Going with the Flow: The
interview as confession and the
use of Water Logic
Cate Goodlad
University of Sheffield
The FurtherHigher Project
Interview participants
• Northgreen College
• 10 students on Access to HE courses (8
continued to phase 3) moving into HE
• 6 female, 4 male
• 9 White British, 1 British-Pakistani
The interview as confession
• A Foucaultian view of the confession as a
means to reveal the ‘truth’ about oneself.
• We have become an ‘Interview Society’
(Atkinson and Silverman, 1997)
• Pervades all aspects of society – medical,
counselling, TV programmes, magazines...
The confessional
• Always a confessor and confessee, within
a power relationship
• ‘Interview’ associated with ‘truth’ (e.g.
Police interview, job interview) rather than
‘having a chat’
Interview as confession
• Want to be a ‘good’ interviewee
• Narratives shaped by dominant discourses
or ‘regimes of truth’
• A rehearsed narrative – how people talk
about themselves
Being a ‘good’ interviewee
• Checking questions:
Sally - …Then I went to University – do you want what
kind of subjects? (Sally, 1, 2)
Cate - And what are your plans for the future?
Sally - Immediate future or long distant future? (Sally,
3, 29)
Sunita - My school experience – do you mean from
primary up to kind of secondary? (Sunita, 1, 1)
Dominant discourses
• Interpretation and construction of the self
shaped by discourses
• Discourse follows ‘rules’ and includes
practices as well as what is said.
• Can reveal how individuals think about
themselves - ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is
acceptable for me?’
• Age 27, brought up on a council estate:
People from the area I came from didn’t really do
anything, they just, if they worked, they got rubbish
jobs, do you know what I mean? They didn’t – it
weren’t like it were ever on the cards to do anything.
(Beth, 1, 10)
I’ve always thought, people like me don’t go to
University you know, and so, it took quite a while for
me to get that motivation, and confidence as well
(Beth, 1, 56)
• 38 years old and worked as a cabinet maker:
So I mean over the past years I’ve kind of looked at it
really about maybe going to uni but I’ve just kind of
thought well I’m too old to do that really. It were a daft
Why did you think you were too old?
Well, I don’t know, it’s kind of something you do after
school really isn’t it? That’s what I always thought.
(Darren, 1, 10&11)
• Both Beth and Darren previously saw higher
education as ‘not for them’ – shaped by
• Both can be said to be resisting the discourse by
moving into higher education
• Power invested in Access discourses made HE
a possibility
Taboo subjects
• Dominant discourses shape what is taboo.
• Tina was reticent about revealing why she
moved to the area:
Cate - So how did you end up in Northgreen?
Tina - Through marriage. My husband was from
[North West town], I was from [Midlands town], just
some things that were going on in my life at the time
as well it was sort of a new start, new change, you
know, and chose Northgreen. (Tina, 1, 6)
• Later clarified:
Cate - So what was it that made you think about
starting college again and doing some qualifications?
I think it was someone….. I had a few problems like
before when I came up here and stuff, got into drugs
that was what it is, that was like the main reason for
coming here, you know, to sort of get away from that.
And then it was through the drug worker, you know,
the set up for that, you know, and they introduced me
to the Fresh Start course. (Tina, 1, 8)
Tina’s narrative
• The power of the confessional situation – she
could have lied.
• It is illegal, so by admitting to the use of drugs,
she categorises herself as ‘deviant’.
• Need to be seen as a ‘good’ citizen – keen to
stress that this is her past
• Part of her new narrative about herself –
education is a strong part of who she is now.
Water Logic
• Practical tool for mapping perceptions
conceived by Edward de Bono (1993)
• Used in this case as a means to check
information and understanding
• Introduced at the end of the third phase
Rock and Water
• Western society tend to think in terms of ‘rock
Traditional rock logic is based on identity: ‘This is a
caterpillar.’ It is also based on ‘have’ and ‘inclusion’:
‘this caterpillar is green and has a hairy body.’
Inclusion, exclusion, identity and non-identity, and
contradiction are the very stuff of reasoning. We
create boxes in the forms of categories,
classifications and words. We judge whether
something belongs in a certain box and if it does we
can give it all the characteristics of that box.
Water Logic
• Bono suggests that perceptions are more
fluid (like water)
• Not what is it? But What does this lead to?
• Perceptions add up to a whole (as in
De Bono’s example
A woman brings a faulty kettle to a department
store and asks for a replacement. The sales
assistant knows the kettle could never have
been bought at the store because the store does
not stock that brand. But the sales assistant
changes the kettle for a new one. On the basis
of ‘is’ logic and justice this must seem absurd.
But in ‘to’ logic it does make sense. The woman
is so delighted that she becomes a regular
Creating a flowscape
• Stream of consciousness list
• From the interview transcripts
• ‘What does HE mean to this person?’
• No right or wrong answers
Stream of consciousness list for
‘normal’ route
more interesting job
heavy workload
lack of money
independent learning
different to college
part-time work
student identity
N first-class degree
A ‘normal’ route
• Neither of my parents went to University.
My sister, 2 years older than me was at
University, but there was never any
pressure for me to go. May be it was
through school like all my friends were
going, but there was never any pressure to
go, it just kind of seemed like the natural
thing to do. (Sally, 1, 8)
Flowscape diagram for Sally
• Sally agreed with the SoC list but
commented on pressure as a collector
There’s one thing I didn’t mention, I wasn’t sure
whether to mention or not, is that I have started
seeing a counsellor, I’ve been a couple of times
because I have been getting quite stressed (Sally, 3,
Re-negotiated flowscape
• Single parent to 5 year old who just started
• Working part-time
• Several level 3 qualifications (beauty therapy,
computers, customer services, then Black
• Started Degree in Childhood Studies – left after
7 months
• Her reflections on leaving:
I still feel a bit like....it’s a bad decision like…
because like you know when you’ve passed
your work and you get a feeling of like “oh I’ve
done it and I’ve got a good mark for it” or, you
know, I was alright, at least I passed it or
whatever… so I’ve got that thing and I just
wanted to achieve it, wanted to do it but I
couldn’t so… (Sunita, 3,17)
Sunita’s narrative
• She attributes failure to lack of ability:
…when I spoke to the tutor she said “no
you’re doing fine, you’re doing quite well, your
marks are fine” but I felt myself like I’d have to
struggle to....every piece of work was like a
struggle to do it. I don’t know, maybe it was a
bit too much for me. (Sunita, 3, 2)
Sunita’s Flowscape
Alternative Narratives
• Initial response to flowscape was one of
– Yeah that’s true actually, really true yeah. When you
put it like that it’s like “oh my gosh”. (Sunita, 3, 29)
• Discussed alternatives but reluctant to let
go of original narrative:
– Yeah, I should think like that but....still do but.....
(Sunita, 3, 33)
Foucault and Water Logic
• Foucaultian power/knowledge and De
Bono’s Water Logic both emphasise
importance of context.
• Perceptions can be faulty but still be ‘true’
– similar to ideas of truth in discourse
• They can also change, just like
• The interview can be viewed as a confession – a
means to produce ‘truth’
• Narrative of the self is shaped by dominant
• Water Logic a means to check information
• Water Logic opened up new spaces for
negotiation and shifted the power relationship

Going with the Flow - University of Sheffield