Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Exploring Relational Ethics and Care: A Longitudinal Study of a Hong Kong Cellist's Marriage Disintegration and Identity Change

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Exploring Relational Ethics and Care: A Longitudinal Study of a Hong Kong Cellist's Marriage Disintegration and Identity Change

Article excerpt

Bumping into Rebecca on a Hong Kong Train

In December 2015, I visited the University of Hong Kong. While there, I was asked by a mutual friend if I wanted to meet Rebecca (pseudonym) who had been separated from her husband for a year. Rebecca was in her mid-forties with two daughters both under the age of ten at that time. My friend thought that I needed musician participants in my PhD research project, and Rebecca could use some support from me as a divorce survivor and counsellor. At my friend's place, I greeted Rebecca briefly as she left the house. A few days later, I bumped into her on a train ride. Incidentally I asked if she would be interested in being interviewed. At that time, I was engaged in a project investigating the lived experiences of Chinese musicians. I was granted approval by the ethics committee at my University to conduct research among global Chinese musicians with project number CF13/899-2013000435. Adhering to ethical research practice which required me to protect participants' safety, privacy, and confidentiality, I emailed her the Explanatory Statement, Interview Schedule and Consent Form of my project for her to consider and confirm her expressed interest to take part in my research.

Rebecca was a performing cellist working with established orchestras before she had children; she later became a house-bound wife slowly losing her identity as a professional musician-educator. Although I was told by my friend that Rebecca was having trouble dealing with her disintegrating marriage, nothing prepared me for the relational shift that happened in our first interview. It was easy for Rebecca to open herself up to me because I was a stranger who lives aboard, and had no prior knowledge of her life and work in Hong Kong; or perhaps she did not feel threatened because I had been through divorce myself. On that morning, she hesitated momentarily when she first began to steer the interview toward her marriage problems. Rebecca cried as she spoke about the trauma associated with her pending divorce. My heart sank so low and I was reminded of what it felt like to be betrayed. Rebecca choked with heavy sobbing, and symbolically I was drowning in her tears. I knew this was not a space for her to be polite; but I struggled to disallow myself from being who and what I am--the dual identity of researcher-counsellor. I recalled a rule in therapy that "what's in the way is the way." I made that space to be totally about her; disengaging myself from the role of a researcher and abandoning my personal agenda. In this psychodynamic flow, feelings about all relationships could be safely disclosed. I knew that the interview had to take its natural path; my intellectual mind temporarily shut down, I remained silent and allowed the moment of sorrow and the tears to evaporate in its own time, its own pace and into its own space.

The Self in Reflexive Research

Reflexivity is self-appraisal throughout all phases of research; it is recognised as a crucial strategy in generating knowledge through qualitative methods across disciplines (Berger, 2015). It is the process of a continual dialogue and critical self-evaluation of researcher's positionality, and the acknowledgement that this position may affect the research process and outcome (Bradbury-Jones, 2007; Stronach et al., 2007). Examples of relevant researcher's positioning include gender, age, race, linguistic tradition, value systems, beliefs, affiliation, personal biases and experiences (Hamzeh & Oliver, 2010; Padgett, 2008). These positions play different roles and can impact the research in three ways:

1. Access to the field can be easier if participants think that the researchers are insiders as culture-bearers who understand their experiences (De Tona, 2006).

2. A good researcher-participant relationship occurs when researchers are aware of their own thoughts and reactions to the conversations; this can facilitate data collection in which participants are more willing to disclose personal information, thus generating deep and meaningful data (Valentine, 2007). …

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