Chapter9

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Research Methods in Education 6th Edition

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Chapter9

  1. 1. SENSITIVE EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH © LOUIS COHEN, LAWRENCE MANION & KEITH MORRISON
  2. 2. STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER • What is sensitive research? • Sampling and access • Ethical issues in sensitive research • Researching powerful people • Researching powerless and vulnerable people • Asking questions
  3. 3. THE IMPORTANCE OF SENSITIVITY • The researcher has to be sensitive to the context, the cultures, the participants, the consequences of the research on a range of parties, the powerless, the powerful, and people’s agendas.
  4. 4. WHAT MAKES RESEARCH SENSITIVE? • Consequences for the participants and others; • Contents, e.g. taboo, negative or emotionally charged areas; • Situational and contextual circumstances; • Intrusion into private, intimate spheres and deep personal experience; • Potential sanction, risk or threat of stigmatization, incrimination, costs or career loss to the researcher, participants or others, e.g. groups and communities; • Impingement on political alignments;
  5. 5. WHAT MAKES RESEARCH SENSITIVE? • Penetration of personal defences; • Cultural and cross-cultural factors and inhibitions; • Fear of scrutiny and exposure; • Threat to the researcher and to the family members and associates of those studied; • Methodologies and conduct, e.g. when junior researchers conduct research on powerful people, when men interview women, when senior people are involved, where access and disclosure are difficult.
  6. 6. THREE AREAS OF SENSITIVE RESEARCH (Lee, 1993) • Intrusive threat (probing into areas which are ‘private, stressful or sacred’); • Studies of deviance and social control, i.e. which could reveal information that could stigmatize or incriminate; • Political alignments (e.g. of rich, powerful and famous).
  7. 7. SAMPLING AND ACCESS • It may be difficult to assess the size of the population from which the sample is to be drawn, as members of particular groups may not want to disclose their associations or expose themselves to public scrutiny. • People may not wish to reveal their membership of groups or their own activities, as these may be illicit, critical of others, unpopular, threatening to their own professional security, deviant and less frequent than other activities.
  8. 8. SAMPLING AND ACCESS • Access may be a major obstacle. • How do researchers gain access to truants, teenage mothers, bullies and victims, drug users, solvent abusers in school students, or alcohol and medication use in teachers, or family relationship problems brought about by the stresses of teaching? • Gatekeepers have a powerful function, in controlling, blocking or gaining access; what to offer gatekeepers, or how to go round them?
  9. 9. GAINING ACCESS INVOLVES . . . • Gaining access to schools and teachers; • Gaining permission to conduct the research; • People vetting which data can be used; • Finding enough willing participants for the sample; • Schools/institutions/people not wishing to divulge information about themselves; • Schools’ fear of criticism/loss of face or reputation; • Schools/institutions not wishing to be identifiable, even with protections guaranteed; • Local political factors that impinge on the school/educational institution;
  10. 10. GAINING ACCESS INVOLVES . . . • Teachers’/participants’ fear of being identified/ traceable, even with protections guaranteed; • Fear of participation by teachers (e.g. if they say critical matters about the school or others they could lose their contracts); • Unwillingness of teachers to be involved because of their workload; • The headteacher/principal deciding on whether to involve the staff, without consultation with the staff; • The sensitivity of the research – the issues being investigated; • The power/position of the researcher (e.g. whether the researcher is a junior or senior figure in education).
  11. 11. SAMPLING STRATEGIES IN SENSITIVE RESEARCH (Lee, 1993) • List sampling (looking through public domain lists of e.g. recent divorces) • Multi-purposing (using an existing survey to reach populations of interest) • Screening (targeting a particular location and canvassing within it) • Outcropping (going to a particular location where known members of the target group congregate or can be found, e.g. a school staffroom)
  12. 12. SAMPLING STRATEGIES IN SENSITIVE RESEARCH (Lee, 1993) • Servicing (offering some sort of service in return for participation) • Professional informants (e.g. police, doctors, priests, social workers, medics, teachers, counsellors) • Advertising (to reach a wide population) • Networking (snowball sampling)
  13. 13. ETHICAL ISSUES IN SENSITIVE RESEARCH • ‘Guilty knowledge’ and ‘dirty hands’. • Protection of individuals versus the public’s right to know. • Covert or overt research, deception and betrayal. • Breaching informed consent. • Whose interests is the researcher serving? • Whose side is she/he on? • Are participants safe? Are guarantees of confidentiality and non-traceability real or possible? • What if it is not possible to conceal identities? • What if the research yields negative findings? • What to do with useful ‘off the record’ data?
  14. 14. RESEARCHING POWERFUL PEOPLE • How to gain and sustain access; • How much are the participants might disclose/withhold; • What is on and off the record; • How to prepare for interviews with powerful people; • How to probe and challenge powerful people; • How, and whether to gain informed consent; • How to balance the interviewer’s and interviewees’ agendas; • The status of the researcher vis-à-vis the participants; • Who should conduct interviews with powerful people; • How neutral/accepting to be with participants; • Whether to identify the participants in the reporting; • How to balance the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy; what is in the public interest.
  15. 15. RESEARCHING THE POWERLESS AND VULNERABLE • How to gain and sustain access; • How much are the participants likely to disclose or withhold; • What is on and off the record; • Where the interviews/data collection will take place; • How to probe powerless and vulnerable people; • How to ensure non-maleficence and beneficence, dignity and respect; • How to avoid further stigmatization, negative stereotyping, and marginalization; • How to act in the interests of the participants; • How, and whether to gain informed consent;
  16. 16. RESEARCHING THE POWERLESS AND VULNERABLE • Overt or covert research, with or without deceit; • How to conduct interviews that balance the interviewer’s and interviewees’ agendas; • How to equalize status between the researcher and the participants; • How to ensure inclusiveness of participants; • Who should conduct interviews with powerless and vulnerable people; • What protections are there for the participants; • Whether to identify the participants in the reporting; • How to balance the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy; what is in the public interest.
  17. 17. ASKING QUESTIONS • As a general rule, the more sensitive is the research, the more important it is to conduct face-to-face interviews for data collection. • Open questions may be preferable to closed questions. • Longer questions may be preferable to shorter questions. • Enable respondents to answer in their own words. • Use familiar words. • Use real-life examples. • Plan how to handle emotive topics.
  18. 18. ASKING QUESTIONS • Consider: the characteristics of the researcher (e.g. sex, ethnicity, race, age, status, clothing, appearance, rapport, background, expertise, institutional affiliation, political affiliation, type of employment or vocation). • Females may feel more comfortable being interviewed by a female; • Males may feel uncomfortable being interviewed by a female; • Powerful people may feel insulted by being interviewed by a novice research assistant. • Anticipate difficulties in the interview and plan how to overcome them.

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