Motives of the rich and powerful in doing interviews with social scientists

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A growing body of sociological research on elites is done at close quarters, using interviews and ethnography. This article draws on interviews with the 'super rich' in Australia to examine the motives of elites in granting access to their lives and stories. The respondents of this study were largely indifferent to social science. In agreeing to be interviewed and engaging with the interview process, they drew upon two familiar points of reference - the media and therapy - as cognitive models or 'templates' for making sense of the process. The media template was outward looking, directed towards public relations and legitimacy. The therapeutic template was inward looking, directed towards families, peers and small world concerns. In turn, respondents were apparently motivated by contradictory considerations: on the one hand, wanting to promote their concerns to a wider audience and, on the other, wanting to reflect upon their predicaments in confidence. Yet respondents understood that neither template encapsulated the interview situation, causing respondents to shift between templates and motives in the course of interviews. This ambiguity meant that interviews demanded continuous negotiation and recalibration. It also enriched interviews, highlighting a reconfiguration of public and private worlds among elite communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)755-777
Number of pages23
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • class
  • class culture
  • power relations
  • qualitative analysis sociological methodology


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