Academic journal article Population

Exploiter Les Difficultés Méthodologiques. Une Ressource Pour L'analyse En Sciences Sociales [Making Use of Methodological Difficulties: A Resource for Social Science Analysis]

Academic journal article Population

Exploiter Les Difficultés Méthodologiques. Une Ressource Pour L'analyse En Sciences Sociales [Making Use of Methodological Difficulties: A Resource for Social Science Analysis]

Article excerpt

Christine guionnet and Sophie Rétif, eds., Exploiter les difficultés méthodologiques. Une ressource pour l'analyse en sciences sociales [Making use of methodological difficulties: a resource for social science analysis], Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015, 175 p.

Now that social science researchers are expected to demonstrate clear epistemological thinking, they may be tempted to try to achieve a kind of perfect axiological neutrality through rigorous application of methods and techniques. And in such a context, any methodological difficulties encountered in the various research stages may be experienced as stumbling blocks and lead to feelings of discomfort and illegitimacy. The result is that everyone - students and experienced researchers alike - tend to "smooth over" such difficulties. To counter that tendency, to lay bare the difficulties researchers may encounter and show how they can be analysed and used to fuel thinking on research subjects, Christine Guionnet formed a group of researchers from the Centre for research on policy action in Europe (CRAPE) and the Nantes Centre for sociology. This work delivers their thinking. In emphasizing the heuristic value of the difficulties, the work is both a pedagogical argument for gaining proper perspective on the obstacles researchers encounter in their fieldwork and indeed rehabilitating them, and an invitation to researchers to integrate analysis of the meaning of such difficulties more systematically into their scientific work. In this respect, it is for both experienced researchers and beginners.

Most of the book's seven chapters discuss fieldwork experiences and difficulties. In the first contribution, Béatrice Damian-Gaillard and Mathieu Trachman present the difficulties they had to cope with during two surveys on pornography use in France. Problems envisaged at the outset - here, entering a field perceived as fairly opaque and inaccessible and the need to justify studying a illegitimate subject in an academic context - may prove quite different from the ones encountered in the field. For the female researcher, the main problem turned out to be sexualisation of the survey relationship, whereas the male researcher was compelled to objectify the effects of his male socialization, specifically in connection with female sexuality. The dialogue between the two researchers shows how their personal characteristics - particularly sex and age - influenced their relationship to respondents and clarifies the identities respondents ascribed to them in the field as subjects and objects of desire.

Chapter 2, by Sami Zegnani, examines how working in a field presumably close to the researcher affects that researcher while discussing the assumptions that such proximity elicit not only in respondents but also other researchers. The sociologist in question, originally from a "sensitive" or rough neighbourhood, was studying three groups with roots in neighbourhoods of the same type (street youth, Salafi Muslims, and rap musicians). He shows that the distantiation requirement that followed from his presumed "insider" status proved largely irrelevant. Without denying the advantages he enjoyed due to his origins and local embeddedness and ties, he details all the strategies he had to develop for adapting to the field and respondents, especially when it came to winning respondents' trust while maintaining distance and circulating within relatively closed groups. He seeks to "demystify" the widespread idea that "'native' ethnographers fit naturally into the field" (p. 69) and to move beyond the "insider/ outsider" binary opposition so as to analyse more effectively what our relationship to the field may tell us about the phenomena under study.

The issue of variation in interviewer-respondent interaction by personal characteristics of all parties is likewise the subject of Sylvie Ollitrault's contribution. A political scientist, she reviews her twenty years of research on French environmentalist movements, offering a diachronic perspective on how research difficulties changed over the course of her career. …

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