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Interviews, Surveys, and the Problem of Ecological Validity

Aaron V. Cicourel
The American Sociologist
Vol. 17, No. 1 (Feb., 1982), pp. 11-20
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27702491
Page Count: 10
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Interviews, Surveys, and the Problem of Ecological Validity
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Abstract

Despite the fact that virtually all social science data are derived from some kind of discourse or textual materials, sociologists have devoted little time to establishing explicit theoretical foundations for the use of such instruments as interviews and surveys. A key problem always has been the lack of clear theoretical concepts about the interpretation of interview and survey question and answer frames. We lack a theory of comprehension and communication that can provide a foundation for the way that question-answer systems function, and the way respondents understand them. The paper briefly describes the possible relevance of linguistic and cognitive processes for improving our understanding of interviews and surveys. The theoretical foundations of interviews and surveys also must address the way that artificial circumstances become necessary to guarantee adequate study designs. These artificial circumstances often violate ecological validity, or the way interviews and survey questions are constructed, understood, and answered, as contrasted with the way that field notes and tape-recordings of natural settings are used to address the same or comparable substantive and theoretical issues.

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