Wednesday, April 01, 2009

An incomplete work; a workstory of researcher responsibility

Enacting relations of responsibility in research;
Youth counselling as a case in point.

The development of communication and computer technologies allows for significant alterations to develop in the ways counselling can be offered. Whether such alterations are a ‘good’ or bad’ thing is an unknown, it's a bit like saying conversations are good or bad, or talking loudly, softly, face to face or at a distance... Logic suggests that each of these aspects is going to be met by a response of ‘it depends’. Consideration then of the factors creating the conditions of goodness or badness is therefore required. One consideration is for services provided to be responsive to the needs of the group that the service purports to serve. Responding to this mandate would involve hearing the voices of those using the service and articulating what is valued. Given that this process involves a relationship developed in confidence, involving privacy and sensitivity to the intimate nature of issues discussed, creates a point of tension balanced alongside a need to provide a research basis for practices hitherto unknown. In this paper, the enactment of such research is reflected upon with the foremost issue being one of researcher responsibilities.

This paper on the enactment of responsible research is situated within a wider PhD study on change and the use of emergent technologies within a youth counselling centre. This paper focuses on a key issues of responsibility associated with the ethics of studying what is usually kept underwraps; uncovering and making visible personally intimate details of distress and of counseling received. There are concerns for the privacy of those involved. There are also concerns for the validity of new practices and the maintenance of a service that aspires to ‘do good’ and to ‘do no harm’. The absence of an evidence base for practice is also of concern. In addition, there are tensions involved in sensitive research that may privilege some whilst silencing others. In line with the work of Dianne Mulcahy (2007) this involves a focus on empirical performative responsibility extending beyond the presentation of perspectives; an exploration of the ontological politics involved in having voice, and in ‘giving’ voice.

A story of change.

This is not a story for idle spectators. I do not want this to be read voyeuristically. I do not write that you might be entertained. My intent is for change. The issues addressed lie deep in the folds of the moral fabric of society; How do we treat people who are smaller, have limited practice in decision making, have little purchasing power, and have limited voice in the world? The very measures set up to protect simultaneously create conditions of disempowerment.

In the act of researching and writing such wrongs might also be redressed. What I write, is written with intent. The written artefact becomes an actor, not merely a story, but a technosocial actant that pushes and pulls. Tugging at heart strings, and through these to the people and the structures that maintain a status quo, to be a persuasive influence on the undertaking of research into things that are also sensitive.

What are the currently established stories?

The artefacts of policy are written by providers…

This incomplete workstory of change provides me a prompt for considering sensitive research as well as researcher responsibility, an ontological dance inside of my doctoral studies.

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