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Giving Voice Versus Gate-Keeping: Ethics and Complexities in Qualitative Research Collaborations

By: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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This case study discusses the potential for conflict within qualitative research collaborations. It is particularly focused on collaborations with community organizations, and on the ethical principle of respect—that individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, yet those with diminished autonomy must be protected. Much of the author’s research has been on sensitive topics, including self-harm and sexual abuse. Conducting research with young women who have experienced these entails a number of challenges, including access, recruitment, the development of trust, and managing potential vulnerability. However, participants frequently report benefits from participation, even when distress is experienced. Although collaborating with service providers with which potential research participants engage may reduce some of these difficulties, other tensions frequently arise. Furthermore, research on sensitive topics and/or with vulnerable people poses specific ethical difficulties. These include tensions between researcher and participant needs, such as conveying the possibility of distress while not discouraging participation. Service providers are often aware of some of these possible issues, and may take on a gate-keeper role through a desire to protect their clients. In so doing, the autonomy of potential participants is diminished. Thus, the development of trust on the part of both collaborating services and participants is key to the opening of research spaces. The challenges of complex and competing needs in research collaborations will be examined through the use of a specific research example.

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