Rather, the researchers repeatedly asked for concrete examples in order to gain knowledge beyond the formal, and made continuous attempts to hear participants dwell on the experienced intricacies of actual decision-making processes. We have indicated that the participants in both of the focus group discussion studies might have felt that their professional identities were being scrutinized. One cannot be entirely sure that the researchers and the participants were in full agreement about what the research agenda actually implied, although the aims of the research were shared before the discussions.
Negotiations and resistance regarding the discussion of problematic clinical cases are, in the research literature, associated with a challenge of revelation. In the focus group studies considered here, the symmetry as well as the asymmetry in the researched—researcher relationship represented a dimension of power that the researchers experienced as challenging and as somewhat unpredictable during the course of the research encounters.
The next case reveals examples of researcher vulnerability experienced within a classical ethnographic study empirical example 5.
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A classical metaphor for the ethnographic fieldworker is the child who is to be socialized into a particular culture or subculture. The agenda will be more or less transparent to the study participants, depending on how well a particular research topic can be made sensible in the research setting. An ethnographer's taking on the role of a child has its advantages, especially in the early phases of fieldwork.
The attempts at gaining mutual trust and reaching a sense of or some degree of closeness to the informants lies at the heart of the ethnographic approach, and depends on considerable time being spent in the field.
One area that was perceived as a challenge was that of controlled exclusion: not only the careful sorting of information to be presented to the researcher, but the rigorous denial of access, the distancing or exclusion of the researcher from smaller or larger arenas defined by the researched. Dependent as the ethnographer is on guidance and possible translation , the potential for control of information passed on to the researcher is more or less limitless, potentially jeopardizing the researcher's project.
Despite the fact that the researcher in this project was invited to attend a vast number of relevant events and situations that could provide knowledge about pregnancy and birth-related perceptions and practices, she had, for months, an accompanying feeling of being guided away from core information, and even of being cheated. Even in such a highly circumscribed culture … referring to his field site , people could experiment with styles of interaction and involve the visitor researcher in subtle, yet very revealingly subversive power games, games that inevitably shaped both what the ethnographer observed and how he interpreted what he saw.
The potential for the researched to control what a researcher is introduced to is obviously fully within the rights of the study participants, and is a principle located at the very core of any research endeavour. Karnieli-Miller et al. On the basis of subtle or overt shifts in power relations between the parties, the awareness of the co-construction of knowledge can become more or less acute.
Goodwin, Pope, Mort, and Smith write:. The community being researched is not a passive component; it also has a bearing on what the researcher is included in and excluded from. The informants were also agents in the shaping of the data, the data-collecting opportunities, and the course of the fieldwork.
At the same time, in the co-construction of knowledge made possible through the symbiotic relationship between researcher and researched lies one of the substantial advantages of ethnography. The closeness will often, with time, generate an openness and permissiveness, which may imply seemingly endless learning opportunities. However, the dependence on the close relationships with the informants simultaneously sheds light on the precariousness and vulnerability not only of the informants, who may have difficulties controlling the information ultimately generated from the research, but the vulnerability of ethnography as a research approach, as well as the vulnerability of the ethnographer in the process of learning.
In the current study, the researcher gradually gained access to more domains, and later fieldwork revealed the immense impact of her own position for the knowledge gained. She was provided with extensive access to the women's ritual reproductive sphere after being married, giving birth, breastfeeding etc.
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The gaining of closeness to the field is thus part of a process of becoming more knowledgeable about culture and context, the handling of language and codes, and of the continuous building of what is often experienced as true friendship. This point pertains to all qualitative research endeavours, but is particularly pertinent in ethnography with its common demands for long-term interaction. In the study, we considered the experience of being gradually more at ease with the continued outsider role, the learning process made the researcher more of an insider.
In a similar vein, we have indicated that the role of researchers as interviewers in the in-depth interview studies and in the focus group discussion studies were not fixed during the course of the interviews. Shifts took place both in relation to definition of the relevant body of knowledge, and the particular position of the researcher in knowledge production.
In the final example, we shed light on how researcher vulnerability seemed to be part and parcel of the dual role of the researcher. In the pedagogical study empirical example 6 , the researcher simultaneously pursued the researcher role and the actor role, portraying a patient during communication training.
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Two focus group interviews with medical students were conducted after the communication training. The character of the SP was a young woman. She was shy, almost nonverbal, someone who gets very easily hurt and starts crying when challenged on personal matters. To portray this patient was demanding, and the actress had to use most of her proficiency and skills as an actor to create a credible character. This created an ambivalent situation; she felt emotionally drained after the performance, and found it difficult to shift from the role of the actress to the role of the researcher who moderated the group interviews.
Role confusion of both parties could contribute to an unsharpened reflection. As Malacrida states , pp. It puts the researcher at risk of becoming emotionally drained Dunn, ; Lalor et al. To take on the dual role as researcher and SP in the development of this particular pedagogical practice exacerbated the emotional challenge, and made it difficult to find a balance between insider—outsider positions Burns et al. Parallels to the vulnerability inherent in the participant observer role in the ethnographic study are present, particularly the feelings of being at the mercy of the participants.
The manner in which the researchers opened themselves to exposure placed them in a vulnerable position. In an ethnographic context, the researcher will commonly have a long-lasting relationship with the study participants, which implies opportunities to re-evaluate the course of events and modify ways of approaching demanding topics and situations.
This was not the case in the pedagogical project which enhanced the sense of overall vulnerability. In this article, we have made an attempt to shed light on the researcher—researched relationship in different qualitatively anchored studies carried out within health science.
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Flyvbjerg, cited in Karnieli-Miller et al. In this article, we have anchored our analysis of shifts and ambivalence in the researcher—researched relationship by drawing upon concrete examples from our own research. The four main qualitative approaches represented; the phenomenological in-depth interview studies, the focus group discussion studies, the ethnographic study, and the pedagogical study, held a common aim of diminishing the distance between the researcher and the researched, and creating an anti-authoritative researcher—researched relationship.
The scenarios that emerged challenged the researchers partly to re-think the research agenda, but it also rendered them vulnerable to substantial emotional stress. The dual role as insider and outsider, participant and researcher, added to the challenge.
The empirical examples in this article indicate that these are points of relevance for qualitative research projects, across designs and traditions. In order to handle shifts in positions between research parties, shifts which are intertwined with ethical dilemmas, the practice of continuous reflexive awareness is paramount. The same holds true for the context of knowledge production; scrutinizing critically what can be at stake in the encounters between researcher and researched, and one's own role in knowledge production.
We argue that sharing and discussing these concerns in research teams and groups, where senior researchers as well as novices meet, should be regular practice. The value of reflexive self-awareness among researchers has been contested.
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However, along with Finley , p. Although fraught with ambiguity, a lack of critical awareness about the impact of the research context, perspectives chosen, methodological choices made, and, in this context, the presence of the researcher, might seriously hamper the knowledge claims made. Finally, we support Malacrida , p. The first author developed the project idea, moderated the group discussions, transcribed the tape-recorded meta-reflections, produced summaries, and had overall responsibility for the project, including the production of the drafts of this article.
The first and the last author planned the group discussions together and were discussion partners between the group discussions.
All participants were engaged in the group discussions, contributed to developing the core topics, and took part in writing the manuscript. The last author was more involved in writing the article than the authors in the middle. The authors have not received funding or benefits from industry or elsewhere to conduct this study. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Published online Jun Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. E-mail: on. Accepted May This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Background The researcher role is highly debated in qualitative research.
Methods A group of health science researchers anchored in various qualitative research traditions gathered in reflective group discussions over a period of two years. Conclusion Shifting positions and vulnerability surfaced in various ways in the projects. Keywords: Researcher—researched relationship, reflexivity, qualitative research, researcher vulnerability, ethics. Reflective group discussions The authors of this article are senior researchers two professors, four associate professors , all women, who gathered in six reflexive group discussions over a period of 2 years.
Table I Overview of research projects, which worked as empirical examples in the reflective group discussions, including methods, traditions, and authors. Pedagogical study. Open in a separate window. The research projects—Differences and common ground The projects from which the meta-reflections about experiences were drawn were different with regard to aims, research tradition, and research design.
Knowledge positions and researcher vulnerability—Shifts and ambivalence In the following, we will highlight and reflect on shifts related to knowing and not-knowing positions between the researcher and the researched that emerged during discussions. Distracted by illness stories A prime example of partly losing control of the research agenda from the in-depth interview studies empirical example 1 and 2 was related to an experience of being diverted by stories of illness. The inherent researcher vulnerability in In-depth interviews A common theme in the in-depth interview studies relates to researcher as well as participant vulnerability.
The challenge of hierarchy and status in group interviews with professionals The participants in the group interviews empirical examples 3 and 4 were highly qualified health professionals, indicating expert knowledge within the research topics of interest, and holding a superior social role compared to the patients in the in-depth interview studies. The child's role: Being at the mercy of the study participants The next case reveals examples of researcher vulnerability experienced within a classical ethnographic study empirical example 5.
Goodwin, Pope, Mort, and Smith write: The community being researched is not a passive component; it also has a bearing on what the researcher is included in and excluded from. The vulnerability in designs with especially demanding inherent dual roles In the final example, we shed light on how researcher vulnerability seemed to be part and parcel of the dual role of the researcher. Concluding remarks In this article, we have made an attempt to shed light on the researcher—researched relationship in different qualitatively anchored studies carried out within health science.
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