Talking with difficult subjects; ethics, knowledge, relationships
Location Stranmillis Conference Hall
Date and Start Time 14 Apr, 2010 at 09:00
Researchers often find themselves negotiating difficult topics or complicated research relationships. This panel explores strategies for the interview process to enhance interviewer/interviewee rapport in order to engage with, address and overcome potentially thorny research relationships.
How should researchers use interviews when 'deep hanging-out' becomes politically, emotionally, and intellectually imperilled. How can the interview process provide a context for redressing research relationships? Such difficult moments in the field, reflected on and negotiated in the act of writing, are considerations for this panel. In addition, many words used to describe fieldsite relationships are fraught with darker edges (informants, hosts etc.). The space that anthropological methodology and academic writing allow permits a re-evaluation/confrontation with these 'negative' encounters. While the interview process has been understood as a legitimate means of data collection, this panel asks where the limits of objectivity lie when interviewers and interviewees become challenged by the lack of rapport; what difficulties result in gaining access to personal/emotionally laden information via formal interviews? The interview, a historically constituted and culturally circumscribed form of potentially constrained interaction between parties, often presents such a formal setting, one less conducive to establishing the valuable rapport long deemed so valuable. When faced with difficult subjects then, how, the panel asks, are interviewers to engage ethically/emotionally with subjects to bridge this gap? This panel seeks to explore the interview process through ethnographic examples showing researchers confronting/coping with disparities in education, outlook and interviewer/interviewee rapport. In sum, this panel invites papers to explore strategies for addressing 'difficult subjects' (topics, people, encounters). The panel also examines ways in which face-to-face interactions between researchers and the people they research may negotiate the politics and ethics of interviews as creative and productive encounters for both parties.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Jointly creating liveable stories: the interweaving of ethics, rapport and discursive surrounds
Using a detailed transcript, I show my inadequate response to an interviewee’s sudden disclosure and her appeal for rapport in a certain cultural discourse of sexual intimacy. I reflect on this and other published difficult moments so that I and my interviewees might create ‘liveable with’ stories
Drawing on an interview transcript excerpt from my own research investigating the experience of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis I will be showing my inadequate response to a moment of sudden disclosure which I, as interviewer participant, found difficult. My reflecting on this challenging moment sheds light on the workings of rapport in the delicate balance between pursuing knowledge and providing a duty of care to the interviewee participants in my research. I will also be showing, through a published transcript excerpt, how this conceivably elusive equilibrium has, in a different way, been considered by Sinding and Aronson (2003). These authors reflect on how participants, in the joint story-creating of their interviews, become vulnerable to perceived failures in their lives as they recognise that they cannot live up to the surrounding cultural discourses regarding, for example, what it means to have 'a good death' or be 'a good caregiver'. I will be further illustrating this through the writings of Rapley (2004) and Oakley (1981) in their deconstructing of the professional discourse of what it means to be 'a good interviewer'. These authors remove the methodological gloss from ideas of rapport and neutrality, revealing to different extents, what both describe as intimate reciprocity. Conceptualising my challenging moment as such allows me to wittingly consider how cultural, political or professional discourses may affect the conversational interaction which creates stories called 'data'. Providing a duty of care towards interviewee participants ought to compel interviewers to employ strategies that make these stories 'liveable with' after their departure.
The intricacies of doing fieldwork among homeless people
This paper analyses the ways in which difficult topics and heartbreaking testimonies were dealt with as well as the resilience and inability that was sometimes encountered in research relationships with homeless people in Croatia.
This paper is based on recent fieldwork that examines the ways in which women and men experience homelessness in Croatia. As homelessness is a relatively new phenomenon in Croatia that has been largely ignored by both researchers and policy makers, this is a pioneering study that aims to increase understanding and shape policy changes. Specifically, this paper analyses the ways in which difficult topics and heartbreaking testimonies were dealt with as well as the resilience and inability that was sometimes encountered in research relationships with homeless people. From the outset, ethical considerations such as informed/renegotiable consent, researcher/researched relations, confidentiality, anonymity, power, responsibility and ownership of knowledge were priority concerns since homeless people are definitely a marginalised population in crisis. The practice and application of these issues are considered in this paper. As fieldwork was carried out at a number of shelters throughout Croatia in settings that were completely unfamiliar and rule ridden, intimacy and privacy were often difficult to attain. Overall, the difficulties and shortcomings in this project as well the potential of these fieldwork experiences for generating a wealth of knowledge, insights and understanding about homelessness in Croatia will be discussed.
Extensive Interview: Inverse Relationship between Sensitivity and Closeness behind Truth
In the article I shall argue that interviews cannot be viewed independently and that an interview, particularly on a sensitive topic, must be considered within the context of a more extensive interaction. The acquisiton of reliable information to a large extent benefits from rapport with members of a community, particularly the gatekeepers which can act as the media to balance the positioning of the researcher and the (particularly sensitive) interviewee in the power structure and carry the sensitive information of the subject of an interview in conventional narrower sense to the researcher.
Using two case studies from my fieldwork in Yunnan Province, China, I shall argue that interviews cannot be viewed independently and that an interview, particularly on a sensitive topic, must be considered within the context of a more extensive interaction. Both cases were concerned with drug addiction in the village. The substance abusers or their families lied to me when I (not knowing there were substance abusers in their families) enquired about drug addiction. Later I found out the truth accidentally while chatting with other villagers, who were members or close relatives of my landlord's family. From those cases I will argue that if I had not been viewed by the villagers as a reliable person (in a sense a member of my landlord's family) based on the long-term relationship and successive investigations on and return to the village, I might not have found out the truth. In the village, my landlord was an important gatekeeper of mine. In these cases, an extensive interview should include the narrower meaning of an interview as well as the chatting, which became possible because of the recognition of my role in the village—as an adopted daughter of my landlord. The informal interviewees have played as media to carry the data of the targeted interviewee to the researcher. Sensitivity might be reduced depending on closeness of the relationship of the researcher with the researched.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.