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Conducting Research Interviews With Marginalized Young People About a Sensitive Topic

Case
By: Sarah MacLean Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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Abstract

In this case study, I describe my experiences of conducting research interviews with young people who used inhalants (also known as volatile substances or solvents). My intention in conducting the study was to give some measure of public voice to young people in debates around inhalant use policy responses. I knew that as the author of the study (which I submitted as my PhD thesis), I could only offer an interpretation of these experiences. Nonetheless, the study generated new and nuanced ways of understanding both the pleasures and perils of inhalant use to inform policy and intervention. I accessed participants through drug treatment and homelessness agencies, and they were generally acutely marginalized and disengaged from education and employment, often homeless and many with mental health, juvenile justice, or past child protection involvement. The study design was interpretive and collaborative, and I used follow-up interviews to check my findings with participants. Study methods evolved in response to barriers and opportunities that arose. I describe how in-depth semi-structured interviews can be adjusted when interviewing marginalized young people. For example, acknowledging differences between the researched and the researcher can make the exchange more comfortable than pretending they do not exist. This case study also highlights how attending to the emotions aroused in research interviews can provide useful insights into the meanings of social practices. I conclude that alongside the potential for harm, research involvement can offer benefits for individuals who receive little social acknowledgment that their experiences are important.

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