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I simply relaxed too much into thinking I was an experienced interviewer. Yes, I did have their stories, many of which were about themselves (I often ask informants to tell me about themselves), but these stories were situated, told in the context of a particular question or moment in the interview. I understand very well that even though I choose to speak to men, they might not speak as men (I have written about it), but here the issue is at a different level. I could actually ask the informants to describe themselves.But can you really imagine a serious study in which an informant is defined by his question about masturbation? And yet, this was the most important thing about this interview and, to a considerable extent, if I were to describe him (I still remember him very well), this question would actually give good insight into what kind of interviewee he was. How would they like to be represented by a few labels – no idea. But making up a number of labels whether I like it or not I suggest that these labels somehow matter. Obviously, the answer to such a question goes way beyond this blog. I, for example, would describe myself as a foreigner, which is a very unlikely label to be given to me by a researcher, regardless of the research I participate in. After all, we could end up with too many different descriptions of people whom we chose on the basis of the categories we, and not they, find important (more often than not, I imagine, for very good reasons).
The question came out of the blue and I was so taken aback that just about half the interview was gone before I did.
Or perhaps I should describe the person by what I did?
I didn’t write this, because I could equally well have written something like this: Shaking voice, soft-spoken, joked a couple of times, told me of suffering caused by his son.
Or perhaps I should have written about one of my informants as the one who asked whether I masturbated.
Needless to say, the assumption is contested, both within mainstream suicidology and outside.
In the former, while it is shown that people diagnosed with mental illness (I am putting aside the discussion about the validity of such diagnoses) do commit more suicides (yes, I use the phrase ) than the non-diagnosed population, still the rate of diagnosed people taking their lives is still relatively low (I am not at all suggesting that it is acceptable), which might actually lead to a conclusion that it is not the illness itself, but its social context, for example, the stigma it carries.
I disagree with the criticism, but what I really want to focus on the assumptions behind the demand for such information.
The first and probably most important assumption is that suicide is in one way or another linked to mental illness, or, in its radical version, that suicide is necessarily caused by a mental illness.
I was making them into people that ‘we’, academics, consider important.
And I did actually consider writing things such as: Appeared very unhappy, cried during the interview, never smiled, says his daughter loves him.