An important phase of my doctoral research lies ahead of me now in February-March 2015 as I will be conducting thematic interviews and focus group sessions with experts working for European Union agencies in three different locations in Europe (see also www.launikari.eu/phd/). All this is exciting, but an element of stress is linked to this data collection process. Hence, in the past weeks I have been contemplating a lot on my own role as a researcher, the way I eventually influence the data collection process and how reflexivity in qualitative research can be done well.
Within the contemporary research context, there is no need anymore to try to eradicate the presence of the researcher, nor a need for avoiding a reflexive approach in running qualitative research. The researcher must be regarded as a central figure, and we have to accept that his/her identity is part of the research process and contributes to constructing the collection, selection and interpretation of any given data. Qualitative research is considered as a co-constructive process of knowledge creation between the participants involved in it. The aim is to establish some kind of a “working together relationship” between the researcher and the data providing interviewee. This way meanings can be negotiated within a social context, yet it must be kept in mind that different people may well give different meanings to particular phenomena in human life. (Smyth and Mitchell, 2008; 442-443)
Emotions are present in all aspects of life and they influence the way we make sense of the social reality as well as our interaction with others. Riach (2009; 356) emphasizes that conducting analysis or presenting findings in a way that sensitively captures the multiple levels of a research encounter remains one of the biggest challenges for the qualitative researcher. Indeed all humans have feelings, emotions as well as instinctive and intuitive knowing, which cannot and should not be ignored, nor an attempt to abolish them should be made in carrying out interviews for qualitative research. The issue is of course how much space they can be allowed to have and what kind of an impact they will have within the given research context.
These days there is a wider acceptance of the researcher’s emotions and experiences. They have been recognised as an important source of insight to be taken into consideration within qualitative research. The researcher is neither required to bracket out him/herself, nor his/her past experiences, prior knowledge or prevailing emotions. Rather, by means of critical, yet open self-reflection, experience and knowledge will be integrated in the research process, and they are regarded as necessary in relation to analysing and interpreting the issues being researched. Therefore, we may argue that researchers who try to avoid relying on their personal emotions and life experience when sharing the research story can at least to a certain extent be considered dishonest (Watts, 2008).
Riach, K. (2009). Exploring Participant-centred Reflexivity in the Research Interview. In Sociology, Vol. 43: 356-370. SAGE Publications Inc.
Smyth, L. & Mitchell, C. (2008). Researching Conservative Groups: Rapport and Understanding across Moral and Political Boundaries. In International Journal Social Research Methodology. Vol. 11, No. 5, 441–452.
Watts, J. (2008). Emotion, empathy and exit: Reflections on doing ethnographic qualitative research on sensitive topics, Medical Sociology online, Vol. 3, No. 2, 3-14.