From the outside looking in (ethically?)

Many things going on in Port Melbourne I can go to, but there are some meetings that people are reluctant for me to go to because they are politically sensitive. I know I cannot get access to everything because I am only one person and I only have so many hours in each day. However, I am starting to really consider the ethical issues around the place of things I cannot go to in what I will eventually write.

If I do not have a sense of how the group works and what goes on behind the scenes will I

  • Lack nuanced understandings and so misrepresent what is going on?
  • Feel no connection with the people in the group and their aims, so feel no need to ensure they would be comfortable with whatever I write?
  • Have little idea of the implications for the group of what I write, and so my partial account ends up creating more issues than it provides insights?
  • Read into the situation more than was there because of an assumption that there is something they want to hide?

I really hope that I am able to communicate that my project is not about making anyone look bad (or even about making anyone look good). I am interested in getting at what actually happens and what people think. Of course what actually happens and why those things happen is much more messy than public representations often suggest. Dramatising the messiness of life and social interaction is not my objective. I am writing a thesis in the end, not a piece of investigative journalism, so it is not about entertaining through unearthing. Each thing I hear will not go into the thesis, but as I learn the how, the why and what the experience is like of social interaction in these contexts I am developing a better understanding. The important thing about a case study in social research is that you reach a point where it is less about the specific case and more about illustrating something about society.

The fact that I am doing a project means that I will remain in part an outsider looking in, but I hope that I am able to get close enough to see the details that matter and understand how to bring those details together in a meaningful, respectful and ethical way. I suppose part of my personal challenge will be to learn how to be a just as respectful when it comes to those times that I am literally relegated to being outside the room.

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