Do no harm? A medical anthropological examination of the possible negative consequences of focus group research in areas of conflict
Rosellen Roche (University of Southampton)
Paper short abstract:
When working with young people in areas experiencing conflict and ethnonational tension, asking questions about violence and mistrust is inevitable. This paper explores whether posing such questions in qualitative interviews could 'hurt' young subjects. Examples are drawn from over 10 years experience working with young people in Northern Ireland, and delves into medical and social literature.
Paper long abstract:
Children and young people continue to be heralded as the "reason for keeping the peace" in Northern Ireland. However, while community and government initiatives focus on plans for improving the future for the upcoming generations, researchers continually seek to qualify and qualtify this "improvement" and "change". Tracking such change in a post-Agreement Northern Ireland is imperative. However, inevitably in this process, young people face sessions with a multitude of researchers asking provoking questions. These questions often are not just about their daily activities, but circulate around how violence has affected their lives and continues to affect their lives. Consequently, subjects reveal basic facts about life in housing areas across Northern Ireland: paramilitary punishment beatings, deaths from the Troubles, and continuing sectarian hatred. And when the researchers have come and gone, what happens to these young people, walking home with each other and their thoughts following the "focus group?" This paper seeks to explore the process of qualitative investigation by examining it from another viewpoint-- that of post-interview. Drawing on personal field experience within Northern Irish housing estates for over ten years and using supporting medical literature, the author explores whether conducting qualitative sessions with children in areas of conflict and violence can do "more harm than good" for our subjects.
Methods and ethics in 'interviewing' children