The Concept and Nature of Interview in Oral History

The Concept and Nature of Interview in Oral History
Interview as dialogue and narration in the form of interview

By: Mr. Mahdi Kamous


The main topic of the article is to review the "concept of interview" in the new-born type of historicism known as "Oral History".

The nature of interview as "oral connection" is determined on the basis of its goals and relations with the generality of the text's structure.

Interview in oral history is generally used as "heuristic instrument". However, we in this article have tried to consider "interview as dialogue" in the oral historicism and the generality of the interviews as historic narration (empirical narration).

Therefore, in the first place, oral history must be as proof of history and then a source and a basis of information (Oral Resources) for historicism.

Keywords: Process, Dialogue, Narration, Narrator


"History deals with characters and narrators."

An instrumental look at the interview as a method for obtaining information is a superficial interpretation from a well-planned and alert link, two sides of which are made of human beings.

In the sciences of anthropology, psychology, sociology, and … interview is a heuristic instrument for collecting information and primary materials with the aim of analyzing the customs and behaviors (Anthropology), assessing the other person (Pertaining to employment), advising and guiding (Psychology), finding the offense (Interrogation), etc and the interviews are basically conducted on the basis of their goals, disregarding their nature.

Although interview as an instrument has ostensibly a connection method, unlike its nature, it is looking for its considered information and pays less attention to connection. The efforts done by the interviewee for establishing connection is just for obtaining information not for connecting while collecting information and the raw materials for research is one of the first achievements of interview and its most important output is to establish connection.

Paying less attention to the source of connection in the interview and  thinking that interview is just a process would harm the information and findings of the research, especially in face-to-face interviews which an oral and face-to-face connection is organized using all verbal and non-verbal capacities.  A look merely inclined to output and an examining look at the interview aimed at accessing the information ignores the fact that interview is a kind of oral connection and a special kind of mutual action the goal of which is to have access to the reality.

A mere pragmatic and output-inclined look to interview in various sciences causes the conceptual aspects of the interview are paid less attention by using the communication science and instead, the methods and techniques are considered more, while the recognition and conception of the interview has a crucial role, in a way that a correct interpretation from an interview can change the entire approach of the research and influence its findings.

Understanding the concept of the interview in our debate – oral history – is of great importance, because both interview and oral history are a kind of oral connection and seek to discover the reality. However, interview in the oral history is more important than oral connection for discovering the reality as a common issue (between interviewer and interviewee)

nterview in oral history is a dialogue which explains a historic issue in general and a short narration would be obtained from that general historic narration. Such interview before being an oral resource for history and historicism is in itself a historic text and narration from the kind of dialogue and the method of the present historicism with the name of oral history the credit of which depends on the credit of interviewee (narrator or the reference of the narration). Interviewer (historian) and variables such as the agreement of narrators depend on different issues, balancing power between the two sides of the interview, their high interpretative power, the context of cultural situation, the mind structure of interviewer, the conventional situation of the interview (qualitative and quantitative standards), etc.

The concept of oral history and its characteristics

Answering two following questions has a major and decisive role in recognizing oral history:

A) Is oral history a kind of history or a method for historicism?

B) Is oral history a kind of historicism or a technique and method (heuristic tool) for providing information and raw materials for historicism?

Rejecting or proving the hidden theories in the above questions is something that cannot be discussed in this article. But we can say that oral history is a kind of historicism that unlike writing biography is based on "interview as dialogue."

Unlike the viewpoint of many people who consider oral history as a technique or method for keeping historic events scientifically, registering memoirs and the person's interpretation from historic concepts, an official dialogue with prominent figures about the past, remembering the past events and one of the ways of collecting the past information through interview, it is narrations (short narrations) of a historic event which is obtained by the each other's side and in a general system of a historic narration about an event.

In narrating oral history, unlike oral memoirs, self-written biographies and interviews with prominent figures will be put together in a collection of contradictory and similar narrations, and the questions of the interviewer are not merely interrogative. But, there are also presumptive aspects in parts of a dialogue, and we in the past oral history with regard to telling narration and historic events witness criticism, interpretation and discovering the realities.

In fact, oral history as the method of the present historicism which can be used as resources of oral history for the futures may be conceived in two forms:

1- Written text containing the explanation of the events (including a background for reporting an incident and its consequences) that are major resources for the historian to reconstruct a period historically from the present individuals and the witnesses of an event such as "writing the oral history of Iran's Islamic Revolution" (a series about the events of the revolution by BBC Radio) by Emadeddin Baghi and "Iranian Revolution" narrated by BBC by Abdolreza Houshang Mahdavi.

2- A collection of the narrations of the events' narrators (doer/champ, witness/observer, and listener/ narrator of quotation) about a historic event or historic concept which has been produced by a historian or a historic research group or institute. The producers of the story of the Revolution (Iran's Revolution narrated by BBC Radio) in the introduction of this work has said: " Explanation of the history of this seventy years ( from Constitutional Revolution to Islamic Revolution) has come in many books and we are not going to retell the history. In the Story of the Revolution, a number of those who have built Iranian contemporary history or have been present or observed, have quoted their memoirs, experiences and observations in their own language and voice.

It is clear that such collection as oral history can be considered in two written forms (along with references) as well as audio and visual.

In the collection type of oral history (2nd type), the collection of narrations can be called oral history, like the written collection of "the Plan of Iran's Oral History" by Habibollah Lajevardi in Harvard University or the written collection of "Left Movement in Iran" by Hamid Ahmadi.

Each of the narrations cannot be conceived alone as oral history, because the history is the result of narrations and quotations and the composition of sources under various evidences and numerous documents and their criticism, review and interpretation. So, the collection of narrations in oral history which has the following characteristics can be called oral history:

1- They should have a collective feature, i.e. it should be about a historic concept or event which has been produced by a historian or a targeted group and that the narrations should have a reasonable coherence and relation with each other in terms of form and contain.

2- The interviews should move toward dialogue and enjoy both interrogative and presumptive aspects in the questions.

Now, we cite several definitions of oral history for better recognition:

- The International Oral History Association considers oral history as a method for compiling historic information through registering the interviews with the participants of the past events.

- Oral history tries to rebuild the past events and developments from the language of the champs and witnesses of the events, and present a new, interesting, and attractive approach through composing memories, analysis, attitudes and the judgment of the figures.

- If main resources of a historian for rebuilding an event historically are the memoirs and observations of the present people and the witnesses of that event, the output would be called oral history. In oral history, the memories of the people about a subject or a historic point - on the basis of a preplanned program - should be related to each other coherently.

Although the past definitions and above explanations represent the concept of oral history and determine their frameworks, in one case, it ignores interview. If interview is disregarded, many findings and information taken from the narrators' memories and observations would not be used.

The Characteristics of Oral History

1) Oral history is the result of modernity.

Oral history like the concept of history (in its modern concept) is the result of modern thought and "historic thinking" since the eighteenth century.

In fact, the background of oral history should not be searched according to the credit division of the westerners in the ancient ages or medieval centuries or in an open look since the beginning of creation, because oral historicism is based on discovering and registering a fact (event or historic concept) with the help of communication technology (after the invention of tape recorder) in the Marconi Galaxy – as interpreted by Mac Lohan. At the same time, the method of oral historicism has been taken from the subjective view of the modern mankind to the world and its realities as "an object."

Thus, the method of historicism has been taken from a subjective view that "oral history" assumes the fact as its object which reaches to different degrees of understanding and conception through its recognition and perception form the window of narrators and people.

The metaphysics of subjectivity can be briefly characterised as a view in which human subjectivity is kept central, for instance as a system of representation or information processing that gathers beliefs and knowledge of a objective reality independent and outside itself. This kind of subject is thought to have a more or less defined structure that is common to all subjects. On this view, subjects might have some peripheral individual differences, but the defining essential structure does not vary from subject to subject. On the contrary, what makes a subject a subject is some universal and essential characteristic, such as rationality, representational structure, a definite functional or neural mechanism, soul, or whatever.

Now, the oral history by using the symbols of technical and communication facilties and magnetic and electronic recordings proceeds to recognize the fact (as an object) through the different perception of each of the narrators.

Therefore, none of what refer to as oral tradition (legends and fables) are the proof of history and oral history, because oral historicism in its modern meaning has emerged knowingly with the growth of technology and on the basis of the viewpoint of modern mankind since the second of half of twentieth century. Otherwise, we should consider as proof of oral history whatever have been remained form the legacy of the human since the period of "oral connection" and before the invention of printing industry or "oral galaxy" as Mac Lohan says, while the writing or the text itself as a collection of signs which are sent and decoded by the sender (writer) for the readers is a collection of direct and indirect quotations taken from what have been seen and heard. 

So, whatever exists as the legend or narration, personal memory, writing biography, etc before the twentieth century cannot be claimed as oral history, because that kind of historicism widely practiced as oral history after World War II was aimed at "historicity" in the meaning of conceiving historical events just by referring directly to the background of their occurring vis-à-vis conceiving history on the basis of general theories and their extension in the history.

2) Oral history is a process.

Oral history is based on interview and oral connection. So, oral history is a connective category from the type of human and inter-individual connections and it is a process more than anything else.

ral history is an intelligence process through interview and as Maggie Smith - in presenting his connective model based on similar memories – has said, "Connection is a process of transferring information, feelings, memories and thoughts between the people".

Therefore, oral history has the characteristics of a process as follows:

A) Process is not inactive but it's dynamic.

B) Process does not have the beginning or end.

C) The components and elements of a process have reciprocal actions and each has an impact on the other one and is influenced by the other.

D) Process does not have a row of components.

As we see in the collections of oral history, on one hand, it refers to the number of narrators (champ/doer, observer/witness, listener/ narrator of quotation) and on the other hand, it can be continued in the society to the number of the criticisms of readers and critics (due to the present historicism and the closeness of readers to the event and having collective memory) and every related person can play a role in completing this course which proves that it is a process. That is why a number of experts have considered oral history as a way for democratizing the history, as well as a way for involving the people who have not already taken part in creating their past documents, a free interpretation from history, mutual anthropology and a way to better understand the history and a criticizing concept from its real meaning.

3) Oral history is a (serial) connection.

Oral history is a collection of the narration of narrators about an event or historical concept as well as what the historian adds to the words of narrators during an interview following his or her presumption as discovery, criticism and interpretation. (In the form of asking questions, about the interviewees or references or related documents at the time of the final setting and compilation of every narration).

Since the narrators have similar, different, criticizing and contradictory attitudes about the common issues of narrations in the fact, the oral history should be studied in a collective and general system.

In other words, oral history is a collection of various narrations on the basis of a pre-compiled plan about an event or historical concept every narration of which is attractive and interesting to read, but they alone cannot be called historicism. This collection along with acceptable number of various narrations can be called oral history.

4) Oral history is a narration.

We rarely think of narrations. But our life is deeply involved in it. We see or read them everyday in a sea of novels and stories since the first days of birth until the last days of life. Our death will also be registered in this narration, because the obituaries are like this.

Narration is a major method through which the mankind organizes its experiences inside a chain of events which are important and significant in terms of time.

Narration is a method of argument and representation. Humans can understand the world in the form of narration and can talk about the world in the form of narration.

The world's narrations are numerous. They more than anything else are placed in varying genres which themselves have been spread among different essences. The narration can rely on verbal or written words, on still or motion images, on sign and hint and on an organized mixture of all these essences. Narration is present in myth, legend, novel, tragedy, comedy, epic, history, pantomime, painting, and colored painting on glass, cinema, illustration book, news and conversation. Moreover, narration begins with the human history. There are not and have never been any people without narration anywhere. All the classes and human groups have their own narration, and in many cases, men with different and even opposing cultures have enjoyed from narration. Narration never prefers good literature to bad one. Narration like life is an international, ultra-historical and ultra-cultural subject.

Narration in a greater viewpoint builds the human's mind and experiences and in a smaller one means passing a (primary) situation and reaching to another situation (secondary) for quoting and explaining about an event happened in the very far past for the audience at present.

French theorist, Gerard Genette, along with Russian theorists believe that every narration has been formed of two parts - narrator and story (narrative) - and each narration has a story at its heart which narrates it with the help of narrator.

Narration has no beginning or end. But this beginning or end starts from the half and ends in another half on the basis of the unsystematic appearance of mind and human experiences and the narration gives a systematic form to such beginning or end.   

J. Hillis Miller (1978) – theorist and an expert in narration – is of the view that our inability to define the beginning and end is not merely a problem that can be solved by presenting a better theory. No narration can show its beginning or end. Narration always starts from the middle and ends in the middle and some of its parts are counted by the future and is placed out of other parts.

On the other hand, narration like history has also the selective characteristic, because history is eventually a narration generated from what once has been its new life – in form – and probably we cannot consider all of them.

Oral history like narration has an event (narrative) for narration and narrator. Given what we said about narration and oral history, both are of the type of oral discourse.

Thus, oral history is a narration, because:

1- Oral history like narration involves in making systematic the narrator's mind and experiences in an unsystematic appearance and retelling the events like when the people talk ordinarily as well as the mental frameworks of the narrator's mind which has a middle-middle form.

2- Oral history like narration is endless but it has a certain beginning and end.

3- Oral history like narration has two parts of narrative (an occurred thing) and narrator (champ).

4- Oral history like narration has a selective property toward the events.

Narration in oral history is of the type of empirical narration (loyal to reality – truth) and stands against anecdotal narration (loyal to imagination).

Although historical narration was listed as anecdotal literature until late nineteenth century, it was eliminated from the list with the growth of individualism and romantism in literature, history and writing biography.

Empirical narration is divided into two kinds- historical and imitative narrations. Historical narration is committed to the reality of the real past, time and place and the realist causation.

The concept and nature of interview in oral history

Interview is a dialogue in relation to the totality and system of oral history regarding its method and internal method and from the viewpoint of concept and in an external system; it is a narration or in other words a unique narration. 

If we want to ponder about the nature of interview as a process in oral history, we should go through the concepts of dialogue, narration and their relation and proportion in oral historicism.

Interview as dialogue

What is interview in oral history? The methods of interview are only important for the interviewers and those in charge of oral history in general, while the recognition of concept, nature and the goals of the interview in oral history play a decisive role in historicism.

Although interview is a kind of verbal connection, it also combines with face-to-face connection. The composition of these two kinds of connection creates a distinction between interview and other verbal connection.

It is in this connection that one of the two sides follows a special intention through talking and receiving the answers and while posing questions, he or she waits for receiving the reactions. This is beyond the daily conversation between the people. Conducting an interview is certainly carried out through planning and with previous intention and should result in special purposes. In fact, we can say that interview is a designed, intended, face-to-face connection and needs decision making.

Also in "Principles and Skills of Interview" authored by Goyer, Redding, and Ricci, interview has defined as follows: " Interview is a kind of oral connection in which two sides are present and at least one of the two sides would takes part with prior planning. Both sides talk and listen to the other side alternately".

However, the interview can be divided according to connection rings (individual and collective), the kind of connection (direct or indirect) the kind of content (superficial and deep), the connection's aim (open or guided), the role of the interviewer, the meaning and the final means of sending the message.

On the basis of this sorting, interview in oral history should be considered as an individual interview (one to one), direct (face to face), deep (going through a special subject with more details and interpretation), single-subject, guided and at the request of interviewer with early study for finding the reality, registering the events in history and releasing them through mass media.

But what shapes the nature of interview in oral history, is the aims of the interview. Interview has different goals from the viewpoint of experts. Most experts and theorists believe that the aim of interview is to collect information. But the reality is that the collection of information is only one of the functions of the interview not its nature and temperament.

Let's take a look at the following viewpoints about the aims of the interview:

Darri: Interview is aimed at accessing to information

Cohen: Interview is aimed at searching information for publishing.

Sally Adams: Interview is questioning others for collecting primary materials for publishing the information and quotations.


nterview in oral history in such viewpoints is an effective way for collecting information for the people who are interested in history and manners, and eventually in an interview, the process of reminding in the method of dialogue between the interviewer and interviewee would create.

In fact, interview is a heuristic tool and a way for collecting information. Such viewpoints do not disclose the nature of interview, but they would be turned into a reductionalistic view which decreases the level of interview to a "presence questionnaire" or "mere Q&A" and "conversation" which might be carried out an interview or argument during the process.

On the other hand, some regard the aim of interview as accessing to truth. Or they believe that one of the aims of interview is to collect information along with informing and instigating. Interview has different goals. An interview may be conducted for collecting information, evaluating the opposite side, convincing and changing the mind of the person, guiding or consulting for employment.

rom this viewpoint, interview has a meaning when it is considered as the goals relating to a totality and systematic structure.

Generally, the anatomy of interview has a meaning given the goals, roles and structure or structures which cover an interview.

If we study this subject from the viewpoint of Gestalt, interview finds a meaning when it is considered in terms of totality. It means that interview has no conception by itself or abstractly. An interview is only effective when it would be at the service of particular system in coordination with other components of a structure.

So now we can say that interview in psychology has a framework and another independent composition in police affairs or within a press system (which is divided into other branches). In this viewpoint, interview is not only an instrument, but it is a process that the two sides of the interview play equal roles in shaping it effectively.

The interviewees do not rest on a common line or border in terms of playing roles in a society. They do not have single goals, because the organizational structure, the composition of values, the shape and content of the goals and the type of their social responsibility are different. Thus, the interview itself in relation to the mentioned items is like a wax that the other components of a totality or a particular social system shape it.

Moreover, the application of an interview is formed given the goals of the interviewers and even the interviewees and sometimes become a criterion.

What credits in oral history is that Interview is a heuristic instrument for collecting information or a process for helping the narrator’s memory to remember the past. However, if the interviewer promoted his or her position to a historian and also generated this knowledge in the interviewee (narrator), then the interview changed its path and identity from conversation and something like news interview and finally telling memories orally toward dialogue and historical narration.

Anyway, if we consider the aim of an interview in oral history as oral historicism and oral history, the nature of the interview in oral history would go beyond conversation, discussion, forum, negotiation, argument, etc. and turn into dialogue. Dialogue is about an event or a historical concept which makes the historical narration by itself. In such a dialogue, other questions do not have merely an interrogative aspect and find also presumptive aspects on the basis of active and informed presence of interviewer according to previous information (from the written resources and other narrators), the existing documents and high understanding power.

n this dialogue, the readers along the side of the narrator’s memories and information would also be informed of the two sides’ interpretation and analysis and reach to a multilateral recognition and beyond the individual viewpoint of the narrator (which is a kind of weakness in oral history).

In a viewpoint that considers an interview the discovery of reality and the interview is of the type of dialogue, the proportion of power in the two sides of the interview and explaining the events are among the important characteristics of an interview in oral history.

1-1) What is dialogue?

Now, what is dialogue and why should an interview in oral history be like a dialogue?

Before Plato, Dialogue had been recognized as a literary genre in Soummer since the second millennium B.C. Later, dialogue in Plato’s philosophy emerged as a “rational conversation” and many Plato’s works have been written in the form of dialogue.

The word “dialogue” has been taken from the Greece “Dialogus” word, “Dia” usually means “among”. But with regard to dialogue, it is synonymous with the Latin word “Inter” which means “between or among”. Logus in the meaning of “word” takes a kind of a very general conception of reasoning or thinking which appears in verbal or written form and gets the from of a concept or theory. Dialogue represents a kind of meaning current between numbers of people. Thus, a kind of new conception and understanding that has not existed in the beginning of dialogue would appear.

he researchers of MIT University believe that “dialogue is not a mere conversation as what happens in the United Nations for in this organization, the subject is announced parallel to exchange of view and the expression of positions would lead to the victory of one of the two sides. In other words, in this method, the sides have presuppositions that if they are challenged, they will defend them while dialogue is a collective attempt for finding the response of common issues”.

On this basis, dialogue is a kind of thinking resulted from the connection for understanding and realizing an idea about a common issue by two or several persons.

However, dialogue can be a kind of dialectic and a dialectical relation is based on the foundation of question and answer and a critic approach.

Dialectic is a Greek word which has been made from the word “dia” meaning two persons and “lectic” meaning conversation between two persons. For the Greeks, the word (in addition to other things) represents a verbal process in which one of the two sides of the debate is questioned so that his or her verbal contradictions are appeared. This is a strategy that Plato attributes it to Socrates. Socrates at fist began numerous conversations and at last led it to confusion and helplessness.

Although the origin of dialectic dates back to Greek philosophers, but its dominance over modern philosophy results from the revival of this conception in eighteenth century by post-Kantian idealists like Fitche and Hegel who considered dialectic as a triangle with three thesis, antithesis, synthesis angles.

For Hegel, dialectic is both a method for interpreting and a structure for historical progress. On this basis, Hegel in his “Phenomenology of Spirit” (1807) shows that how self-awareness moves toward the absolute knowledge by a collection of the confrontations of reciprocal elements. Each of the confrontations is solved by a process known as aufhenbung in which a new idea (synthesis) would be created as a result of confliction between thesis and antithesis; synthesis concurrent with dissolving the reciprocity make and keep it in a higher level.

The function of dialectic in oral history is the discovery of reality and explanatory affairs. Dialectic in interview is of the type of dialogue and based on the reciprocity and multiplication of “thesis” and “antithesis” and it takes place when a dialogue is established by the narrator (interviewee) and historian (interviewer) for discovering the reality with historical conception.

1-2) The difference between dialogue and similar words

A) Chatting

To chat in Longman Dictionary has been defined as "informal discussion", and in Oxford Dictionary as "informal friendly discussion or conversation". Also in Webster Dictionary, to chat has the following meaning: "soft talking or dialogue".

To chat means "sympathy". On this basis, chatting represents a kind of friendly gathering or talking kindly while dialogue can be formed among those who are not considered as friendly gathering or do not discuss.

Dr. Malekian has defined the word "to chat" as follows: "To chat is a conversation which its most important characteristic is that it is aimless and because of this, it is inconsiderate, careless, consistent and continuous and carries out with inappropriate speed. To chat in fact is a kind of verbal mooning while the most important characteristic of dialogue is that it is targeted".

B) Discourse


 Dr. Azad Armaki believes that Discourse has different meanings in Farsi. On the other hand, discourse relations mean exchanging information and interpretations through dialogue and relying on rational and logical principles for reaching to an agreement and understanding. So, a discourse relation is a kind of symbolic connection in which various messages, information and learning are exchanged. This connection can be face to face or photographic, audio or written or a mixture of them and is achieved in various remote methods and directly, one-sided or two-sided. "Discourse relations can be divided into four major parts analytically: Scientific, political, ethical and philosophical and artistic discourse relations".

In this definition, discourse relations are close to the concept of social relations. Social connection is a current during which two persons or more resort to exchange of views, feelings and ideas, and through using messages the meaning of which is equal for all of them. 

The word "Discourse" the history of which dates back to fourteenth century in some resources has been taken from the French word [dis-korr] discourse and Latin "discurs-us" meaning dialogue, conversation and from the word "disurrer discursum" meaning "to evade", "to procrastinate", etc.

Given the theorists of social sciences and humanities have not so far been able to agree on presenting a single and rational definition from the word "discourse" and determining accurate and logical frameworks, the argument and difference in this regard is still continuing. However, discourse and context are often used as each other's synonym and instead of each other. The only limitation and distinction is about methodology (text is a material product and discourse, a connection process) or explaining the mutual link of the texts during the conversation.

In another explanation, "discourse means conversation and rational argument along with toleration".

Today, discourse is considered more general and common than dialogue. Dialogue is a phenomenon special for the present tense and with present and live audience, while discourse with its historical aspect also covers up past dialogues. Also, "all the audiences of a discourse do not belong to the present time, but some parts belong to the past, some have been achieved and some may happen the facticity of which is in the future. Verbal arguments between the elite in the beginning of Islam and the second and third centuries A.H. are of the type of discourse while today, political, cultural and philosophical negotiations of scientific and political circles are of the type of dialogue.

On the other hand, "discourse" means translating casual and ineffective dialogues into the correct one. When this was done, then we have reached to discourse. So, we can say briefly that discourse means reforming dialogue, representing that we discuss around a certain subject with its own argument and logic. Thus, one of the ways of correcting dialogue is to challenge the question of the opposite side in the process of dialogue. In oxford dictionary, "discourse" is defined as written or spoken communication or debate, or a formal discussion of a topic in speech or writing.

In Longman dictionary, you can find a similar definition as serious or verbal conversation (dialogue).

And finally, in Webster dictionary, discourse has been defined as follows: 1- the capacity of orderly thought or procedure, 2-verbal interchange of ideas especially conversation, and 3- a mode of organizing knowledge, ideas, or experience that is rooted in language and its concrete contexts.

C) Discussion

In Webster dictionary, "discussion" has been defined as 1-consideration of a question in open and usually informal debate, 2- a formal treatment of a topic in speech or writing. Also in Oxford dictionary, it has been defined as "the action or process of discussing something". Discussion has the same root with the words like "percussion" and "concussion". The main meaning of this word is "analyzing the affairs and its emphasis on analysis and segregation".

D) Negotiation

Negotiation means "the action or process of conferring with another so as to arrive at the settlement of some matter" or "the action of arranging for or bringing about through conference, discussion, and compromise".

Negotiation has been taken from the Greek word "Negotitat" meaning "to carry on business". So, negotiation merely seeks a realistic goal and its sphere is very less limit than dialogue.

In negotiation, the two sides already know what they want and try to obtain what they want and consider and try to lead the way of dialogues. In dialogue, it is dialogue itself which leads them.

In dialogue, the priority of questions and answers has secondary aspect. In negotiation, all try to undermine the contender and close the way on another selection in the dialogue circle. But, in dialogue, there is no art as victory over another, arguing or silencing the other side. Dialogue forms on the basis of the two sides' identity.

1-3) Proportion of power in dialogue

Interview is a social process attended by more than one person and they create an interview by placing in various positions, like the relation between physician and patient in interview-therapy, or researcher and statistical example in social interview or police and the accused in interrogation. Interview in oral history also forms according to the positions of interviewer and interviewee.

Three elements are considered during a dialogue and basically we talk of dialogue, the three elements are present. They are: connection message, the way of conversation, and the existence of one or several speakers. The important issue is when there is no balance between the two sides of equation or proportion during a dialogue, it would lead to the advantage and dominance of one side and the weakening of the other side. So, there is no way but to stress common points, but it somehow clears dialogue from openness and vastness and limits it. 

The preliminary conditions of dialogue are: the willingness of the two sides to participate, spending enough time for dialogue and lack of disturbing elements.

The moderate conditions of dialogue are: paying full attention to conversation, willingness in hearing others, giving a chance to others for expressing their viewpoints and pausing for taking a breath and thinking and at last the final conditions is sufficing general consent in case of not reaching a rational result, and mutual willingness for restarting.

We should also pay attention to deterrent elements. Some of these elements are: concern over shortage of time, fearing others' disturbance, weakness in remaining silent, listening, pausing, thinking and reaching to a result. Therefore, the place, time and the agreements concerning the space of conversation are of great importance.

However, the critical situation and unstable and unpredictable nature of dialogue is followed by some difficulties. The fist difficulty is related to deterrent elements and the second one is about the damages inflicted against it during the conversation. Solving these difficulties help a lot advancing the dialogue. 

But one of the most important harms is lack of balance or proportion of the rate of domination or the power of the two sides of the dialogue. It means that putting the two sides in the situation of domination or power in relation to others will have an impact on the nature of interview and the situation of domination in the two sides will influence the direction and type of the interview. Thus, interview in oral history should be dialogue, because in dialogue one of the conditions of establishing effective connection is the accepted equality and proportion of the two sides' situation. Otherwise, with the inequality in situations, the interview will go toward interrogation (the dominance of the power of the questioner over narrator), discussion, argument, etc and so, the findings influenced by power will not have the necessary credit.

On the other hand, we should know that dialogue is the product of its time and culture. It means that the interviewer's questions and the type of the interviewees' answers as well as the common issue of dialogue and the two sides' like-mindedness and the basis of the sides' connection are achieved according to the time and cultural conditions so that conducting an interview with a combatant in the prison (during the power of state) or an interview about a figure who is still alive and the type of culture like Iranian compliments, despotic, traditional culture, etc. have a crucial role in presenting the questions, obtaining the realities, the type of answers and the basis of dialogue.

Therefore, oral historicism should consider the balance of the two sides' power in terms of scientific, cultural position as well as personality, popularity and the abilities, etc. in choosing the interviewer and interviewee and given the type of the historical issue and move toward a path that the power of the two sides in the interview would be equal so that the situation of dialogue is achieved.

As mentioned above, one of the harms of oral historicism is lack of attention to the selection of the two sides on the basis of observing the principle of "power balance" and generally, the interviewers have more power than interviewees and considering their skill to the origin of the historical event along side of power creating elements like high position, high literacy, etc., it will distort the origin of "dialogue" relation and turn it into a one-sided interview, and sometimes the interviewer is decreased to the level of a tape recorder set.

In order to establish balance power, I can list the qualifications of the interviewer as follows:

 Enough expert, experience and popularity regarding interview
2- Having connection abilities
3- Having a memory higher than the society's average memory

4- Strong mentality for analyzing data and presenting new questions simultaneously
5- High inference power

Therefore, the interviewer either must be experienced, prominent and outstanding in the related field or while is informed of historic events and recognizes and separates main and secondary incidents, he or she should interpret the incidents and before conducting an interview should have all the documents and resources and other relevant narrations from narrators in order to be able to reach to dialogue and historic narration from an event during the interview and eventually turns the interview into an analytical, deep, ...Historical narration.

Finally, if the interview is dialogue, the oral history will be formed and the interviewer is preserved from the harms of historicism for reviving dialogue, harms like prejudice including ideological, nationalism, ethnicism, partisanship prejudice, etc.

1- 4) Systematic and unsystematic interview

Interview in oral history must be conducted according to a systematic mind by the interviewer and the interviewer must make his or her theories and findings systematic (organized) through studying the related documents and the narration of other narrators. But we should note that generally, the current of oral history moves toward an unsystematic appearance due to the characteristics of mind and memory and the property of dialogue, hence the interviewer should keep the current and process of the interview in its main path. The main issue is that an interview with unsystematic appearance does not mean that the mind of interviewer is systematic.

A systematic mind can have systematic expression or others. But an unsystematic mind cannot have systematic expression.

2) Narration in the form of interview (Narrative function of interview).

The collection of oral history is narration, a great narration from a collection of narrations that the narrators have expressed according to their role and function in shaping or as compared with the fact.

The roles which with the titles like champ, observer, etc. explain the function of the interview's narration.

As we mentioned, each narration has consisted of narrator and narrative. But who and what is narrator in oral history interviews and how does it gain and then explain the fact?

2-1) who is narrator in the interview?

The existing theories about narrator can be divided into two parts:

1-The theories which believe that narrator has a real being and identity. Those who believe in this theory say that narrator is an individual who quotes a narration and that the narrator is really present in the story. This group of the critics which consist of almost the majority bring the narrator of many classic novels as witness in order to prove their theory, for instance the narrators of Tome Jones, Great Expectations, Baba Gurio, David Copperfield, etc. (The two sides in the interview has real being.)

2- The theorists who says that narrator has no being. For example, when Rolan Bart was studying the story of Balzac's Sarazin, asks: "Who is talking here?" and then he answers: "the text is talking". However, Bart does not mean that the story of Balzac has no narrator, but he wants to say that the writer has the full responsibility and the narrator himself or she has no being. (If dialogue is held in oral history, the audio or written text acts as a narrator toward the readers.

Or Thomas Man, the German writer whose theories had a major impact on German theorists believed that narrator is the spirit of narration. A story is told by the spirit of narration.

When we research about narration, we should pay attention to three elements: 1) Person, 2) Mode, and 3) Perspective.

1) Person; given this element, we face with this question who is the narrator of a narration? And who talks to the reader? This question does not have one answer and each narrative state has its own narrator.

2) Mode; mode means the position of presenting the story's figures (or the events and historical figures) by the narrator. Given this element, we should answer the questions such as does the narrator is one of the figures of the story (or champ/doer in the event) or he is outside it"? Or "how does the narrator transfer his or her information to the reader

3) Perspective; paying attention to this element makes clear: 1) from what position does the narrator defines the story (the fact) - up, from around, middle, front- or does he change his position repeatedly in order to see the scene better? Also we should see whether the narrator is willing to be seen by others or on the contrary, he doesn't want others to see him?

4) Is the narrator inside the story or he is looking at the people and the events from outside? (The external and internal vision angle), 3) from whose viewpoint the narrator is telling the story? 4) How far is the narrator with the story's people and events? (Is he near or far or movable?)

Each text has a narrator who addresses the reader or his opposite side in the form of a writer or an independent figure. But in an interview, someone as an interviewer will ask a question and the "pretext of narration" will become someone else and the interviewee narrates others' memoirs, perspectives and quotations.

Who is narrator? Interviewee or interviewer?
Answering this question is apparently clear, interviewee!
But the truth is that the narrator in the interviews of oral history will be known according to the nature and type of the interview.

If the nature of the interview in oral history is instrumental, questionnaire and aimed at merely collecting the information, the narrator is the interviewee, because he has the domination and power in an interview and the standard of identifying a narrator in a narrative text is domination (storyteller/narrator) in the entire narration! And in this mode, the interviewer is passive and preserves the unity of the subject. In such interviews, the narration is single-voice and exclusive to the memory and individual perspectives (interviewee.)

And if the nature of interview in Oral history is dialogue and the goal of oral historicism is not only taking the realities or the fact, but like-mindedness over a common issue i.e. the fact in a dialogue between the interviewee and interviewer occurs somehow that it involves interpretations, opposed and similar approaches, outside deeds and the two sides' presumptions, the narrator is no longer the interviewee alone, but the interviewer has played the role of expressing the "fact" in shaping the narration and is hared in that narration. Thus, the narration is incomplete without the presumptions and ultra-textural references the interviewer brings up.

It is clear that such thing makes possible only by observing the "proportion of power" in a dialogue that the interviewer should have mental and memorial commonalities with the interviewee according to the fact.

In this mode, the narrator of both sides is (interviewee and interviewer) or in other words the "narrative text of the interview."

So in this case, the interview is as dialogue and multi-voice narration and the interviewer has an active role from the kind of "narrator and meddler."

2-2) Interviewer as narrator

the active participation of interviewer in narration insofar as highlights him to the level of narrator alongside the interviewee is subjected to "dialogue" conditions and the following strategies:

A) Recognizing and understanding the interviewee's context of situation

Recognizing and understanding the interviewee's context of situation will achieve through taking role. It means that the interviewer should be able to put himself in the time, place and cultural situation of the interviewee and by playing the role of the opposite side creates the impact of that situation on himself in order to have a better understanding form the interviewee's function and action in the fact and could establish a better dialogue.

While conducting an interview, we seek to try to put ourselves in place of the person who is being interviewed. We try to imagine the network he (interviewee) had been working. We try to imagine how he could be. In this way, we pose questions that part of the relations approaches us to the truth and shows that we are informed of the work of the interviewee.

We also try to put ourselves in the position of those students who are willing to what this person has said. Thus, the historian of oral history will be put in the position of economist or sociologies.

The interviewer by recognizing and understanding the interviewee's context of situation can presume in criticizing and interpreting the behavior of the interviewee in the past and help him complete the narration at present as well as move the context of the interview toward "historical narration."

B) Recognizing the references of the interview

One of the most important issues in holding a dialogue and the active participation in the process of narration is to recognize the outside references of the interviewee. It means that if the interviewer somehow understands the world of the interviewee's "word" and "discourse", then his or her present mentality as narrator is definite toward important and famous references about a common issue concerning the fact. Because understanding the external references of the interviewee makes it possible for the interviewer, for example when he or she speaks about the coup happened in 28 Mordad, 1332 (August 18, 1953) to participate in re-narrating and retelling the events and even to help complete the narration by quoting another narrator (preferably close to the narration of the interviewee) and takes part in re-narrating somehow as if the interviewer himself or herself has been one of the champs or witnesses of the said event. In such a mood, the role of interviewer is at the level of the event's narrator, an event in which he ore she has not been present physically, but due to having information as well as understanding the narrator's situation context, the interviewee plays as the narrator of the interviewer in its re-narration which is itself another narration and another version of the history.

C) Suitable references according to documents and evinces and public gossips

Another way for the presence of the interviewer and his or her turning into narrator for establishing "dialogue" and creating "re-narration" is that the interviewer should be equipped to the references related to the fact and the debated common issue according to documents, evidences, others' quotations, other narrations and town gossips as well as theories and famous presumptions among the experts and historians. Equipping the interviewer to external references help him or her play a role beyond the "reminder" or "conductor of the subject" toward the interviewee's narrations alongside inter-contextual references and bring up another narration through suitable references throughout the interviewer's remarks so that in establishing a relation between thesis and antithesis, a kind of dialectical relation that leads to synthesis is created.

Given the solutions which were presented, if the interviewer is of the same type of dialogue, the responsibility for narrating will be up to both sides of dialogue and the text of the interview more than anything else will be the main narrator of the fact. It is clear that the final text of the interviews in oral history should be produced and provided by the interviewer and according to mutual cooperation with the interviewee and the related footnotes on the basis of documents and other evidences.

2-3)How does interview explain fact?

Interview expresses and attains the fact in the high form of dialogue and shaping the empirical narration (loyal to truth). But explaining the fact needs interpretation and analysis on the basis of historic philosophical theory and a collection of documents and evidences and even public gossips which may not happen in the interview and dialogue completely. However, we cannot say that interview and oral history is completely lack of explaining the fact, because the strong inference of the interviewer and his or her active participation in narrating according to recognition and domination over the internal and external references of the interview's text provides the ground for the interviewer to explain. But the issue is the method of explaining the fact in the interview of oral history.

The method and way of explaining in the interview is based on "dialectic". It means that if a fact is supposed to be explained, it should be carried out through the clash of thesis and antithesis and the dialectical relation in the process of dialogue. However, such method in conducting an interview has consequences for oral history. It should tolerate harms such as distorting and becoming impaired of the information and disconnecting the dialogue. So explanation in an interview should be carried out after obtaining necessary information and the truth by an interviewer who has been elected in proportion to interviewer, has enough domination over the subject and references, and establishes dialectic on the basis of a well-known logic and historic philosophy.

Another way of explaining in oral history interview is the explanation after conducting interviews which the interviewer or compiler can resort to interpret the event through mixing various narrations and criticizing and reviewing them with the help of other documents.

What is customary in oral historicism is the use of the existing information as a complementary for the written documents for explaining the fact in history as most oral history texts have been prepared in this way.

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A memory from Asadollah Tajrishi
At the beginning of my arrival in Evin Prison, I was taken to solitary confinement as always and after a few days, I was transferred to the public cell. The public cells had been located in two floors. The arrangement of these cells in the cells of 1355 and 1356 was such that on the lower floor, there was a ward ...
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The trip of Ahmad Moftizadeh & Mamoosta Sheikh Jalal Hosseini to Paveh

After the victory of the Islamic revolution, the people of Oramanat area and the Sunni people of Kermanshah Province, unlike most cities in northern Kurdistan were alongside the Islamic Republic system ...

“Internal Reaction” published

Apart from the student activities and massive demonstrations in the years 1352 to 1354 (1973-1975), another part of my activities was the books I was writing myself. Of course, before they turned into books, I used to lend them in the form of nameless pamphlets in university libraries. Many harmful writings or books were taken to the mountains or transferred to other universities, sometimes even abroad.

Loss of Memory in Pahlavi Prisons

In total, [I was in prison] about 6 years in two arrests. For the first time after several years, a soldier arranged my escape. I do not know why! Maybe he was one of the influential elements of Islamic groups. They took me to the hospital for the treatment of my hand, which was broken due to the callousness of an officer.