Hi, I'm Sharlene Hesse-Biber.I'm a Professor of Sociology at Boston College.I'm going to talk to you today about a part of research that'soften hidden.It's what I call, a behind the scenes view of howto create a research project.And many of you perhaps only see the front stage.
You may read an article or read a book,but that is a kind of fully polished version.Instead today I'm going to take you behind the scenesvery much in the spirit of Erving Goffman'swork on dramaturgy, where he saysthat all the world's a stage, and we're just actors on it.
And, really, we're researchers on that stage.And, very much, when we're presenting ourselves to otherswere presenting a front stage view.We polish ourselves up, and we present the best viewof ourselves to others.Very often we don't look at that backstage.And so, in many ways, I'm taking this metaphor of the theater
that Goffman talks about, the front stage/back stageand we're going to go on a journey.And I guess my point is that to obtain a real valuable insightinto what goes on in the research process weneed to go behind the scenes.We need to observe how research projects areenacted in their real time.
What I call warts and all approach.The things that can go wrong in a project, because I think it'sthese real life practice of projectswhere we learn the most about how to do research.So, in fact, going behind the scenes--my thesis will be in this talk today--lies the most important set of insights
in the doing of research.So in order to begin, I'd like to introducea few concepts that can address some of these behind the scenesissues, or what I call conundrums,that you may encounter in your own research journey,especially as novice researchers just starting out
with your research project.You may have-- your professor may have said,now we want you to do some research.And everybody's cringing in the class room.You know, what?Can I really do that.So, let's come on this journey with me.And let's see what we can learn that might be able to help you.Now I want to start out with some critical concepts
to consider in your research journey.The first is, what can really happen,the unintended consequences.You may start out with great intentions,but all of a sudden you find that things are falling apartin your project.I also want to introduce the concept of knowingyour own researcher standpoint.
In addition, I want to talk about listening,and the art of listening to your participants,for example, in an in-depth interview.I also want you to consider the range of differences thatmight matter between you and your participantin the research project.And, lastly, I want to talk about issues
of reflecting-- deeply reflecting on your researchpractice.What has gone before so that you can learn as you move forward.So let's go to the first concept, thatof unintended consequences.In 1936 sociologist Robert Merton
noted that the actions of individuals, organizations,as well as national and international entities,can have impacts that are unanticipated or unintended.He noted how important it is for social scientistsin our own research to consider these unintended consequencesof the actions that we take in our research.
These can originate from a range of factors stemming from error,not knowing something, to being blinded by your own values,or even your own self interest.In the context of conducting social research in general,unintended consequences refer to results or outcomesof research findings, programs, or policies
that were not anticipated and not decided at the time.Those programs or policies were beingdesigned and/or implemented.This is not to say there can't be positive outcomes as well,but I want to right now focus on the more negative consequences.
To go behind the scenes now to howsome unintended consequences can crop up in your research.I want to give you a few scenes that have actually taken placein real life research projects.We're both going to go behind the scenesand look at a few of these.And, of course, unintended consequences
can happen when you're really tryingto do good, when you're really tryingto do some social change and social justice initiativesin your own research.And one such example comes from the caseof cellphone usage in Zambia-- the Republic of Zambiain South Africa.
It was a study of women in developing countries,and it wanted to look at the role of new technologyand the interventions it can havein positive ways in developing societies.So this is a tale of being oblivious to the negativeeffects of new technologies.
Researchers that introduced new technologies, like the cellphone, and thought it would promote women's development,and close gender inequality gaps,and foster social change for poor women,felt that if you flood these developing societies with cellphones it would really mean that youcould create real social change for poor women.
And it was felt by the experts by and large that cellphonescan serve to decrease, specifically,the gender inequality gap.As one person noted in this particular studythere was a potential for educational opportunities.Cellphones can offer women, as one expert noted,
a transition from silence to voice,from powerlessness to empowermentin non-formal learning contexts, justas it is in formal contexts.And that technology can really offera means to accelerate this processif the use of technology is placedin an appropriate social context.Let's give all women in Zambia cellphones.
Let's increase their empowerment overall.Well, we have an issue, says Wakunuma,who decided to really examine this assumptionabout the relationship between cellphone usageand women's empowerment.Did cellphones really make a difference
in empowering women's lives in Zambia?And what she did was an explanatory mixed methods studywhere she actually started off with a questionnairewith males and females.And she wanted to ask them in survey questionsabout the impact of cellphone usage on their lives,
especially dealing with issues of empowerment and socialchange.She decided to follow up her findingswith some qualitative approaches.One consisted of small focus groups, questions primarilygiven to Zambian men and women about whatthey did with their cellphones, how their lived experience was
enacted with cell phones, and also dida smaller study of qualitative in depth interviews of both menand women.And the quantitative findings seemedsomewhat positive with regard to cellphone usage,until she actually went and followed this upwith some intensive qualitative approaches.
And what she found where some really interestingunintended consequences that she uncovered.She notes that embedded in the structure of gendered relationsin the developing world are some very entrenched hardto eradicate views of women's placethat were reinforced by longstanding patriarchalforces.
And the use of these new technologies, like cellphones,can only be used by these entrenched traditional forcesto produce unintended consequences that wind upreinforcing the existing regime of gender inequalities,and further served as a means to reinforce and promotesocial control of women's lives.
In other words, women got cell phonesand it started to empower their lives.They started to gain some controlover their own social relations.They could also use the cell phoneto also enhance their own economic livelihood.However, the focus groups showed that over time things
started to happen.One woman said in the focus grouphow she had to sell her mobile phone because her husbandsuspected her of infidelity.He would search the mobile phone to monitor any callsthat she might have received while he was away at work.Even though they may have been a result of a wrong number
when he found then the numbers hedid not recognize he would immediately call the numberto make inquiries and it would start a fight, and so on and soforth.And she said, for example, whenever he knocks offand he has to check all incoming calls that camein when he was away at work.And he would say to me, why did you do that?And I said to him, it was the wrong number.
So here's the thing, unlike original expectation cellphones are a good thing-- and in the beginningthey were-- The findings instead that Wakunuma found,especially in the qualitative components of her study,is that men spend a great deal more on cellphone time-- phonetime-- and purchase more upgrades to their cell phones
than women.And women, on the other hand, very oftenwere forced to give cell phone minutesto their significant others.They actually wound up using the cellphone primarilyfor paging and beeping, and this wasthe least expensive communicationoption that they had.And very often they would beep or be paged back their husbands
because they were checking on them.So we can see that while we thought cellphone usage hadsome great intended positive outcomes, without reallyvisiting those structures-- those contacts on the ground--and noting the context within which are introducingcellphones, you can wind up-- in very traditional societies--
you can wind up reproducing the very traditional genderbinaries that were there before.This scene is about losing your way.You know, you're so excited about a research projectthat you start, and you have some definite strong viewpointsabout what this project means to you.
You've invested a large portion of your liferight now in this project.And what happens though as you proceed-- and you sometimesdon't even know you're doing it-- is you lose your way.And such was the case in a project
that studied farm women.The researcher was very interested in knowing moreabout the customs of farm women.What they did on the farm, how they felt about vegetablesthat they grew.It was really to get at-- it was aimedat getting at the kinds of things
that farm women did in general.So the researcher started with a very structured interview.And over time it got more and more structured.Such that she would refer in the interview situationmore to her questionnaire then shedid to really conversing with the woman
right in front of her.She kind of treated her as if she wasn't there.So let's go to this scene between the researcherand a farm woman named Verna.Verna starts, again, to respond to oneof the researcher's questions.
And Verna says the following, "There were timesthat I just wished I could get away from it all.And there were times when I wouldhave liked to have taken the kidsand left them some place for a week--the whole bunch at one time-- so that I wouldn'thave to worry about them.I don't know whether anybody else had that feeling
or that there were times when I justfelt like I needed to get away from everybody, evenmy husband, for a little while.Those were times when I just felt like I needed a break.I would maybe take a walk back in the woodsand look at the flowers, and maybe go down thereand find an old crow that was real and gentle
and walk up to her and pat her for awhile-- kind of get awayfrom it.I just had to, it seems like sometimes--"And all of a sudden the researchercuts her off and says, were you active in clubs?Well you can imagine how Verna must have felt.
Was the researcher really listening to her spillingher emotional life out?That it was really tough for her, as a farm women,to be alone, to be isolated, to have all these choresAnderson, the researcher, reflects back
on this in a wonderful article that she called, "Learningto listen: interview techniques and analysis",In which she critiques her own interview.So very often we have these agendas in mind,and we can lose our way and actually reproducewhat it was we wanted to find out
was actually not finding out what's reallyhappening in that process.Let's go to the third scene I call insider/outsiderconundrums.And this scene has to do with my own research,so I'm a bit embarrassed in talking about this,but I think it's important.
It's called, I know exactly what you mean.When I say my insider status got in the way-- got meinto trouble-- it's the case of over identifyingwith my participants, so it's my story.It's a story that starts out with research
on hereditary cancer.I was interested in interviewing women who found outthey were positive for a genetic mutation that placed themat extremely high risk for getting breast and ovariancancer.And in the process of interviewingthese women I thought, well, you know,
I'm very reflexive as a researcher.You know, I don't want to go in there with an agenda.I often started out my research by saying,can you tell me your BRCA story, that is your hereditary cancerstory?How is it that you came to be testedfor this genetic mutation, and what happened after that?So I was very open.But here's the thing, I had motivations too
for wanting to do this study.I had a sister who died early from breast cancer.And I wanted a way to give back my expertise to this typeof research project.And so even though I reflected on this I--about the eleventh interview in I
happened to be interviewing a woman whohad hereditary cancer, but she lost her younger sisterto this mutation.And I can remember as I was interviewing herall of a sudden I started feeling that itwas so hard for me to listen.
I barely could listen to the next sentencethat she would be telling me.And what I didn't understand is I was re-experiencingwhen she started talking about her younger sister dying--I started to re-experience in that interviewmy own sister's death.My sister had many of the factors that led to her death
that this younger sister had who died.And all of a sudden I finally got through the interview,and I realized that I had not checked in with myselfaround these issues.I wasn't checking in with my emotional barometer.All I could say is, well, I had a sister
who died of breast cancer.Of course, I know what you mean.Of course, I'm an insider.I mean, I can appreciate all the things you told me.However, I wasn't checking in with myself.What I had to do after that was stop interviewingfor at least four or five months until I could really be sure.
I came to terms with my own set of agendas,and that I could clearly be able to only really truly listento those issues of my respondent.So that was a lesson that I learned.That just because you're an insider
it doesn't always mean that you're an insider and notyet an outsider as well.So that was an important lesson behind the scenes for me.So there are these ways in which we approach our study.We think we can very much identify with our participant,
or that we don't.But insider and outsider status are kind of tricky concepts,and we'll get back to these in a bit.OK, so how can we tend to some ofthese unintended consequences that
can crop up in our research?Whether or not we're novice researchersor seasoned researchers these things can happen.So what are some things we can do to offsetsome of these conundrums?To really guard against at least a few of them?So the first thing I think is important
is that we need to know ourselves as researchers.What is our own research standpoint?What are the values that we bring to our research?What kinds of attitudes?You know, I brought a set of values.I wanted to do good.I wanted to make a difference in understanding
the experiences of those women whohad these genetic mutations that placed them at high riskfor breast or ovarian cancer.And I really wanted to do good, but weneed to also check our own values and attitudesfor wanting to do something.For the things that we assume or don't assume.
I assumed that I was ready to do this research.I did it from a space that I reallywanted to promote awareness of genetic mutationsamong a range of women.And I also wanted to bring that awareness to health careprofessionals who at that point knew very little about what
women experienced in general that were placedat high risk for -genetically -genetic mutations for breastand ovarian cancer.So knowing your own standpoint, knowing your own biaseswhen you're going in, is important to the researchprocess.You can-- if we looked at Verna's case
we notice that the researcher really had an agenda that shestarted out with.She wanted to understand the customs of rural farm women.But was she ready for their emotional responses?Their emotional experiences?She had a certain agenda that started
to go in the wrong direction.And in some ways she lost really valuable informationthat was right in front of her.I think another important factor that'sreally critical to take into account is difference.
Before you enter, say into an interview situation,you might be sure that you are aware of the differencesbetween yourself and your participant.You know, you hold sometimes power and authorityas a researcher in that situation.To what extent is that power and authority overbearing
to your participant?Are you able to listen to your participant across differencesthat you may have in age or sexual orientation, raceor ethnicity?And did you anticipate that these differencesmight come into play in conducting your research
project?So I think it's really important to be aware of the differencesthat matter in your research project,and try your best to reflex on these differences as well.So difference matters.The differences that matter happen
across the research process.From the following, did I interview all the peoplethat matter to my project in termsof gender, race, or class?Is this sample really representativeof the range of individuals that constitute my research problem?
Did I get this right?Did I get the sample?Is it representative?What about the way in which I'm collecting my data?As is the case in the study with rural farm women.Am I asking all the questions that matter in this situation?
These are issues, I think, that take time to reflect on,but they're important.Knowing, again, your researcher standpointis valuable, and knowing that is critical.Reflexing, again, on these values is important.
One of the most important things, especially when you'redoing interviewing-- in-depth interviews,for example-- is the importance of truly listeningto your research participant, and listeningis like a slippery slope.You know, the researcher was listening to Verna.She was really listening to her, but was she?
Her listening was pretty problematic.She was listening, but focusing on her own agenda.She was not focusing on her participantas much as the agenda that was ahead of her.She did not see the depth of emotional response
that Verna was giving her.She was really telling her some very important emotional thingsthat mattered to her.Listening sometimes-- we can listen,but we can listen and then interrupt our participant.Because we felt maybe that person is not talking too much,
or going off an a tangent.So very often we could-- as what happened with Verna--she was interrupted by a very agenda focused question.Were you a member of clubs?So that we need to be centered on our participant.We need to have eye contact.
We need to show that participant that I'm hereto hear your story.Now very often a participant-- I'veinterviewed participants whose values and attitudeswere so different from mine.As a matter of fact, very different.And very often you have to be aware not
to let your own values and attitudes about a certain topicthat you feel strongly about come into playwhen your participant starts talking about that issueand you don't agree with them.Are you going to be judgmental?Are you going to try to move them or interjectyour own feelings and attitudes?I hope not, but very often in listening we sometimes do that.
You have an idea of what feelings are right or wrong,and even in your body language-- even if you say nothingyou are in fact setting the stage for that participantto say, I guess you're being pretty judgemental of me.You have to really listen across those differencesto be interviewee centered, not interviewer centered.
You are not the judge and the jury of someone's story.You are accepting of the range of differences out there.If you took this on you need to be aware of your own values,and not allow them to overtake the listening process.You stop listening when you do that.
Often a respondent will say to me,well, you know, I had a sister-- when I did my hereditary cancerstory-- narrative.Women would say to me, you know, Ihad a sister who died from breast cancer at a young age.I don't go ahead and say, well, I had a sister, too.I know exactly what you mean.
Well, do you carry a crystal ball when you're assuming that?Do you really, really know what she means?Let's retake that and say, wait a minute.I had a sister who died from breast cancer.I'm not going to say that.Instead when she says that I'm going to say,
can you tell me a little bit about that?I'm not going to tell her my story.I'm not going to say I know exactly what you mean.I don't have a crystal ball.I don't assume I know the breadth of your experience,even if my sister did die from cancer.You and I may share some things, but I don't pretend
to know what that means.So listening deeply takes work.And we'll sometimes interject our own attitudes and values,and sometimes that's a good thing.When a participant has over shared with me--
when they've told me-- and I sensethat they're telling me somethingthat they want to take back because it's something maybebecause we're sharing such an intimate narrative-- that veryoften I think they almost feel like I've shared too much.At that point I will say to them, you know,
your story has ongoing consent.And you can feel free afterwards to take out anythingthat you've shared with me, or I might at that pointshare something about myself.That's different, OK?That's being mindful that when youare telling your narrative as an interviewee
you are laying bare your life.You are providing a testimony that--and I think of that as the very sacred bondthat I have with my participant.It's a sacred trust that I hold with them.So listening in that way I didn't
realize at the end of a very intense story my participantwould thank me for interviewing them.I often wondered what do they mean?I'm thanking them.They shared their time.No.She said, thank you.I learned so much from telling my story.It really helped me a lot.
And then I realized the interviewis like a testimonial.it's a testimony that someone is giving you--someone is sharing with you.And each one of these stories needsto be held in that sacred ground.So it's important to consider that when you take this on.
You're taking on this kind of bond,and it's very important to be up for such a kind of listening.And it takes practice, and there are many unintended thingsthat can happen along the way.You just pick yourself up, and learn from your error.Maybe that crystal ball you can put away in your closet now.
You don't assume you know.Let's review a checklist for dealingwith some of these biases in the interview process,especially around listening.Be mindful of your own agenda.You know, it's good to go with your own hunches and feelingsthat arise through a listening, but at the end the daydeeply listening without that kind
of intense bias towards somethingyou think your participant said that you don't agree with.If you're confused about somethingdon't be afraid to follow it up with an issue or concern.Very often my participant would say something.I'd say, can you tell me what that it means?They'd often say, well you know what I mean?And I would say to them, not really.
Can you tell me a little bit more?I don't presume to know what you mean.Now you have to deal with your comfort leveltoo in an interview.Sometimes I'm interviewing now men with breast cancer.And this idea that men don't wantto talk about intimate things in general about their health,really that stereotype was blown apart
when I started interviewing men with breast cancer.I think my first interview on the phonea man got really angry with me.He was so angry with me I thoughtI'd never get through this interview,but I have to just keep my cool and tryto listen deeply and understand something is going on.And he would say to me something like, well you don't really
know all the facts and figures about men and breast cancer.And he just kept going on and on and I would say,can you tell me what you mean?I will have to check that.And trying to do as much as I couldto keep the interview moving, and tryto move along even though my interviewee wassomewhat insulting sometimes of my own knowledge
about this issue.Until I asked him about his mother.And then he started to cry on the phone.And I just let him cry.I wasn't prepared, but he needed to cry about his mother dying
from breast cancer.And how much he missed her, and so on and so forth.And after that it sort of cleared the air.I felt like I was at that point on a roller coaster,and then all of sudden, boom.And I just had to hang tight.
Sometimes you have to hang tight.And then the real listening and the real narrative--when I mean real I mean he's able to then openup more about his own personal experience.So you never know in an interviewwhere it's going to lead, and youhave to be willing to go for the ride.
And sometimes the ride can be really a rocky road,but you have to hang tight.What keeps me going-- and I thinkin a very important concept that is woven into all the thingsI mentioned-- is being reflexive throughout the researchproject.I have to check in with myself during an interview.
Seeing my own emotional barometer.How am I feeling?Especially with the guy that was insulting meI just talked about.I really had to take a deep breath.I used all of my reflexive skills,checking in with myself, how I'm feeling,knowing that I'll get through it.I have to really just listen more
to try to understand why he is so angry.I have to really, really try very hard to bring and reflecton all my own skills of listening,And also allowing moments of silence.The thing that I reflected on in that interviewwas how important it is for us to tolerate as interviewers--
to tolerate silence in an interview,and not try to rescue someone who's emotionally upset.I think we have to sit and listenthrough some painful moments sometimes.And, you know, what I realized is--
when I checked my watch-- what I felt was like twominutes was really 15 seconds.So that silence-- how important silence is.I'm asking that person to articulate a very difficultemotional experience.They need time to process that.
And do I expect them to give me an answer right away?I have to tolerate those moments,to allow them to process.And that was one of the most reflective momentsI think about my own interviewing style.Another important thing with reflexivity
is to go through each interview and reflecton your own behavior in that interview.That's how you learn about how to be a better listener, hownot to interrupt.Oh, my goodness.I realized I was telling him too much about my life.I got off on a tangent.Oh, wow.
Did I really do that?Sometimes you don't even know you're doing it.So reflexivity throughout the research project,especially with that data collection segment.As the research goes you are the data collector.You're the one that is doing that,and your role becomes very critical.
And you need to interrogate that roleby being more reflexive about it.So being sensitive, reflexive, looking at your own biases,checking on your own values, and reflexivity reallycan empower the whole research process.Tending to difference and similarities
between yourself and the researcher,but don't assume that just because you share somethingthat you don't share other things that become importantin that process.Sometimes reflexivity is not enough.I mean, I reflected on my own positionality with a sisterwho had died from breast cancer, but that reflexivity was not
enough.I needed to reflect more on the impactof my sister's death in general on my taking up such a project.Was I unreflexive enough on my sister's deaththat was I ready then to really to do these interviews?That was a revelation to me.
So in summary, there are many critical elementsthat we uncover when we go behind the scenes.it's an important first step in making you awarethat all the research is for some-- is from somewhereand has a given point of view.And it's important for us to look at the nitty gritty
of doing research.We don't want to look at just the polished version.We don't see all the things that I justtalked about that are so critical to makingthat polished element very, very special.We all face, as researchers, a series of obstacles providing
you with this analogy of Goffman's dramaturgy approach--all the world's a stage, and we're justactors on it-- is important.All the world's a stage-- you know, realizing that weneed to go behind the scenes.Many research projects have unintended consequences,but that we can offset some of these
through building our research practiceon a range of insights.Some of which I talked about just now.Unintended consequences happened.They're a normal part of doing our jobs,but they're anecdotes we can sprinkle onto our projectwhen we run into trouble.Paying attention and valuing difference, listening deeply,
reflecting on our standpoint, our values and attitudes,building in these reflexive momentsthroughout our research project.I'd like to leave you with a few learning resources.Many of the resources I'm going to talk about I'veactually referred to in my talk today.The first of these is my new text
called, "The practice of qualitative research:Engaging students in the research process."And I have a whole chapter on doingin depth interviewing that goes into more detail on someof these concepts I have raised, like reflexivity, deeplylistening, and so on.The second is titled, "Feminist research practice: A primer."
It's the third edition of SAGE, and again Ihave some important information there overallon doing intensive interviewing.The third is called, "Waiting for cancerto come: Women's experiences with genetic testingand medical decision making for breast and ovarian cancer."And this is the study I was referring to in my talk.
Last but not least is "Mixed methods research:Merging theory with practice."And when I was talking about the Zambian studyI did talk about explanatory mixed methods designs,and you can find more discussion of doing mixed methodsresearch in more detail in this monograph.Thanks for listening, and thanks so much.
Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd
Publication Year: 2017
Segment Num.: 1
Dr. Sharlene Hesse-Biber discusses the research process and unintended consequences that can arise from it. She provides examples of unintended consequences from past research and the effects they had on the research. Hesse-Biber discusses ways to avoid these consequences throughout the research process.
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Dr. Sharlene Hesse-Biber discusses the research process and unintended consequences that can arise from it. She provides examples of unintended consequences from past research and the effects they had on the research. Hesse-Biber discusses ways to avoid these consequences throughout the research process.