Special Issue "Practical and Ethical Dilemmas in Researching Sensitive Topics with Populations Considered Vulnerable"

A special issue of Societies (ISSN 2075-4698).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 November 2019).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Ana Patrícia Hilário
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
Interests: sociology of health and illness, sociology of diagnosis, sociology of gender, sociology of childhood and youth
Dr. Fábio Rafael Augusto
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal
Interests: surveillance, social media, political participation, food (in)security, poverty and social exclusion

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Conducting research with populations considered vulnerable might be fraught with ethical and practical dilemmas that might place the development of the research at risk. People can be defined as vulnerable when they lack the autonomy to make their own decisions or experience impairing conditions, which might constrain their physical and/or cognitive autonomy. These dilemmas might be even more challenging when the nature of the topic is sensitive (e.g., sacred, stressful, and/or private). There is little information available in the field of social sciences on the ethical and practical dilemmas faced by researchers when researching sensitive topics with populations that are considered vulnerable. This Special Issue intends to build awareness of these challenges and offer guidance for researchers who intend to develop research on sensitive topics with vulnerable populations. We invite contributions, whether theoretical or empirical, that address but are not limited to the following topics: (i) the analysis and conceptualization of sensitive topics and vulnerable populations; (ii) accessing and recruiting vulnerable populations to talk about sensitive topics; (iii) responsibilities and conflicts of developing research on sensitive topics with populations considered vulnerable; (iv) issues of privacy, anonymity, and confidentiality; (v) risks when dealing with vulnerable populations and sensitive topics; (vi) the safety and protection of participants and researchers; and (vii) personal, ethical, and methodological issues, in general.

Dr. Ana Patrícia Hilário
Dr. Fábio Rafael Augusto
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Societies is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Published Papers (4 papers)

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Open AccessArticle
An Exploration of the Practical and Ethical Issues of Research Using Multi-Visual Methods with Children Affected by Chronic Pain
Societies 2019, 9(4), 81; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9040081 - 23 Nov 2019
Abstract
This paper intends to encourage further reflection on the research methods and approaches used to enhance the voices of children with chronic conditions. Visual methods (e.g., ‘draw, write, and tell’ and photo elicitation interviews) have been described as the most appropriate ways to [...] Read more.
This paper intends to encourage further reflection on the research methods and approaches used to enhance the voices of children with chronic conditions. Visual methods (e.g., ‘draw, write, and tell’ and photo elicitation interviews) have been described as the most appropriate ways to develop research with children as they allow room for children to share their lived experiences in their own terms and to actively participate in the research process, by giving them the opportunity to act as co-researchers. In fact, the use of these methods also contributes to empowering children and mitigating the power differences that exist between the adult researcher and young participants. Drawing on an ongoing study on the experience and management of chronic pain in childhood, this paper provides insights on the usefulness of using these multi-methods to address (potentially) sensitive topics with a (potentially) vulnerable group. The ethical and methodological challenges faced by the researcher when conducting research with ill children in the healthcare context are addressed. The paper looks at the dilemmas of studying chronic pain in childhood and highlights the ways in which multi visual methods can help children in the meaning making of chronic pain. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Customizing Methodological Approaches in Qualitative Research on Vulnerable Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Societies 2019, 9(4), 75; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9040075 - 07 Nov 2019
Abstract
Children with autism spectrum disorders often suffer from poor school inclusion, loneliness, and poor quality of life. Suitable support options for overcoming these risks are lacking, partly because children’s perspectives concerning their support needs are unknown. We need to improve the involvement of [...] Read more.
Children with autism spectrum disorders often suffer from poor school inclusion, loneliness, and poor quality of life. Suitable support options for overcoming these risks are lacking, partly because children’s perspectives concerning their support needs are unknown. We need to improve the involvement of children in social research. However, involving children with autism in research is not always simple, and there is scant literature on qualitative methods for addressing challenges related to involving children with unique characteristics such as autism. Children with autism may lack mimetic expressions to reflect their feelings, and they may answer questions very briefly despite having a nuanced perspective on the issue addressed, thus leaving the researcher with few indicators to act upon. Consequently, it can be difficult for the researcher to “read” the child, assess ethical important moments, and adapt the methodology to the individual child. Based on a qualitative study of 22 children with autism in the capital region of Denmark, this article offers reflections on methodological and practical challenges in involving children with autism in research. Matching expectations between researcher and child, staying open to communication forms, and posing precise questions are shown to be important to have insight into the children’s perspectives. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
The Emotional Risks of Turning Stories into Data: An Exploration of the Experiences of Qualitative Researchers Working on Sensitive Topics
Societies 2019, 9(3), 62; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9030062 - 30 Aug 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article

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Open AccessConcept Paper
Reinforcing and Reproducing Stereotypes? Ethical Considerations When Doing Research on Stereotypes and Stereotyped Reasoning
Societies 2019, 9(4), 79; https://doi.org/10.3390/soc9040079 - 20 Nov 2019
Abstract
Many social scientists are interested in studying stereotypes and stereotyped reasoning. This interest often comes from a wish to contribute to creating a more just and equal society. However, when we as scholars study stereotypes and stereotyped reasoning, we risk reproducing and maybe [...] Read more.
Many social scientists are interested in studying stereotypes and stereotyped reasoning. This interest often comes from a wish to contribute to creating a more just and equal society. However, when we as scholars study stereotypes and stereotyped reasoning, we risk reproducing and maybe even reinforcing these processes, and thereby harming individuals or groups of individuals. The debates of this ethical issue mainly take the form of general discussions of research ethics and of weighing the aim of the research against potential harm to participants. While these reflections are extremely important, there is a need for discussing how this ethical issue can be handled in practice. The aim of this article is to develop a set of practical guidelines for managing this ethical issue, based on the examination of ethically delicate moments experienced during an ethnographic study of the construction of health and risk identities among seventh-graders in Denmark. Three guiding principles are proposed: Develop an ethical sensibility in order to identify ethically delicate moments; consider ethics as well as methods when constructing and posing questions; more specifically, briefings and debriefings can be used to address ethical issues; and, finally, make participants reflect upon their opinions and answers. Full article
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