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Challenges of Language, Accessibility, and Ethics When Conducting Digital Interviews in the Virtual Space

By: , & Published: 2022 | Product: SAGE Research Methods: Doing Research Online
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Qualitative interviews are embedded within a diverse ethical and practical landscape which needs to be managed, navigated, and re-negotiated throughout the research endeavor. This landscape becomes much more complex and multilayered when the research environment has been shifted from in-person face-to-face to the virtual space, particularly in the era of COVID-19. While methodological literature exploring online interviews provides how-to guides in designing and maneuvering the research process, language is rarely attended to, particularly the messiness of doing social research with speakers of a nondominant language. Using the multimethod qualitative research project, Scotland in Lockdown, this case study aims to focus on three aspects: (i) digital interviews in virtual spaces; (ii) making language visible in interviews; and (iii) ensuring language accessibility in the digital context. While aiming to develop a digital research design that ensured participation is inclusive, accessible, and dignified, the Scotland in Lockdown project was not without its methodological challenges. In this case study, we argue that online multilingual research increases accessibility, inclusivity, and affords research opportunities that centralize the voices of the vulnerabilized in society. In doing so, the hierarchy and power dynamics omnipresent within qualitative research can be more readily sidestepped. However, we proceed with caution, recognizing this as a demanding endeavor, both ethically and practically. Digital poverty, exclusion, poor internet connection, and ensuring voices and meaning are not lost in translation cannot be overlooked. If not approached cautiously and carefully, we risk reinforcing the limitations and silences we hoped to evade.

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