On the Issues of Being a Stranger and a Confident: Researching Biographical Crises
Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), Centro de Investigação e Estudos de Sociologia (CIES-IUL), Portugal
Interviewing a person who has experienced a difficult or even traumatic event in her/his life can be considered a privilege, in the sense that we access a private and intimate domain of that individual. But it also raises a number of issues that need to be addressed to ensure the protection of both participant and researcher, as well as the validity and objectivity of the study. There is a difficult balance to be made between the need to collect data to meet the research goals and the need to empathise with the respondent’s experiences and perceptions, especially considering the sensitive nature of the inquiry topic and the interviewee’s vulnerability. This presentation is focused precisely on the different challenges encountered in a sociological study focused on biographical crises – i.e., stages of life marked by the disruption of habitual frameworks of action and thought, which have a substantial impact in the lives of individuals – and the strategies developed to cope with such issues. It is argued that the problems faced (i) begin before meeting the participants with the procedures of accessing the studied population, (ii) are particularly visible during the interaction between interviewer and respondent, and (iii) also manifest themselves after the interview ends, since the researcher has herself to cope with the crises narrated during the interviews. The role of emotions of both researcher and participant in this three-folded process, as well as the reciprocal character of the interaction situation are key to this discussion.
Self-disclosure as a Means to Transcend the Boundaries Between the Researcher and the Subject
University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
This paper will present autoethnographic reflections on how self-disclosure contributed to breaking down the boundary between myself and an inmate convicted of terrorism during an interview. After I told the inmate that I had myself been involved in leftist extremist organizations in my early youth, I felt that the ice between us was broken and he opened up to me.
Simmel (1950) writes that “obviously, all relations which people have to one another are based on their knowing something about one another” (Sociology Inquiries into the Construction of Social Forms). In the beginning I presented myself to the inmate with all the necessary information about my research. However, my position as a detached researcher became untenable when he began elaborating the “void” inside himself, and how he filled it with Islamic State’s ideology. I felt the need to tell him about my youth.
My identification with some of his initial intentions helped me to question my own over-demonizing and over-exoticizing of him and seeing him as an example of the “ultimate other”. The inmate was not merely a “research object” any more, but a human being who had chosen a wrong path to realize his political and religious ideals, a “lost soul” - just like I had been in my late teens. Moreover, my engagement on a personal level and building up a rapport with him led me to see more clearly the similarities between all the extremist and violent ideologies and groups, notwithstanding their various religious and political positions.
Situating the Self in the Field: Biographical Echo in Ethnographic Research
De La Salle University, Philippines
Ethnography as a research methodology reads context as a form text. In the postmodern sense, ethnographic reading is a mediated process and what goes between the researchers and how they read the research field is their biography. By extension, there will always be biographical remnants in all ethnographic enterprises. The challenge, therefore, for researchers is to be able to discriminate which portions of the ethnographic regimen are most vulnerable to biographical bias. Locating these portions allow researchers to create a modus vivendi to satisfy the demands of a sound sociological research. The present paper explores the implications of these challenges by imagining fieldwork as encounter with multidimensional yet progressive modalities- from the archival to the scopic culminating in the biographic. It maintains that the biographical echo of ethnographic productions reverberates more in the research scribal phase than in the actual fieldwork, where the multiple, fragmented and fragile positions (biographic episode) that the researchers invoke and bring into play ultimately displace the authentic context (scopic episode) of the data co-produced and made meaningful with participants during and while in the field.
The Complexities of Studying 'Up'
Mid-Sweden University, Sweden
In 1972 anthropologist Laura Nader urged her colleagues to turn their gaze upwards and start critically engaging with the (re)production of what seems to be given and uncontroversial positions of power rather than focusing on the sociological darling of the underdog. Since then, Nader and many of those who followed her call has presented convincing arguments as to why this shift of focus is important but very few has presented methodological reflections concerning the question of how to do it.
In my current research I engage with the challenges of studying the privilege of normality within a range of different areas (such as whiteness, middleclassness, straightness and ablebodiedness) and in this presentation I will discuss the complexities and uneasiness of keeping a steady focus ‘upward’ (or perhaps: sideways) when recruiting and interacting with research participants. As Bob Pease has noted, people tend to get angry or defensive when confronted with their privileges (2010:9) and navigating these reactions as well as challenging the unmarked status of normality are at the core of what I refer to as ‘Studies of firstness’ which aims to enhance the awareness of what Alison Bailey calls "systematically conferred advantages individuals enjoy by virtue of their membership in dominant groups" (1998:109).
In this presentation I will discuss the strategies of poking, flirting and being a killjoy which are some of the methods I have tested when trying to sensitize participants to their privileges during interviews.