Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Invisibility, Interviewing and Power: A Researcher's Dilemma

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Invisibility, Interviewing and Power: A Researcher's Dilemma

Article excerpt

The ability to conduct humane, sensitive qualitative research is an important goal for all scholars. In order to accomplish this, researchers must examine the process of data collection. The issue of power is important to these discussions; however, the focus is typically on the inherent inequalities in power and status between researchers and participants in the study. While this is critical to feminist approaches, it is only one dynamic of power in the research setting. This paper examines how the structural location of respondents in an organization's hierarchy also affects how access to respondents is gained and how rapport is established with them.

Effectuer une recherche qualitative sensible constitue un but important pour tous les universitaires. Afin d'accomplir ceci, les chercheures doivent examiner le processus de collecte des donnees. La question du pouvoir est tres importante dans le contexte de cette discussion; l'emphase, cependant, est typiquement place sur le desequilibre entre chercheurs et participants de l'etude. Alors que cet aspect est important aux approches feministes, cela ne s'arrete pas la. Cet article discute de la facon dont le positionnement structurel des participants dans la hierarchie d'un organisme affecte la facon dont on accede aux participants et dont on etablit un rapport avec eux.

The structure of power within an organization, such as a university, imposes various constraints upon the research process; however, when the researcher understands these constraints, they can be overcome and even become useful data. Research has shown that the solutions to traditional problems of gaining access to and establishing rapport with respondents are influenced by the social location of both researcher and respondent (Wolf, 1996; Andersen, 1993; Reinharz, 1983). Specifically, characteristics such as race, class, and gender of all participants, researched and researcher alike can influence the data collected in the research process. Scholars who are interested in such structural effects often assume that there is an inherent inequity of power between a researcher and the participants of the study (Wolf, 1996; Reinharz, 1992; Stacey, 1988; Oakley, 1981). Wong (1998) even refers to this as "one of the greatest dilemmas of feminist field work--the exploitive and hierarchical relationship during fieldwork" (p. 179). The researcher's power includes her own privileges based on race and class as well as her control over the design of the study and how the results are analyzed and presented (Bhavnani, 1990).

Most discussions of power in the research process focus on the relationship of the researcher and respondent and assume that the researcher is the ultimate "authority" that can exercise power at all stages of the research process. Not all scholars, however, believe that the relationship of power between research and respondent is a unilateral one. Others assert that respondents do have control over this process and can resist participating in the research (Wong, 1998; Behar, 1993, 1996; Kondo, 1990). To better understand the power of respondents, this research shows that the field setting itself structures the researcher's relationship with respondents. Indeed, the researcher must examine the social location of a respondent in the power structure of an organization in order to examine how best to gain access to them and how to establish rapport with them. Specifically, a researcher can overcome the structural constraints of power by negotiating a role consistent with the respondent's level of power, both improving the quality of interactions and enriching the research process. Analyzing the interviewee's position in the organization's structure not only leads to better research, it also reveals information about the nature of what is occurring in the everyday life structure of those positions.

Literature Review: Feminist approaches to research

Interpretative, feminist, and critical methods contend that in order to conduct humane, ethical research, full disclosure of the research objectives begins with gaining access (Oakley, 1981; Reinharz, 1992). …

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