On researcher self-awareness


Jack D. Douglas, in his 1995 book, Creative Interviewing (SAGE Press), has much to say about reflective interviewing and even the emotional aspects of research for researchers and participants. I appreciate how he embraces the “messiness” and emergent nature of the whole research process. In one section, he urges researchers to do some serious self-reflection before thinking about investigating the lives of others:

“As a general rule, no one should be an explorer of human beings unless he [sic] can face painful self-discoveries, unless he [sic] has already undertaken a great deal of self-exploration and exploration by others, especially by probing close friends who have shared the joy and anguish of the endless search for mutual understanding. Even more important, and interviewer should not try to discover truths about those areas where he [sic] has major emotional problems until these have been thoroughly explored and resolved.

Everyone makes mistake and no human explorer worth his gadfly spurs has every gone unscathed by this bit of human frailty. But remarkably few have every admitted this publicly.” (pp. 39-40)

“All serious thinkers now know that thinkers, including social researchers of all kinds, are really just human beings.” (p. 41)

I have publicly talked and written about the human and emotional side of research – as well as my own mistakes and failures. But this is not the same thing as seeking to advance an “emotionalist” perspective over a “positivist” one. I’ll write more on that in another post. I should note that a number of qualitative researchers, such as Kathy Roulston and Kathleen Gilbert, and recent edited volumes by Norman Denzin and Yvonna Lincoln, Jim McKinley and Heath Rose, and others are also encouraging greater dialogue on these matters.