“Shoot! Can We Restart the Interview?” : Lessons From Practicing “Uncomfortable Reflexivity"

Failure is a typical experience in research, but it is largely taboo in published studies. In recent years, however, we can observe a small yet growing body of literature on failure in qualitative research to address this gap. In this article, I contribute my experiences of failed interviews in a mixed-methods study in Germany to this body of literature and highlight some aspects of failure that have not yet received enough attention. First, in my example, it was not only one interview or a few interviews that failed; rather, it seemed that the whole study failed in design due to particular methodical decisions. Second, failed research presents an intellectual challenge, but it also produces emotional and social trouble because failed research might be attributed to a failed researcher. This may be one reason failure is so damaging for one’s well-being and so difficult to share. Nevertheless, practicing some form of “uncomfortable reflexivity” (Pillow, 2003) via qualitative, close analysis helped me navigate the research process, gain methodical insights and substantive results. Third, I share lessons that might be useful for other researchers: reading literature on failure, the search for a safe and supportive space, and analyzing failure as closely and early as possible.


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