On the issues of being a stranger and a confidant: researching biographical crises
14th Conference of the European Sociological Association “Europe and Beyond: Boundaries, Barriers and Belonging”
Interviewing a person who has experienced a difficult or even traumatic event in her/his life can be considered a privilege, in the sense that we access a private and intimate domain of that individual. But it also raises a number of issues that need to be addressed to ensure the protection of both participant and researcher, as well as the validity and objectivity of the study. There is a difficult balance to be made between the need to collect data to meet the research goals and the need to empathise with the respondent’s experiences and perceptions, especially considering the sensitive nature of the inquiry topic and the interviewee’s vulnerability. This presentation is focused precisely on the different challenges encountered in a sociological study focused on biographical crises – i.e., stages of life marked by the disruption of habitual frameworks of action and thought, which have a substantial impact in the lives of individuals – and the strategies developed to cope with such issues. It is argued that the problems faced (i) begin before meeting the participants with the procedures of accessing the studied population, (ii) are particularly visible during the interaction between interviewer and respondent, and (iii) also manifest themselves after the interview ends, since the researcher has herself to cope with the crises narrated during the interviews. The role of emotions of both researcher and participant in this three-folded process, as well as the reciprocal character of the interaction situation are key to this discussion.
Sensitive research,Biographical crises,Research relationship,Qualitative methods