Learning "studying up"...
Qualitative research came to LIS late - in the early to mid 1980s with works by Raya Fidel and others. We know it finally "arrived" in the early 1990s with the publication of a reference book by Mellon (1990) and reviews by Fidel (1993) and Bradley (1993). This was part of a larger effort to bring anthropological methods home. From the tradition of going off to a small rural, isolated world to observe a very different way of life, there was a move to prolonged engagement, being a participant-observer, staying close to home (or even autoethnography!). When this happens, social worlds overlap, the participants have access (intellectual and otherwise) to the work product, and the power issues change (Forsythe, 1999).
Ellis (1999), in her fieldwork in an isolated Maryland fishing town, described how participants discussed some very private matters. She changed names and such, but when a local professor brought her work back to the participants and read to them aloud, they were easily able to figure out who said what and they were hurt. Some felt that printing these things was a breach of trust. It's a lesson in sensitivity and thoughtfulness but it was also from a very different time and place. She wrote thinking that her participants would never read her work. In traditional ethnographic methods there's a real power relationship and one has to be careful to observe this and protect the participants; that is, the ethnographer is in the power position through place in society, education, and ability to communicate with a broader audience.
When we study adults in LIS and STS, in particular professionals such as scientists, engineers, lawyers, and doctors, the power roles are reversed. In fact, the participants may have very real power over the ethnographer (e.g., paying her salary). Participants may have a louder voice than the researcher. The participants read, understand and sometimes contest the work product (Forsythe, 1999). This is indeed factored in when we talk about member checks for internal validity (see Guba, 1981, as well as Kvale's communicative validity). Laura Nader coined the term "studying up" to describe this (cited in Forsythe, 1999).
As Forsythe (1999) mentions, we're still sort of taught the traditional narrative of qualitative research. In my own experience, some IRBs do not differentiate in their reviews the relative power positions of the researchers and the participants. In two of my projects the participants specifically wanted their name and workplace's name attached to their quotes - but I felt uncomfortable with this because of the promises I had made to the IRB. (In the IRB's defense, I think the papers say that you can use the name if the participants specifically agree to it, but I'm still a little hazy on this).
In a more trivial way, how do you thank someone when you could never possibly afford to pay for an hour of their time? So when you give a college student $10 for an hour in the lab, that's one thing. If you are studying, say, a lawyer who gets $500 an hour... and it's just weird for a student to give a professor money. I resolved this by donating to a charity in the participant's name for one project and never resolved this in two other cases (sorry!).
I'm still mulling this over so I might re-visit this topic. I really enjoyed Forsythe's article, and so I'll look for more along the same lines.
----Bradley, J. (1993). Methodological issues and practices in qualitative research. Library Quarterly, 63(4), 431.
Ellis, C. (1995). Emotional and ethical quagmires in returning to the field. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 24(1), 68.Fidel, R. (1993). Qualitative methods in information retrieval research. Library & Information Science Research, 15(3), 219-247.
Forsythe, D. E. (1999). Ethics and politics of studying up in technoscience. Anthropology of Work Review, 20(1), 6-11. DOI: 10.1525/awr.19188.8.131.52
Guba, E. G. (1981). ERIC/ECTJ annual review paper: Criteria for assessing the trustworthiness of naturalistic inquiries. Educational Communication and Technology: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Development, 29(2), 75-91.
Kvale, S. (1995). The social construction of validity. Qualitative Inquiry, 1(1), 19-40.Mellon, C. A. (1990). Naturalistic inquiry for library science : Methods and applications for research, evaluation, and teaching. New York: Greenwood Press.
Labels: qualitative research