#Research in process: A series of illuminating events

Isn’t it funny how sometimes life just insists it has something to tell you? This last fortnight I’ve been going through various procedures in preparation for a submission to the Research Ethics Committee, hoping for permission to busy myself with real grown-up research in 2012. The procedures that the University lays down are pretty thorough, so who’s to say whether they foreshadowed the strange series of events that unfurled last week, or whether this was a major case of synchronicity (*cue spooky soundtrack*)?

I guess it all began with one of my Supervisors who suggested that, before making elaborate plans to actively involve poets and artists in a research process, I might first think to ask some of them if they considered this a good idea. Sound advice, and an obvious oversight on my part. Thus it was that I found myself as hearing-person-with-videocamera talking to (‘interviewing’?) some deaf poets.

Now that might seem a fairly innocuous activity, and I thought so too. I’ve known all of these people socially for years, I’m fluent in British Sign Language, and we talked in various locations –some of their choosing, some merely of convenience; involving tea and cakes, pot roast suppers and planned cocktails. All very cosy. But, with hindsight, a couple of things were disturbing. One was that, very occasionally, some of the folks I was chatting to seemed to default to a sort of ‘automatic pilot’ script, and I had to gently remind them of the topic of our conversation. The other arose from what we might call a tiny disaster; one poet and I’d had a good old chat for over an hour but the video camera hadn’t worked, so we had no record of it whatsoever. This was annoying, but not disturbing. What was disturbing was that when we tried to reschedule, the deaf poet’s diary was stuffed with appointments to be interviewed by various hearing researchers. So that was the first event in this process of illumination.

The second event occurred over coffee with a colleague. I was busy picking his brains about ethical procedures and the like when he uttered the sentence “I’ve been interviewing [name of one deaf individual] for ten years”. For the purposes of our conversation, this was intended to illustrate his seniority and experience, but I think the raw content took us both aback.

And suddenly I began to understand that automated script response that had nudged into my ‘friendly chats’ with some of the deaf poets. Suddenly I saw that- despite what I thought of myself- I was in many ways just another hearing-person-with-videocamera come to extract what I could from the deaf subject.

A Gestalt therapist would have been cock-a-hoop (pun intended) because this connected incredibly strongly with the one and only time I have been the subject of this academic value-extraction process. I HATED it. I’m still trying to get over it, but whenever it rears its ugly little head it is still guaranteed to bring out an apoplectic tornado of spat feathers, claws and bile. Not my best side.

For me it wasn’t just the appropriation of my work and insights, nor the power exercised in the exclusion of my agency,  not even the superficiality involved in ticking the ethical boxes (Phone call: “I’m at a conference and I’m just about to give a paper. I just wanted to check with you that it’s ok to use your name and show images of you…”). All of these experiences were destructive and demeaning but the worst, by far, is the ongoing experience of the researcher now positioning themselves as ‘expert’- a position validated by the field.

So this was the third surprising and illuminating event. I had imagined I was just going to have to suck sour plums on that one for evermore and say ‘NO!’ very firmly whenever anyone else approached me as subject. It was only this week that I realised this might, in fact, be a most useful and empowering experience. Because that experience, inadvertently, has given me insight. Not on a theoretical level, but emotionally. I know how it feels.

Of course I don’t know how it feels to be treated like that year after year. What it must be like to watch whole cadres (of the friendly folks whose tribe routinely dominate and oppress your tribe) use your knowledge, experience and insights to become experts in your field, to be legitimated as your superiors, to get the social kudos and to carry home fatter wage packets than you.

How do deaf subjects tolerate this? But then what choice do they (feel they) have? I gave so much away because I didn’t want to be nasty, and couldn’t bring myself to be so cruel as to withdraw consent when I knew I was the only subject of the study. I mean, how would that look? On one occasion I found myself in a group being ‘taught’ by the researcher in question. The researcher was obviously disconcerted and struggling with the situation so, with a discreet wink and temporary generosity of heart I feigned ignorance of one of the most basic premises of a subject I had taught at post-graduate level for over a decade. Alas, the researcher had come to believe their own research paradigm and so was convinced that this action merely evidenced their academic superiority. But what on earth drove me to such generosity with someone who might otherwise be understood as simply out to exploit me? I can’t find a word to answer that question, but it is a beginning of an understanding of the position of deaf subject.

As far as my own research goes, I already knew that I didn’t want to use the interview as my basic methodological tool, but I hadn’t hitherto considered quite how conditioned as subject my co-researchers might have had to become.

I hadn’t considered that it might be a good idea to tell them about my own experience, how much I hated it and how much I really wouldn’t want to do that to anyone (unwittingly or no).  And I also hadn’t considered that perhaps I should make it clear that I’m not involving myself with sign language poetry because I’m crafting myself a future as an ‘expert’ in that area (actually a nice little job as a researcher in a museum would be lovely, thanks).

I can’t change the fact that I am hearing, and I most definitely shouldn’t ignore it, but I can and should seek to mitigate it- and that takes some very careful and honest consideration.

After all that reflection I sat down to revise the research ethics documentation I’d been putting together, but what emerged from the keyboard was a map of chapter headings. Sometimes it’s difficult to control where your mind will wander. I gave in, finished the map and then took a chat break with another colleague. We talked for a while about Tom Docherty’s article in the THE (10.11.11). Tom recounted a number of considerations important to research and teaching, such as “We [should] go into a seminar or a laboratory or a library not knowing what we will have found out when we leave”. I told my colleague about my chapter headings map. She asked “So what are your conclusions going to be?” Weird event number four.

Now she was probably being tongue-in-cheek about the likelihood that my chapter headings map will bear any resemblance to the finished article, or perhaps she was simply encouraging me not to forget to reflect at the end of the process, or perhaps she was suggesting that no kind of map can be value free, naive.

Whichever is the case, the ambiguity reminded me just how deeply ingrained those traditional research paradigms are (data>analysis>conclusions), and how firmly these practices are married to the pseudo-scientism of researcher-as- sole-expert and all the power relations that entails. How hard it is to kick over these traces!

I recently travelled to Salerno to give a paper to an international audience of interpreting and translation practitioners and academics. Working with a group of translators, I had put together a piece of collective biography that distilled their thoughts-in-process and re-presented them (in song/poem form). The research did not follow the traditional Social Science model; I was not presenting myself as an expert above all others (by claiming the data as my own, or making conclusions that would stake some claim on absolute truth). The work was in engineering an opportunity for these voices to speak (and to speak together), and in claiming a space for them in the current academic discourse of the field. The results were dramatic. The room divided before my eyes into practitioners and practitioner-academics on the one side versus academics on the other. Something of a humdinger ensued. One group got it. The other group couldn’t cope with this as ‘research’. I’ll leave you to guess which was which.

Of course I had been hoping that inviting poets and artists to co-research the topic of my PhD might upset some apple carts, but it may well prove more challenging than anticipated- to all concerned.

This ethics process sure is tough….


About nanafroufrou

Nana is currently developing two strands of creative practice; translation art ,and [w]righting. View all posts by nanafroufrou

11 responses to “#Research in process: A series of illuminating events

  • simone pereira hind

    Completely fascinating stuff and highly complex. Hope you’re enjoying and that will see you one day! x

  • dai

    A hideously over-long reply follows…

    Firstly, I think as far as the “diary full of research appointments” goes, you need to think about not just your own motivations for speaking to the poet, but also their motivations for speaking to you (and all the other researchers s/he is involved with). S/he has a reason for agreeing to so many research requests. What is it? Does s/he get paid for them? Is it a question of feeling a responsibility to share their skill/talents/insight with the researchers? Is it something as simple as an ego trip? I think it’s not simply a question of “bad hearing researchers exploiting poor Deaf person”. I think that, unless you’re interviewing people at gun point(!), everyone has a choice about whether to get involved in research or not. Especially people with (relatively) high cultural capital like poets and artists, they have their own reasons for wanting to be involved. So rather than worrying overmuch about being the “hearing person with a camera” extracting stuff from them, trying to get an insight into why they agree to being involved in so much research might be a way forward? It might help you get past the one-sided “exploitation” model and see what the poet is getting out of this as well.

    The same thing goes for the “I’ve been interviewing this person for 10 years” comment. Again, the first question that came to mind was “why?”. Sure, longitudinal studies can be really interesting. Tracking a single person’s progress over 10 years can be fascinating as well. But… Again the question of motivation comes to mind. You can always say no (and god knows enough people have refused to take part in my research projects over the years for a huge variety of reasons – from they couldn’t be bothered to the topic was too sensitive for them). So again, rather than seeing the research participants as passive victims of exploitation, maybe seeing them as active agents in their own right might give a different perspective?

    I totally get that you’re coming at this from a dominant hearing/oppressed deaf perspective, and it’s a perspective that’s really important. I can’t really help much in that respect from a personal perspective as all the research I’ve been involoved in has been deaf/deaf with me as either researcher or participant working with other deaf people. I actually really enjoyed the occasions I’ve participated in research because I see it as a chance to inform people’s perspectives, to change erroneous assumptions. For me, the experience can be empowering. Others I’ve spoken to find it cathartic. I’ve yet to feel exploited in the way you describe, maybe that’s just luck on my part. I don’t begrudge the people I spoke to their kudos and wage packet because I went into each project with my eyes open, I knew what I was getting myself into and I knew that my contribution would be acknowledged, privately or otherwise. Mind you, there are some projects I would stay away from, but then again, it comes down to choice.

    The most important thing, I think, is to be honest with yourself and your participants about what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. You have to decide how far you’re willing to go with the data you get from your project and how far you’re willing to use it. For example, with my PhD, I have a rolling consent agreement with the participants involved, which means that every time I want to use some of the data from the project, I have to ask them. My supervisors have told me that was a daft thing to do, it places too much of a burden on me to ask them for permission all the time, it means that they could refuse at any point and I’d never be able to use the data again. But for me, that was the point. These things were discussed because they were important to the young people I interviewed. Ethically, I couldn’t contemplate using it without explicit permission every time. Without this permission, I would feel like I’m stealing from them, that I’m setting myself up as an expert at their expense.

    In conclusion… Well, if you’ve made it this far, thanks!… But seriously, I don’t think there are any easy answers here. I’ve been working on my PhD for 2 years, passed my ethics application nearly a year ago, and I still don’t think I have it sorted. The most important thing to do is keep questioning what you’re doing and why the people who are involved want to be involved. Make sure you have a dialogue with the participants and make it clear what they can expect from you in terms of ethical research. As for being an “expert”, when you do a PhD, you become an expert whether you like it or not. It’s how you use that expertise in the future that counts.

    • nanafroufrou

      Hi Dai, Thanks for your post 🙂
      Well, I might have to match like for like viz length of post, but I’ll try to keep it as succinct as I can…
      I guess the first thing that strikes me is your conflation of ‘victim’ and ‘subject’. I find that surprising. Being a victim– of crime or circumstance- is to experience not just the incident or event itself but to be stripped of one’s agency in the process. This is not the same as being subject. Being subject is much more subtle and complex, as I had hoped to illustrate in my post.
      You say that I should pay more attention to the motivation of the subject. This is important. Victims are not motivated to be victims, on the whole, and someone who is motivated is not “passive”. But paying attention to this motivation is precisely what I am trying to do here.
      I think its a tad simplistic to argue that since the willing subjects of academic study have their own motivation then everything is hunky dory.I agree with that sentiment to a certain extent, but no further, and to understand why we have to take on your claim that “when you do a PhD, you become an expert whether you like it or not.”
      Here I have to confess to being old skool. I see a distinct difference between expertise and knowledge. Expertise is something that is painstakingly accumulated over long years of practice. What is gained through a PhD is a certain amount of knowledge, insight and a certain skill set, but not necessarily expertise.
      You talk of the poets and artists I am hoping will join me as having “(relatively) high cultural capital”. They may have some social recognition for their bohemian position but I would contest the ‘cultural capital’. Artists and poets own their product, but the artworld is notorious for ensuring that they cannot capitalise on that without the intervention of the industry- art critics, gallery owners, publishers i.e. without being subject to exploitation. And yes, most artists will subject themselves to that process because, if they want to be recognised for their art or to eat, they have little choice. In the case of the deaf artist, the social and linguistic barriers that exist to prevent access to even this level of exploitation necessarily make them more vulnerable to market forces.
      I think what I’m seeking to do is make the connection here with academia. In the increasingly marketised world of education what the PhD researcher is doing, it seems to me, is not becoming an ‘expert’in my old-fashioned sense of the word, but becoming- if they are not careful- a cog in the capitalist wheel. What is so often seen as ‘expertise’-particularly in the realm of deaf-related research where the power differential between those in academia and those outside it is so marked- could equally be seen as the extraction of a commodified/iable facsimile of the subject’s original product. This commodified form can then be marketed as a product in itself. So, in my case words-about-sign-language-poetry or books-about-visual-art become a commodity. This commodity might be useful to the original producer in the sense of opening up potential new markets, but it might also serve to obscure the original form, replace it or reduce its market value.
      So I find myself agreeing with your ultimate statement that ‘it’s how you use the expertise in the future that counts’. This is precisely what my post was addressing. As a researcher I believe I have to take a stand on what my position will be. I have to be clear about what I am going to use this commodifiable facsimile of product for. And I think its pretty important for me to not only have a clear vision of that for myself but to communicate that to the ‘subjects’ of my study. If I am inviting people to co-research, I am asking them to enter into a new set of relationships-one where we are all sharing product. What I’m going to get out of this is pretty clear- hopefully I get a qualification, but I think I have to be pretty clear what I’m hoping the opportunity will allow them to gain, and to try to delineate the ‘share’ of gains we each get so that the returns are shared more equally. This is true for hearing co-researchers as well as deaf ones- as artists we are all vulnerable to exploitation. The extent to which I’m coming at this from a “dominant hearing/ oppressed deaf perspective” is only the extent to which the hearing artists’ diaries are not full of appointments to be interviewed by deaf researchers.

  • dai

    Hmm… OK, as far as the conflation of subject with victim goes, I’m in complete agreement with you. My point was to argue against the construction of the research participant as a victim. The more I read about research with/on minority groups or “vulnerable populations” such as young people, deaf people, disabled people, ethnic groups and so on, the more I see this “victimhood” being invoked. I hate this, because, as you said, it takes away the agency of the research participant and makes them a passive victim of some kind of research machine. It denies the very possibility that they could have made a decision for themselves and rather than being a sign of being a sensitive researcher, taking this approach is just another form of exploitation (in my opinion) by denying the very possibility that the research participants could choose for themselves whether to get involved or not. It seems I must have misinterpreted your original post, but stuff like

    “…what it must be like to watch whole cadres (of the friendly folks whose tribe routinely dominate and oppress your tribe) use your knowledge, experience and insights to become experts in your field…”

    and referring to yourself as “just another hearing-person-with-videocamera come to extract what I could from the deaf subject” seemed to suggest that you were framing the participants in your interviews/chats as passive victims of the research process. That’s why I suggested that you try and get inside their motivations for getting involved in the research. So it seems we’re actually in agreement on that point!

    As to what the motivation is, that is important. I’m not saying that just recognising the agency of the participant makes everything hunky dory, but that this is a vital first step towards doing reflexive research. Once you see how each of your (researcher and participant) motivations interact and relate to each other in the research process, you can begin to understand how it affects what you “find out” at the end of your project and how much of it (if any) actually relates to what is going on in the “real world” and how much of it is a product of the research interaction.

    I used cultural capital in the Bourdieusian sense of the term, which isn’t directly translatable into the more economic interpretation you’ve taken here. The point I was trying to make there was that by having a relatively high amount of cultural capital, these poets and artists are relatively powerful in the field of art (meaning “art for art’s sake”, rather than the capitalist market for art work). Thus, they can be seen as the “expert” in the context of the research interaction you try to set up with them. Which kind of changes the power dynamics of the interaction. You could argue it’s semantics, but I think that it really does help to think of it in this way. It certainly helps to avoid any misguided notions of being an expert.

    I can’t really say anything useful about the capitalist relations of art with the market, simply because I don’t know enough about it! But Bourdieu did write a lot about these issues (try The Field of Cultural Production (1993) and The Rules of Art (1996) if you haven’t read them already). I think I get what you mean about the commodification of what comes out of your research. But again, as I said in my first post, it’s what you do with it that counts.

    Final point, “…the hearing artists’ diaries are not full of appointments to be interviewed by deaf researchers”. You could argue that this is the key point here. How many deaf people get to be in the position that they could interview anyone for a research project (that isn’t about being deaf or sign language)? It’s pretty much a whole other issue that goes way beyond academia and basic communication choices in childhood. So not really on topic here…

    Another long post, sorry! But you said you wanted a conversation! 🙂

    • nanafroufrou

      Long posts are great, and I really do want to have this kind of conversation because it really helps to focus one’s thinking (I hope it works the same way for you). So, thanks very much 🙂
      We are very much in agreement about the victim framework. And I’ve re-read the sentences you’ve highlighted but still can’t see them cast in a victim/passive construction (but this is why it’s important to have conversations because it’s so difficult to see what isn’t clear in your own writing)..

      I don’t think of myself as a victim when I reflect on my experiences as a subject, though I was and still am very pissed off about the exploitation inherent in the process, and the fact that the researcher now positions and is positioned as ‘expert’, which leads to financial and social gain in the real world. In this instance, as with the artists and researchers, my own cultural capital as an experienced translator and researcher turns out to be less valuable/valued by both the research product (the new commodifiable facsimile that replaces it) and in the real, economic world, which is why I chose to invoke Marx against your Bourdieu.
      I think its important to bear in mind the relative value of cultural capital; its relationships to other forms of value- to translate Bourdieu into Marx if you will- because there are distinct differentials. You are right that there is cultural capital attached to being an artist or a poet (or a translator/ interpreter), but it does not carry with it any power precisely because it does not translate into economic capital. Academic capital (still with Bourdieu here) does, however, have a more direct relationship with economic capital and, therefore(?), with power. So I see the differential there as dangerous, and a potential pit of exploitation. I want to avoid falling into it.

      Bourdieu wrote a lot about the artworld because it is the arena where these differentials are at their most extreme and transparent. By the way, I think there’s a case to be made for exploring interpreting and translating as a field with very similar differentials (Steph, over to you..).

      So I have some difficulty with your assertion that having cultural capital means “they can be seen as the “expert” in the context of the research interaction you try to set up with them. Which kind of changes the power dynamics of the interaction. You could argue it’s semantics, but I think that it really does help to think of it in this way. It certainly helps to avoid any misguided notions of being an expert.”. Whilst I understand what you’re driving at here, I think this hits at the heart of the exploitative relationship. Sure, for the purposes of the interview or whatever process of data extraction you choose, this is the case. It has to be so because academic capital needs to feed on ‘expertise’, ‘original product’, ‘cultural capital’ (or whatever we choose to call it) to survive. Participants know and understand this, and this is the power that they have, but- as we said in an earlier post, I think- they also understand that their product/ cultural capital is not a market commodity on its own (i.e. it does not directly or easily translate into economic capital). It requires to be exploited, which is surely why they are willing to put themselves in the position of subject? I don’t for a moment believe that anyone is fooled by the temporariness of the situation. Once that value is extracted, the power is transferred. That’s why I really liked your model of rolling consent. And why I think we are both basically in agreement, because we are both engaged in finding ways to mitigate the potentially exploitative role of the researcher (in my case I have the added historical burden of my hearing status).

      And finally,I agree with you wholeheartedly that the question of how many hearing artists get to be regularly interviewed by deaf researchers is a key point here, so I can’t really agree that it’s “not really on topic” (although, for sure, an elaborate exploration of it would take us to many places, as you suggest). It is the context, the backdrop in front of which all of our arguments about cultural capital, economic capital and power are performed.

      And that’s what the ‘just another hearing-person-with-videocamera’ comment is about. I don’t come to this research from the outside. I’ve been in the deaf community for decades, but because of this stage set, this context, this ever-present background, the moment I pick up a video camera and ask to interview a deaf person for the purposes of my research there’s a great danger that ‘just another hearing-person-with-videocamera’ is precisely what I will become, i.e. not that I will invoke a victim/aggressor paradigm, but that I will occupy the all too socially available role of (hearing- see I can’t even avoid putting it in brackets here if I am to give an honest account) possessor of academic capital (with its concomitant economic capital and power) exploiting possessors of cultural capital.

      I’m trying to get beyond this in my research processes and to invoke instead models from the artworld -Situationist practices, collectives, Happenings and so on. I was interested in your earlier comment that you had defied your supervisors advice in bringing in the rolling consent. It strikes me that you were right to do so. It’s interesting to me where the forces of conservatism lie within academia- the places where what I’m trying to do is seen as simply not ‘academic’ enough (reducing that academic capital is actually a good things as far as I’m concerned) and in need of some traditional scaffolding (hence the pilot initial interviews- a form that these conservative forces might recognise). the post that sparked these comments was me exploring what conceding to these traditional practices had invoked and trying to work out how to resist. It’s a very fine line, isn’t it? I’m just hoping I can be resilient and careful enough to walk it.
      That’s why this conversation and this conversation space (the blog) are so important. I need to be in touch with people like you, to learn from your thoughts and practices and to recognise that there are other people out their trying to walk similar lines.

      Thanks, Dai.

      • dai

        I should really be doing some work now, but this is too interesting! 🙂

        I think the issues about victimhood we’re having here lie on two differences between us, one of vocabulary and one of definition.

        As far as vocabulary goes, the very word “subject” as in “interview subject” or “research subject” has far too many postivistic associations for me to use in my research. My first degree was in Biology. The subjects of our research often ended up pinned down on a cork mat with a scalpel in its guts. So the very word “subject” comes with an assumption of victimhood, in a way. I know this might seem a contradiction of my previous post arguing against the conflation of victim with subject, but i think that came from my trying to match your use of the word. That’s why I always try to use the word “participant”. I think it better reflects the co-construction of research data/information/stuff that goes on in the research I do now.

        As for the definition, you’ve repeatedly said you were left feeling “pissed off” and “exploitated” by the research you were involved in. That, for me, shows you’re a victim of unethical/poorly designed/poorly run research. You should never leave a project feeling like that. If you do, the researcher has breached their duty of care to their participants. So it seems we’re defining what victimhood actually is in a different way.

        Again, the Marx vs Bourdieu stuff is interesting (I really need to read more Marx…), but I think a key thing here is the way you’re transferring between cultural or academic capital and economic capital. I’m not sure that the research process as you’ve described it here automatically means that the results of your research become commodified. Certainly the results of my research will have zero economic value, but hopefully will bring benefits to the people I’ve worked with in other ways. What I’d bring to the job market if I get my PhD would more likely be the skills I’ve learned while doing the research, not the results of the research itself. So I’d argue that that isn’t a straightforward exploitation relationship with the research participants. Also, I’m not sure that you can say that the research situation is as much as a market place as you seem to be making out (in the interviews I do, I struggle to see the information we co-create as a product or a market commodity, I just don’t really see the marketplace analogy fitting here). Of course, this depends on the field you work in, I guess research in medicine, pharmacology and engineering is far more directly commodifiable (is that a word?) than research in the social sciences. Hmm… I’ll have to come back to this after I’ve thought some more about it!

        I’m not sure you can ever “get beyond” the fact that you’re hearing, that you have academic capital etc. I don’t believe I can ever get beyond the fact that I’m deaf, I have academic capital etc. It’s intrinsic to who you are, your habitus, your trajectory in life. It’s also intrinsic to the PhD process. You can’t move beyond it (in my opinion), the only thing you can do is come to terms with it and work with it. This is kind of what I meant when I said “you’ll become an expert whether you like it or not”. People will see the “Dr” or the “PhD” and will see you as an expert. You don’t really have a choice in the matter (apart from not doing the PhD at all). But an awareness of this, reflexivity in what you do, that will make a difference because seeing how the research process affects your participants and you will help you to try and avoid causing harm (through exploitation or other ways) as much as you can. Like I said before, I’m still struggling with these things myself. But I think the day you stop struggling is the day you’ve become complacent.

        • nanafroufrou

          Couldn’t agree more- I also should be doing other work, but also find this too interesting and also agree that the day you stop struggling is the day you’ve become complacent 🙂
          After my last response to you I cycled off to a pilates class and half way there suddenly thought that of course my situation as a hearing researcher (my habitus if you want to introduce that) is actually something that can be used by the deaf people in my research (i.e. something that can increase their power because it can be used to distance me and position me in a place I don’t want to occupy – i.e. the ‘just another hearing researcher with video camera’ position). I’d never considered that before…

          So..I see where your exploration/ definition of victimhood comes from but I still stick to that notion of motivation. I can’t see the frogs being particularly motivated (so they are classically victims), but however pissed off I still am about the research I was involved in, I nonetheless chose not to withdraw from it (and indeed, had that choice), so I can’t see that I’m in the same position as the frog. What is of interest is my motivation(s) for not withdrawing and the power relations at play there (which I think is moving us towards exploring the complexity of subjecthood).

          I also disagree that the results of your research “have zero economic value”. They can take you to conferences abroad- all paid for, they can help you apply for future funding to further your research career,they can enable books or other publication with your name on them to appear in the world, or otherwise increase your academic profile/ capital. So I see them as directly transferable. I also see, depending on the research model (and I don’t know yours so this is not a personal criticism but a general observation) that this value accrues to the researcher, not the ‘subject’or ‘participant’. How many things on that list can be commanded by the original ‘product’? How easily? This creates the academic capital/ economic value that accrues around you as ‘Dr’, PhD. I understand what you’re saying about some of that capital being unavoidably attributed to you by others, but I don’t want to agree that its unavoidable. I think there has to be a choice there, and that choice has to come from the way we position ourselves viz that research commodity, ‘what we do with it’ as you rightly said.I’m just trying to work out where that path is….

          • dai

            Your first point – this is the agency of the participant in action! It also shows why (I believe) you can’t escape from the “hearing/expert/academic” position that we discussed earlier. If you allow the participant their agency, they will always be free to make their own choices about who/what you are in relation to them. To try and control that would be to deny them their agency. This is why I think all research situations have to be seen as situations of co-creation between the researcher and participant. They all depend on how you and the participant interact, how you react to each other, how you present yourselves. You can control how you present yourself, but you cannot control how others react to you. You always run that risk of being perceived in a way you don’t want, with, as you said “certain capital being unavoidably attributed to you by others”. Since I don’t think you can control it, the only way forward that I can see is to accept it and try to figure out how these relations between researcher and participant affect your research.

            Your second point, about the economic value of research… I’m not denying that there is a relationship between research data (e.g. interview data) and economic value. I’m saying that I think the relationship is very much more complex than a simple market exchange and exploitation of research participants. Your example of going to conferences is a case in point. I’ve presented at two so far this year, I’ve presented at several smaller, informal groups too. And none of these have involved presenting any interview data. They’ve all been theoretical or methodological papers where the results have come from my own work, my own reading, my own writing. Of course, the stuff I’ve read is based on other people’s research, but I think that confuses the relationship more. But the point is that some people make careers out of purely theoretical writing, they never set foot outside the library in the lives. So where does the market exchange between participant and researcher come in here? The point I’m trying to make is that while research data is important to a research project, it’s not the only thing of value there. It’s all wrapped up with the skills and abilities and work that the researcher brings to the project, the planning, the analysis, the presentation, the work of actually collecting the data, creating the research situations and so on. So the value of the data itself is tied to the value you add to it using your academic skills and abilities. If someone’s a rubbish researcher, no matter how valuable the data their participants have shared with them is, in the end, the research won’t be worth that much. It might not be worth anything, academically. If you don’t analyse and interpret data (in my field, anyway), you open yourself up to criticisms like “journalistic” and “anecdotal”… terms that strike fear into the hearts of even hardened academics… 😉

            I think what adds to the complexities and difficulties around this discussion is that every field has its own values, rules and beliefs. They sometimes overlap, sometimes not. So what works for me in my sociological approach might not work for you in your a/r/tography approach. Even within a field, people disagree about this sort of stuff. Fascinating to discuss it though!

  • nanafroufrou

    This is going to be the shortest response so far because I just want to say ‘Exactly’.

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