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Unstructured interviews to investigate violent crime Essay

Assess the strengths and weaknesses of using unstructured interviews to investigate violent crime. (15 marks) Violent crime is difficult to study in the context where it occurs; this is because by their nature, violent crimes are often swift and unexpected. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for a researcher to know when and where a violent crime is likely to be committed. Unstructured interviews are a research method which entails a sociologist asking participants a series of open-ended questions in an unstructured format. This method has both strengths and weaknesses, but is overall preferred by interpretivists as it provided qualitative data and is highly valid. This method is highly valid as it uses open-ended questions which allow for follow up questions to be asked. There aren’t any pre-set questions on the topic; the participant’s answer to a question determines what is asked next. This means that participants are more likely to answer questions about violent crime and they will be more inclined to give in depth answers which can be used to paint a true to life picture. However, unstructured interviews lack reliability, this is because they aren’t standardised. As the questions are created based on previous answers, no two people will have the same interview; they also cannot be repeated as it is unlikely that someone will provide the same answers on separate occasions.

Also victims of violent crime are likely to answer differently to perpetrators as they have different experiences, for example, in cases of domestic violence. Another issue is representativeness as unstructured interviews are very time consuming, sociologists can only focus on small groups of people. Also as they are so personalised, they may not be representative of all who have a connection with violent crime. A factor in unstructured interviews is the interviewee’s view; participants can speak freely about themselves due to the fact that there are not set questions. The greater freedom allows the participant to bring in new ideas about themselves and what they have experienced within violent crime. One problem found with using interviews to study violent crime, is that victims are less likely to agree to participate, especially if the violence was recent (Crawford et al, 1990). Aldo investigating the perpetrators of violent crime after the event raises problems of cooperation, memory and ethics. Unstructured interviews allow for the interviewer to form a rapport with the person being studied.

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