Even though I think it’s a bit annoying that, every time I interview someone for my research, I have to bust out an information sheet and consent form, and ask my interlocutor to sign their name and then tick a bunch of boxes with statements that are almost completely irrelevant to our conversation, I can appreciate that there is a lot of ethical gray area in any research (quantitative or qualitative). These forms are a (cumbersome) way of trying to sort out some of the ethical considerations that can arise when humans interact, and one of them goes and writes about it in a somewhat public way.
But these ethical approvals do nothing to help work through some of the more emotional considerations that arise from doing qualitative research. More specifically: I have now met with several people involved in Barcelona en Transició; I have been in their homes, I have eaten with them, and I am starting to consider some of them my friends. How do I then critically analyse their statements, motivations and actions, and treat them as subjects of academic inquiry? I don’t believe total objectivity is ever possible, but how do I even begin to evaluate these interviews coolly and rationally?
Perhaps this is a rookie mistake, and more seasoned researchers learn to keep a certain emotional distance from their participants, but I must say, I don’t remember ever having similar dilemmas during my days in journalism. Perhaps that was because, then, the job was description — reporting my interviewees’ words without too much interruption by my own thoughts. Now, I’m not writing a 500-word newspaper article, but a many-thousands word dissertation, which requires lengthy analysis and critical insight from me. And to reiterate, I am not just analysing or dissecting Foucault or Gramsci or some public figure who’s in the news; I’m analysing people I know.
Any other researchers (or for that matter, journalists!) have similar experiences to share?