Mapping the Politics of a Research Journey: Violence against Women as a Public Health Issue

Article excerpt

The authors set out to map the journey of their research process for a project on violence against women as a public health issue. Discussion of the research process usually involves only the methodological or theoretical framework, rather than the whole complex and shifting relationships of the various aspects. Not only does one's research design affect the outcome of the research, the original intent is often changed along the way. The authors hope to contribute as feminists to the dialogue on the implications and consequences of research choices, and the contradictions raised in reconciling feminist politics and community activism with funding requirements.

Introduction

This paper sets out to map a journey, to tell a story that is not often told. We hear about the research of our colleagues normally only in its final stages and then, we see only the product. The treatment of the research process is usually limited to explaining the methodological or theoretical framework within which the work has been placed. We believe, and in fact have come through our research practice to be convinced, that the means and ends of scholarly work are difficult to distinguish, and have a relationship that is complex and shifting. This goes far beyond any straightforward causal or even dialectical relationship. It's not just that the means one uses -- that is, one's research design and process -- affects the outcome, but that the process, even the original intent, is changed along the way. The means not only enter into the end and change it: the end, rather than being a fixed point, is a process that constantly transforms the means. All of us begin the research process with a plan. How many of us follow through with that plan exactly as pre-thought, towards a pre-visioned, predictable finite end?

We are of the opinion that feminist researchers should address what we all know to be true in a forthright, open manner. That is, that the systems we function within and interact with, be they institutions, funding bodies or community groups, operate dynamically with research intentions, process and outcome. How we reconcile feminist politics, community activism, academic credibility and the imperative of seeking and gaining funding for research is often problematic and complex. Although an examination of where any of us as feminist researchers might be in this process is not simple, and may be personally disconcerting, it is extremely important. This is especially the case when dealing with a topic like violence, which has such critical importance for the actual lives of so many women, whatever their position on the social matrix. What we have to say about this issue has real-life consequences that have to be carefully considered at each stage of the research journey. Each time that a shift in research direction, process or intent is undertaken, all the locations on the route change relative to each other. The imagery of mapping is useful to adopt here: we are not talking about moving in a straight causal line from point A to point B. We offer our own research story here, as a modest attempt to open a dialogue, in the hope that it may encourage others to examine their own research journeys and reflect upon the implications, even moral consequences, of their locations relative to where they have been, or might be in the future.

Background

This paper is the story of the "research journey" undertaken by four researchers affiliated with Queen's University. Dawn Blessing, who was the originator of our project, was at the time a faculty member with the School of Nursing at Queen's University and has a Masters degree in Nursing. She was also a research associate with the local Health Unit in the city of Kingston, and the counties of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) in eastern Ontario. Her many years of work in the health field and her concern as a feminist with the issue of violence against women led her to question why there was so little connection between these two important interests. …