The Problem of Informant Accuracy: The Validity of Retrospective Data
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 13: 495-517 (Volume publication date October 1984)
H R Bernard, P Killworth, D Kronenfeld, and L Sailer
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

In thinking more about interviewing people this review jumped out at me. I’d like to interview people who work and study in anthropology, people who work on helping people and the planet. I’d also just like to talk to people about their lives and experiences and thoughts about the world. I know from past experiences observing and talking to people, that their can be tons of descrepancies between what people say and what they mean and how they behave and what they believe. This review confirms this casual observation. What I had hoped for and what seems to be here in this review are resources that could help me phrase and shape and present inquiries such that I’m more likely to get the information that I want, particularly when it comes to interviewing people about their lives generally. The authors here note that “minute rewording or restaging of situations radically affects the way people will respond.” People have a long chain of internal mechanisms shaped by culture and experience and they use to evaluate an interviewers questions and frame their responses such that their answers are a result of a “large number of subconscious decisions,” as noted by the authors here.

Previously I had read a review on anthropology and creationism. At that time I can across a poll with a result that 41% of Southern Americans believed the Bible to be literally true. Anecdotally speaking from my experience growing up in the South, I knew very few people who actually believed the Bible to be literally true, but I knew quite a few who would say that they did when asked. Threaded in the culture is a belief and admonition that when people asked questions such as that one, they were really asking you about your faith, and that it was important to give the most hardlined answers lest scholarly sorts might go back to some place like New York City and somehow report that people down South don’t really believe in God or some such. As a teenager I used to talk to people quite a bit about their religious and spiritual beliefs. I think the fact that I was young and had grown up locally made a huge difference in the openness with which people spoke. In my Bible Belt town, there was just a whole different mindset when it came to talking to outsiders about religious topics … the answers skewed conservative.

With sweetness and warm thoughts,