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The Emotional Risks of Turning Stories into Data: An Exploration of the Experiences of Qualitative Researchers Working on Sensitive Topics

1
Health and Social Care, The Open University, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK
2
Head of Policy & Research, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, D07 CR20 Dublin, Ireland
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Societies 2019, 9(3), 62; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9030062
Received: 24 May 2019 / Revised: 22 July 2019 / Accepted: 15 August 2019 / Published: 30 August 2019
A great deal of research has been undertaken into areas involving sensitive topics. In spite of longstanding acceptance that such research can be emotionally risky for participants, interest in the impact of this work on the researcher has only relatively recently become a topic of concern. This paper reports on a roundtable convened with qualitative researchers working in sensitive research areas. The article explores their views in relation to the emotional risks they encountered in relation to their work. A grounded theory, thematic analysis was used to analyse the data and comparisons are made between researcher experiences and those highlighted by earlier studies. We illuminate how researchers described personal concerns about the emotional risks, before focusing on how the researcher’s sense of professionalism contributed to, or protected against, these emotional risks and emotions. This paper also discusses the faltering nature of the support provided to these researchers and the challenges created by the need they felt to create impactful research. The authors conclude by arguing that current support and guidance provided to researchers working in sensitive areas fails to address the complexity of the emotional reaction of the researcher. We call for the development of specialised training and improved use of theoretical concepts such as emotion work, to guide those undertaking this challenging work. View Full-Text
Keywords: ethics; sensitive research; reflexivity; qualitative methods; emotional risk ethics; sensitive research; reflexivity; qualitative methods; emotional risk
MDPI and ACS Style

Mallon, S.; Elliott, I. The Emotional Risks of Turning Stories into Data: An Exploration of the Experiences of Qualitative Researchers Working on Sensitive Topics. Societies 2019, 9, 62.

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