Oral History Training

Ethics in Interviewing

Golestan Jafarian
Translated by: Zahra Hosseinian

2021-06-22


Following the articles in the field of "Interview Training", which began with "A good Start", now to the topic of "Ethics in Interviewing" is addressed.

Sometimes the interviewer may face various ethical challenges during interviewing or later in transcribing, compiling, using the photos. These challenges are likely to occur at any stage of interviewing, so typically they would be very divers. In other words, each interview probably creates its own ethical issues and challenges, and the interviewer should recognize and dealt with them throughout the action. In this paper, two examples of the most common challenges will be looked at and examined the reasons and how to deal with them professionally. Certainly, as mentioned earlier, the diversity of such challenges in the field of oral history is greater than what is discussed below.

 

“Please turn off the tape recorder!”

Sometimes the narrators asks the interviewer to turn off the tape recorder, so that they can talk about something or recount a memory. Usually, issues with a family or political-security sensitize the narrators to recording their speech. First of all, their request must be respected. Therefore, the tape recorder should be turned off unquestioningly (never try to continue recording without the narrator's knowing) and let them talk safely. In this way, after the talks are over, you may be able to create "psychological trust" with a few simple and short words, and the narrators agree to talk about the subject once again and this time their words to be recorded. Note that creating psychological trust and satisfying the narrator should not take long and turn into an argument.

 

How to build up psychological trust?

In some cases - especially where the issue is political or security - the interviewer can convince the narrator with building up trust and enlightening. As a case in point, the interviewer says: "We’re not strangers; we certainly be aware of the security constraints. Rest assured that no problem occurs. In addition, for instance, the secretary of the National Security Council, Mr. so-and-so, has stated on some date that we have nothing secret in the war." If the interviewer quotes such an evidence (by mentioning the narrator's name and date), it will undoubtedly be effective because the narrator, as an ordinary person, may be unaware of this fact.

At times, in order to build up psychological trust - especially in family matters - the interviewer should remind again that s/he is a trustworthy person and that the subject matter will never be published anywhere without the narrator's consent. The interviewer says, namely: "What you said was good. In addition, I’m a confidant now and hear you. There is person who transcribes the interview. No one sees them except us. Then the transcription will be shown to you. You’ll read it, show it to your spouse, if you both didn’t agree, didn’t accredit it, then you mark it. We delete and set them aside too, because this is your right. Now, please go on."

 

Inserting the photo of martyrs’ corpse: Yes or no?[1]

It’s been a while that using photographs of mutilated bodies of martyrs has been popular in books of sacred defense and resistance literature. During the war time or in the early years that followed, these photographs were used to identify corpses behind the front lines or to identify burial sites. Every now and then they became personal memorabilia on family albums. Expressly, such photos were not taken for public purposes. Although no general rule can be established as to the right or wrong use of such photographs, the ethical considerations can be debated. As we know, the corpse is respected in Islam and it is recommended that the deceased be buried as soon as possible after performing the religious rites. Furthermore, there is no will after death, and it is never possible to know what s/he thinks about photographing her/his body and publishing it publicly; whether s/he permits. Doesn't that mean entering that person's privacy without permission?

Aside from the ethical aspect, field research, polling, and feedback from various readers (such as believers, uncertain people, and disbelievers) show that they skip these photographs and often know them as heart-breaking, empty of life, and without any new knowledge about the character or life of the martyr. On the other hand, by reading the book, a brilliant image of the martyr is usually formed in the mind of every reader, and each person communicates with the hero of the narrative through their perceptions, but the photo of mutilated body may destroys this brilliant image.

It should be mentioned that there are exceptions as well. For example, a photograph taken by Mr. Rajabi of the body of Martyr Ali Haj Amini during Operation Karbala 5 is an exception, but in general, it would be better to use photographs which were consciously and voluntarily taken by the person in health status.[2]

 


[1] Using photographs in interviews is an independent topic which have been discussed in detail in an article entitled "Using Photographs in Interviews and Diary Books". Here, only the ethical aspect of using some photos was examined.

[2] Taken from the Oral History Training Workshop taught by Mohammad Ghasemipour in Tabriz; November 2017.



 
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