychology, ISSN 0144-6665, Vol. 53, no 2, 367-386 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Social psychologists interested in social interaction have, in recent years, addressed the ways that people negotiate 'who is entitled to know what' across a variety of conversational settings. Using recordings of interviews conducted as a part of a Swedish national evaluation of interventions for abused children, the current article examines how children navigate knowledge and its moral implications. The analysis focuses on a particular question ('What do you believe [the perpetrator] thinks about what he has done'), which draws on the psychological concept of mentalization: the cognitive ability to picture others' mental states based on their behaviour. The findings suggest that the concept of mentalization fails to account for the moral properties of knowing someone's thoughts: The perpetrator, most often the child's father, must be believable - recognized as both credible and knowable - for the children to claim access to his thoughts. The interviewees used contrastive constructions in claims of (no) access to their fathers' thoughts as they simultaneously contested idiomatic knowledge that undermined their claims. The article contributes to recent developments in discursive social psychology concerning how subjectivity, in particular, epistemic stance, is managed in institutional interaction, and continues the discursive psychological project of respecifying concepts such as mentalization.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. Vol. 53, no 2, 367-386 p.
National Category
Social Psychology
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-195655DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12028ISI: 000337678100011OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-195655DiVA: diva2:608038
Available from: 2013-02-26 Created: 2013-02-26 Last updated: 2014-08-08
In thesis
1. Making Questions and Answers Work: Negotiating Participation in Interview Interaction
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Making Questions and Answers Work: Negotiating Participation in Interview Interaction
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The current thesis explores conditions for participation in interview interaction. Drawing on the ethnomethodological idea that knowledge is central to participation in social situations, it examines how interview participants navigate knowledge and competence claims and the institutional and moral implications of these claims. The data consists of, in total, 97 audio-recorded interviews conducted as part of a national Swedish evaluation of support interventions for children exposed to violence. In three studies, I use discursive psychology and conversation analysis to explicate how interview participants in interaction (1) contribute to and negotiate institutional constraints and (2) manage rights and responsibilities related to knowledge.

The findings of study I and study II show that child interviewees actively cooperate with as well as resist the constraints of interview questions. However, the children’s opportunities for participation in this institutional context are limited by two factors: (1) recordability; that is, the focus on generating recordable responses and (2) problematic assumptions underpinning questions and the interpretation of interview answers. Apart from restricting children’s rights to formulate their experiences, these factors can lead interviewers to miss opportunities to gain important information. Also related to institutional constraints, study III shows how the ideal of model consistency is prioritized over service-user participation. Thus, the three studies show how different practices relevant to institutional agendas may hinder participation.

Moreover, the findings contribute to an understanding of how issues of knowledge are managed in the interviews. Study II suggests the importance of the concept of believability to refer to people’s rights and responsibilities to draw conclusions about others’ thoughts. And the findings of study III demonstrate how, in evaluation interviews with social workers, children’s access to their own thoughts and feelings are based on a notion of predetermined participation; that is, constructed as contingent on wanting what the institutional setting offers. Thus, child service users’ low epistemic status, compared to the social workers, trumps their epistemic access to their own minds. These conclusions, about recordability, believability, and predetermined participation, are based on interaction with or about children. However, I argue that the findings relate to interviewees and service users in general. By demonstrating the structuring power of interactive practices, the thesis extends our understanding of conditions for participation in the institutional setting of social research interviews.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2013. 91 p.
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 88
Interviews, participation, epistemics, institutional-talk-in-interaction, questions and answers, social studies of childhood, sociology of scientific knowledge, discursive psychology, conversation analysis
National Category
Social Psychology Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology) Social Work
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-201318 (URN)978-91-554-8698-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-09-17, Sal IV, Universitetshuset, Uppsala, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2013-08-16 Created: 2013-06-10 Last updated: 2014-01-07

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