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LYDIA LEWIS CENTRE FOR DEVELOPMENTAL AND APPLIED RESEARCH IN EDUCATION INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION UNIVERSITY OF WOLVERHAMPTON Mutuality.

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Presentation on theme: "LYDIA LEWIS CENTRE FOR DEVELOPMENTAL AND APPLIED RESEARCH IN EDUCATION INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION UNIVERSITY OF WOLVERHAMPTON Mutuality."— Presentation transcript:

1 LYDIA LEWIS CENTRE FOR DEVELOPMENTAL AND APPLIED RESEARCH IN EDUCATION INSTITUTE OF EDUCATION UNIVERSITY OF WOLVERHAMPTON Mutuality in the research encounter: some reflections on the ethico-politics of conducting interviews

2 Mutual recovery through communities of creative connection: The roles of adult community learning and community arts initiatives Partnership with the Workers’ Educational Association and collaboration with two London-based community arts projects. Project team: Lydia Lewis, University of Wolverhampton; Jerry Tew, University of Birmingham; Tony Devaney, Suresearch service user group; Kathryn Ecclestone, University of Sheffield; Helen Spandler, University of Central Lancashire; Janet Wallcraft, University of Wolverhampton; Clare White, Workers’ Educational Association Research methods: participant observation, interviews and focus groups. Project web site:

3 Aim: To explore the ways in which creative practice and mutuality within adult community learning and community arts settings can help to achieve emancipatory or empowering spaces, discourses and opportunities which support mental health recovery and wellbeing for a range of people involved.

4 Key issues Whose interests are being served by the research? Ethics surrounding ‘faking friendship and doing rapport’ (Duncombe & Jessop, 2002) Socio-political context of mental health and mental health services The responsibility of the researcher

5 Service context: critique Diagnosis and treatment-led mental health system Psychological therapeutic approaches may overlook socio-political dimensions of experience ‘Anaesthetic’ arts interventions Sublimation of feminist perspectives Need to make the link between personal experiences and social structures

6 An interactive, reciprocal and responsive approach to research interviewing: Philosophical underpinnings Social constructionist understanding Critical realist not relativist Strong reflexivity Praxis-oriented

7 Women interviewing women Oakley – a contradiction in terms Minimal social distance Ethical problems associated with the ‘ideal feminist research relationship’

8 … the irony I now perceive is that [the feminist] ethnographic method exposes subjects to far greater danger and exploitation than do more positivist, abstract, and “masculinist” research methods. The greater the intimacy, the apparent mutuality of the researcher/re-searched relationship, the greater is the danger. (from ‘Can There Be a Feminist Ethnography?’ Stacey, 1988: 21)

9 Negotiating an ethical approach in feminist qualitative interviewing Lather – praxis; a dialogic, reciprocally educative encounter Kelly – reflecting differently on experience/ opening up different ways of understanding Opie - opportunity for reflection and re-evaluation Skeggs – offer any knowledge and information which may be useful to the researched Lewis - epistemic authority, gender salience and permission to speak about gender Duncombe and Jessop - managing consent Doucet and Mauthner – place concern with relationships

10 Interviews as therapeutic encounters Difference between research and therapeutic interviews (Kvale) Bearing enlightened witness (Miller)

11 Participant 1 I: … do you think that there are advantages to a mental health focused project like this? IV: Well, it's supportive. At the moment I need the support. Having said that, I wish I was outside of it in terms of art, and I'm kind of dependent on it in terms of mental health, so I'm sort of - what's the word? - I: In conflict or whatever- IV: Exactly! Exactly. I mean, I'm sort of giving conflicting messages. Yes, I'm quite dependent on it and I've been in the system for quite a few years now and I feel like I don’t really want to leave it in terms of the support that I get. (…) I: So maybe the strategy, as you say, is that sort of initial distancing from the kind of mental health focus on projects is quite a good strategy to well, start doing other things and kind of progress on and then see where that takes you, because you can't sort of necessarily [IV: But I'm scared] take the big leap all at once.

12 Participant 1 cont. IV: Yes, it does, but it's such a big commitment and it's really quite scary, and I don’t know if I'm really ready for it yet. (…) She did ask me do you want to do this now, and I said yes. [Laughs] But I'm thinking maybe not. Maybe in a year or two. I: But there's always a tendency, I think, to sort of feel like that, isn't there? Think oh god, am I ready. I don’t know, whether it's worth just going for it, sometimes [IV: Yes, yes] because I think sometimes, especially for women, I suppose they have, obviously, things like women's mentoring schemes, because women are much more likely to be sort of [IV: Scared] constantly - Yes, delaying. It's like applying for promotion at work. …

13 Participant 1 cont. IV: When I said yes to it starting now, or starting soon in a few weeks, I was really thinking well maybe in the meantime if I delayed it for a year or two the DSS will want me to do…will force me to do a job that I couldn’t cope with and that I would be really unhappy with, and I'd rather do this now and at least be doing something that I enjoy. But I don’t know whether I can sell my work. I don’t know. (…) I: No, it's very hard to make a living, I would imagine, in the field, [I: Yes] until you get established and so on. But I imagine it's quite a good thing to do, because again, I think that's the benefit as well of the women's sector. I mean, I think it's one of the sort of things relating to women's mental health generally is that the women's sector, obviously you're looking at in terms of kind of the problems that women face in their lives, whereas the mental health sector, like you say, all becomes very mental healthy and before you know it, things become like a personal kind of problem rather than a socially generated one or whatever. … IV: Yes. I'm worried if I'm able to make a living part-time, if it would affect me coming here …

14 Participant 2 I: It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere isn’t it, yeah. I’m just thinking about, I find Janet Stoppard’s work on women’s depression quite useful, and she talks about depression being culturally prescribed for women. That, you know, and it’s, like, well, whatever you do it’s gonna be depressing, sort of, thing [laughs], you know. I Just find that quite insightful, you know. IV: Well, I think, you know, making depression part of an illness or, rather than seen as just an experience generated by life [I: Yes, yeah]. And I think sometimes it’s easier for, I don’t know, the powers that be, the government, to say a person is experiencing all this terrible distress because it’s to do with something wrong in them, an illness, rather than say, ‘Well, what is it in society that’s giving people such appalling experiences?’ That it’s easier [I: Yes] for people to say, ‘Oh, it’s an illness. Here’s a medication to make it better,’ rather than to say, ‘What is it in society? I: That’s right.

15 Participant 2 cont. IV: What’s gone wrong that makes people experience these things?’ I: Well, that’s right. It easier, isn’t it, to, sort of, like you say, just pathologise the individuals, rather than actually look at what are the social problems that are causing it, really. Like, I mean, part of the reason that mental health services find it hard to, kind of, take a social perspective is, that you might, sort of, argue that their function, really, anyway, is to contain that distress and re-label it and, you know. So if that’s the whole, sort of, purpose, well no, they’re not gonna be able to [laughs], you know, address the actual problems in a way, sort of, thing. So, it’s, yeah. IV: I mean, when you look at people’s life experiences, you think, ‘Well, no wonder they’re suffering the most appalling grief.’ [I: Yeah] No wonder, you know, who wouldn’t? I: I know. Well, it’s almost like, as well, when you look at the state of the world, it’s more surprising that most people seem to be managing to, sort of, get along okay [laughs] than anybody that’s, you know, in distress, kind of, thing, you know. IV: That’s right, yeah.

16 Conclusions If we accept that conducting and participating in research is an inter-active process, what participants get or take from it should concern us. Whilst we are not claiming that researchers have the ‘power’ to change individuals’ attitudes, behaviour or perceptions, we do have the power to construct research which involves questioning dominant/oppressive discourses; this can occur within the process of ‘doing’ research, and need not be limited to the analysis and writing up stages. The potential of research to create change can become an aspect of our methodology, which will in turn create more complex understandings of resistances to social/individual change.(Kelly et al, 1994, pp ),

17 Conclusions  Link between research paradigms and politics and ethics of research  Need to ‘connect how we do research to our theoretical and political commitments’ (Lather, 1995, p. 301)  Job of the social researcher to interpret experience in wider context (epistemic responsibility)  Feminist practice in research involves listening closely and responsively contextualising experience  Qualitative interviews are collaborative encounters

18 Practice implications Acting responsibly requires a knowledge exchange approach in qualitative interviewing For interviews to be ‘useful’ to the researched, interviewers require useful knowledge & a willingness to share this Recognition of the ‘work’ of interviews – emotional, intellectual, practical - for researcher and participants ‘Situational’ or contextualised ethics & methods Relationships as central; follow up necessary On-going negotiation of consent (joint ownership of data; negotiation over its use) Feedback from participants as part of evaluation

19 Questions How much can and should we demand of the work of qualitative interviewing/fieldwork? To what degree should our research aims (e.g. to identify mutual, emancipatory or ‘empowering’ practices) construct our approaches to research? How do we ensure that the interests of all research stakeholders are balanced (more) fairly?

20 References Doucet, A. and Mauthner, N. (2007) Knowing responsibly: ethics, feminist epistemologies and methodologies. In T. Miller, M. Birch, M. Mauthner and J. Jessop (eds), Ethics in Qualitiative Research (Second Edition), London: Sage. Duncombe, J. and Jessop, J., (2002), ‘Doing Rapport and the Ethics of ‘Faking Friendship’, in Mauthner, N., Birch,M., Jessop, J. and Miller, T. (eds), Ethics in Qualitative Research. London: Sage. Kelly, L., Burton, S. and Regan L., (1994), ‘Researching Women’s Lives or Studying Women’s Oppression? Reflections onWhat Constitutes Feminist Research’, in Maynard, M. and Purvis, J. (eds), Researching Women’s Lives from a Feminist Perspective. London: Taylor and Francis. Kvale, S. (1992), Interviews. London: Sage. Lather, P., (1995),‘Feminist Perspectives on Empowering Research Methodologies’, in Holland, J., Blair, M. with Sheldon, S. (eds), Debates and Issues in Feminist Research and Pedagogy, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Lewis, L. (2007). Epistemic Authority and the Gender Lens. The Sociological Review, 55 (2): Miller, A. (2001), The truth will set you free. Overcoming emotional blindness and finding your true adult self. New York: Basic Books. Oakley, A., (1981), ‘Interviewing Women: A Contradiction in Terms’, in Roberts, H. (ed.), Doing Feminist Research, London: Routledge. Opie, A., (1992), ‘Qualitative Research, Appropriation of the “Other” and Empowerment’, Feminist Review, 40: 52–69. Stacey, J. (1988), Can there be a feminist ethnography? Women’s Studies International Forum, 11 (1):


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