To interview or not to interview: A critical approach to assessing end-users’ perceptions of the role of 21st – century indigenous interpreters in Peru

Raquel De Pedro

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Interviews have been commonly used as a data-gathering instrument in research which approaches interpreting as a socially-situated practice (e.g. Angelelli 2004, Inghilleri 2006). This paper will focus on a set of six interviews conducted with indigenous community leaders who had participated in an interpreter-mediated consultation process led by the Peruvian government in the Ucayali region between March and September of 2015 (see: The aim is not to discuss the findings derived from the interviews themselves, but, rather, to evaluate critically the implications of adapting a well-established method for the purposes of studying the role of interpreting in a novel socio-political context.
The objective of the interviews was to garner information regarding the interviewees’ perceptions of the role of the interpreters, not from a clients’ perspective (the interpreters had been trained and employed by the government), but as end-users, or beneficiaries, of the interpreters’ work. They were conducted in Spanish, which was the second language of all the interviewees, who had varying degrees of bilingualism. Thus, the underlying hypothesis was that they would have been able to evaluate, to a greater or lesser extent, the competence of the interpreters throughout the consultation process, which could colour their perceptions as to their performance and also, potentially, their remit.
The decision was made to depart from clear-cut methodological distinctions between types of interview and adopt a hybrid approach: the questions were open-ended, but fixed, as in structured interviews; on the other hand, the possibility of seeking clarification or of prompting a follow-up (e.g. examples) to the interviewees’ answers was left open, as in semi-structured interviews. The fact that the interviews were held in the interviewees’ homes or places of work allowed for observation of factors relevant to the study, therefore adding an ethnographic perspective which, as Hale and Napier (2013: 95) observe, is not necessarily present in all qualitative studies.
Seidman (2006: 9) remarked that interviewing entails “an interest in understanding the lived experience of other people and the meaning they make of that experience”. An interest in how Peruvian indigenous communities construct meaning from their experience of linguistically and culturally mediated exchanges between themselves and the state underpins the choice of method. Its limitations (see Opdenakker 2006) will be considered and measured against the benefits of tailoring research tools to the study of new realities which result from the involvement of interpreters in emerging legislated scenarios.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-50
Number of pages15
JournalTranslation and Interpreting: the International Journal of Translation and Interpreting Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2017


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