Who else Needs Protection? Reflecting on Researcher Vulnerability in Sensitive Research
2. Researcher Vulnerability and Sensitive Research
3. Emotional Vulnerability among Researchers and Other Team Members
4. Ethnographic Fieldwork and Researcher Vulnerability
7. Blurring of Roles in the Field
Although I try to help - Ivan asked me to search some ads for a room with a bathroom for Petar and I will have a look, he also asked me if I could buy some credit for Petar’s cell phone and that he’ll return this money in a few days… I didn’t question, for a second, whether I should be doing this, but I feel like helping the two of them has become more mechanical and that a true sense of humanity that I feel when communicating with other rough sleepers has been lost. (15th October 2019).
8. Dealing with Heart-Rending Life Stories
When I explain to people what I do, people often say that this is a very difficult theme and they ask me how I manage. I have to admit that I was even amazed at how well I was coping -- I’m not insensitive, quite the opposite, I feel empathy and I feel sorry for these people, but it also doesn’t "throw me off balance" and doesn’t overburden me. I would respond to them in this way. And then, even though I don’t think I think about them that much during my free time, I started to dream about homeless people, the situations they are in and the ways I could help them. I dream about them all night – these are chaotic dreams through which one can sleep but cannot rest. (23rd July 2019).
9. Handling Emotionally Charged Experiences
10. Strategies for Emotion Management
I have been keeping tabs on them over the months, watching them carefully, checking and re-checking, asking them if everything is all right…over the phone or at work or whenever we meet. They are usually quite forthcoming about their field encounters with people experiencing homelessness and like to discuss this with me in detail. I know that they have each other but I’m still concerned about their safety and how much they can take and whether they can handle all this intense emotional engagement… and whether they will be able to cope until the end (of the project). I certainly didn’t explain these fieldwork dangers and complications in explicit detail at the job interview. Being able to cope in all these situations (e.g., suicide ideation, heart-breaking testimony, manipulation, deception etc.) was not part of the job description! I was primarily interested in persons that had had some experience in working with a vulnerable social group and expected them to realise that engaged anthropology on sensitive issues would entail some dangers and risks. At the beginning, I learned that S’s mother was quite concerned about her well-being when she started fieldwork with rough sleepers. To preserve’s her mother’s mental health, S told me that she has stopped sharing ‘all’ the details with her… I feel responsible because I took this for granted and a little bit guilty because I didn’t warn them or prepare them properly. It was only when they started to have problems that I knew that I needed to concentrate on these issues more carefully… to find further ways of dealing with these unpredictable challenges and dilemmas (September 2019).
Conflicts of Interest
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Although the first author is the Principal Investigator of the Croatian team, she is actively involved in ethnographic fieldwork for this project.
This is an ongoing joint research project entitled: Exploring Homelessness and Pathways to Social Inclusion: A Comparative Study of Contexts and Challenges in Swiss and Croatian Cities that is a part of the Croatian–Swiss Research Program.
This is defined as a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions include overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment . A recent systematic review that investigated burnout and its possible consequences in working populations provides relevant evidence of the physical (e.g., cardiovascular diseases and pain), psychological (depressive symptoms) and occupational consequences (job satisfaction and absenteeism) of this syndrome .
In line with more critical engagement in the research process and ethics, one of the aims of this study is to conduct dignified research with homeless people that is non-exploitative and considers ethical complexities and dilemmas at all stages of the research process [11,12]. As homeless people are generally positioned as vulnerable, we acknowledged a need to transform research from a ‘top-down’ researcher-led encounter to a ‘bottom-up’ participant-led encounter . In this study, particular attention and effort are given to issues of informed consent, gaining access and trust, reciprocity, anonymity and confidentiality, as well as engaging some research participants as co-researchers in an attempt to create less hierarchical relationships between researchers and research participants.
Owing to the unpredictable nature of fieldwork and not always feeling prepared in fieldwork situations with persons experiencing homelessness, we recognized the need for professional guidance in the early stages of this project. A social worker, Adrijana Hadžić who works closely with vulnerable groups conducted a workshop for all the members of the Croatian research team. Some of the themes that were covered included: expectations, roles and boundaries; recognizing and overcoming stressful situations; as well as developing and strengthening resistance to stress.
Although we give our research participants the freedom to choose interview locations (that are not hostile or under surveillance) and interview times we as a team also evaluate the dangers of some locations and times.
Compassion fatigue refers to the emotional and physical exhaustion that can affect helping professionals and caregivers over time .
It should be mentioned here that one possible limitation of this article is that it was written during the research process rather than following completion of the project. As this is a work in progress we have not been able to present the full array of experiences that we will encounter in the future within the framework of this project.
© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Sikic Micanovic, L.; Stelko, S.; Sakic, S. Who else Needs Protection? Reflecting on Researcher Vulnerability in Sensitive Research. Societies 2020, 10, 3. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10010003
Sikic Micanovic L, Stelko S, Sakic S. Who else Needs Protection? Reflecting on Researcher Vulnerability in Sensitive Research. Societies. 2020; 10(1):3. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10010003Chicago/Turabian Style
Sikic Micanovic, Lynette, Stephanie Stelko, and Suzana Sakic. 2020. "Who else Needs Protection? Reflecting on Researcher Vulnerability in Sensitive Research" Societies 10, no. 1: 3. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc10010003