The chosen iconic photos were used during the in-depth interviews to determine if the photos are recognizable by the general public and what emotions and memories the photos trigger. The interviews were then studied through the constant comparative method of qualitative analysis to draw conclusions about the photos’ relationship with the collective memory of the Vietnam War era.


To examine the research questions, 10 interviews were conducted with subjects who were age 56 or older. This age was determined so that they were at least 15-years-old in 1968, at the height of the political turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War, and so that they were experiencing their adolescence or early adulthood during this time period. Studies have shown that people between the ages of 12 and 25 will be most effected by major national events, and those events will typically have the greatest impact on this group’s collective memory.[1]

The subjects were volunteers solicited through Elon University and First Baptist Church of Elon.    There was a total of 10 participants who were interviewed for this study; six were men, four were women.  One man was drafted into the Army and fought in Vietnam; his wife also participated in the study.  Another man was in the Air Force and was stationed in Japan from 1967 to 1969.  Another man was in the Army Reserve for six years, but was never called to duty.  The participants ranged from age 58 to age 75.  Three participants were in their late 50s, four were in their early 60s, and three were in their 70s.  The majority of the participants lived in North Carolina during the 1960s, but the remaining participants were scattered across the country, living in California, Wisconsin, New York, Indiana, and Georgia.

The interviews began with a series of questions establishing the subjects’ socio-economic status during Vietnam, their family ties with the war, and their media consumption habits during the time period.  In the next segment of the interview, the subjects were shown each iconic photo individually, beginning with Kent State, and then following with Self-Immolation, Tet Execution, My Lai Massacre, and Accidental Napalm, in that order.  The order of the photographs was decided on so that the participants were not confronted with the most graphic of the images first, potentially causing them to become disturbed or question the purpose and intent of the study.  They were shown Kent State first because it was the only photo that was taken in the United States and it was hypothesized that it would be one of the photos that was easiest for the participants to relate to and talk about, and then the order of the photographs continued chronologically.  The participants were asked to identify and describe it, and they were asked questions to derive emotional responses about the photos. In the third segment of the interview, the subjects were shown all five photos together and asked how the photos represented the Vietnam War era as a whole.[2] The duration of the interviews varied depending on the personality of the participant, ranging from 30 minutes to an hour and a half.

Constant Comparative Method

The constant comparative method (CCM) was originally used as a means of qualitative analysis in grounded theory developed by Glaser and Strauss.[3] It involves the constant comparison of data (the interviews in this research project), categorizing the data, and finding relationships among that data. This method allows for change in the hypothesis, constantly raising new questions as it cycles through old questions.[4]

Each interview was studied to find comparisons within the interview. Open coding was used to tag key words within the interview. Comparing the interview as a whole allowed the determination of consistency within the interview and for a greater understanding of the interview.

The next step in CCM was to compare between interviews.  As soon as more than one interview was conducted, they were compared.[5] First, fragments of the interview that share the same themes and were given the same codes were compared (axial coding), then the interviews as a whole were compared to one another.[6]

These two steps together produced patterns of categories. The next step in the CCM method was to create rules or propositions that describe the underlying meaning that defines the category.  Finally, the method looks for meaningful connections in the rules, which led to a coherent explanation in the research and an understanding of the interviews.[7] All 10 interviews were thoroughly studied to reach an understanding of whether or not these images act as iconic images of the Vietnam War era and how iconic images contribute to the collective memory of the Vietnam War era.


[1] Pennebaker and Banasik, “On the Creation,” 17.
[2] Go to Appendix B for the interview transcript.
[3] Barney G. Strauss and Anselm L. Strauss, The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. (Chicago: Aldine, 1967).
[4] Hennie Boeije, “A Purposeful Approach to the Constant Comparative Method in Analysis of Qualitative Interviews,” Quality & Quantity 36 (2002): 393.
[5] Boeije, A Purposeful Approach, 397.
[6] Boeije, A Purposeful Approach, 397.
[7] Joseph R. Dominick and Roger D. Wimmer, Mass Media Research: An Introduction (Belmont: Thomson Higher Education, 2006): 117.


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