Back
 OJPP  Vol.10 No.4 , November 2020
The Vulnerable Researcher Phenomenon
Abstract: Purpose: The purpose of this study is to address challenging issues in protecting researchers in risky situations. Method: A case study addressed the importance of risk prevention and researcher safety. In six interviews, a social scientist shared feelings of vulnerability when she conducted ethnographic research with sex workers and gang members. Results: Qualitative results explain the concerns from the eyes of a vulnerable researcher in six factors: Support, Safety, System Connection, Situations, and Struggles. The vulnerable researcher phenomenon is defined as the emotional labor faced by the researcher in situations that are dangerous and risky. Implications: While taking care of the research subjects’ well-being, researchers must also be reminded that ethical behaviors in their field also include self-protection. Social scientists must advocate for a standard protocol in IRB applications to include protecting researcher safety and ensuring identity privacy.
Cite this paper: Tang, X. , Cheung, M. , Zhou, S. and Leung, P. (2020) The Vulnerable Researcher Phenomenon. Open Journal of Philosophy, 10, 511-527. doi: 10.4236/ojpp.2020.104036.
References

[1]   Bahn, S., & Weatherill, P. (2013). Qualitative Social Research: A Risky Business When It Comes to Collecting “Sensitive” Data. Qualitative Research, 13, 19-35.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794112439016

[2]   Behar, R. (1996). The Vulnerable Observer: Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

[3]   Benoit, E., Pass, M., Randolph, D., Murray, D., & Downing, M. J. (2012). Reaching and Engaging Non-Gay Identified, Non-Disclosing Black Men Who Have Sex with Both Men and Women. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 14, 975-990.
https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2012.709640

[4]   Benson, M. (2019). On Goffman: Ethnography and the Ethics of Care. The Sociological Review.
https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/on-goffman-ethnography-and-the-ethics-of-care/

[5]   Bloor, M., Fincham, B., & Sampson, H. (2007). Qualiti (NCRM) Commissioned Inquiry into the Risk to Well-Being of Researchers in Qualitative Researcher.
http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/407/1/CIReport.pdf

[6]   Boothroyd, R. A., & Best, K. A. (2003). Emotional Reactions to Research Participation and the Relationship to Understanding of Informed Consent Disclosure. Social Work Research, 27, 242-251.
https://doi.org/10.1093/swr/27.4.242

[7]   Bourne, A. H., & Robson, M. A. (2015). Participants’ Reflections on Being Interviewed about Risk and Sexual Behaviour: Implications for Collection of Qualitative Data on Sensitive Topics. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18, 105-116.
https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2013.860747

[8]   Brougham, P. L., & Uttley, C. M. (2017). Risk for Researchers Studying Social Deviance or Criminal Behavior. Social Sciences, 6, 130.
https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6040130

[9]   Cheney, K. E. (2011). Children as Ethnographers: Reflections on the Importance of Participatory Research in Assessing Orphans’ Needs. Childhood, 18, 166-179.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0907568210390054

[10]   Crabtree, B. F., & Miller, W. L. (1999). Doing Qualitative Research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[11]   Delva, J. (2007). The Human Subjects Protection Process: A Subjective View. Social Work, 52, 101-102.
https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/52.2.101

[12]   Dickson-Swift, V., James, E. L., Kippen, S., & Liamputtong, P. (2006). Blurring Boundaries in Qualitative Health Research on Sensitive Topics. Qualitative Health Research, 16, 853-871.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732306287526

[13]   Dickson-Swift, V., James, E. L., Kippen, S., & Liamputtong, P. (2008). Risk to Researchers in Qualitative Research on Sensitive Topics: Issues and Strategies. Qualitative Health Research, 18, 133-144.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732307309007

[14]   Dickson-Swift, V., James, E. L., Kippen, S., & Liamputtong, P. (2009). Researching Sensitive Topics: Qualitative Research as Emotion Work. Qualitative Research, 9, 61-79.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794108098031

[15]   Duncan, P., & Stephenson, A. (2013). Participant Responsibility, Researcher Vulnerability and Empirical Ethics: A Reply to Loughlin. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 19, 553-558.
https://doi.org/10.1111/jep.12056

[16]   Emerald, E., & Carpenter, L. (2015). Vulnerability and Emotions in Research: Risks, Dilemmas, and Doubts. Qualitative Inquiry, 21, 741-750.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1077800414566688

[17]   Etherington, K. (2007). Working with Traumatic Stories: From Transcriber to Witness. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 10, 85-97.
https://doi.org/10.1080/13645570701334001

[18]   Hernández, M. G., Nguyen, J., Casanova, S., Suárez-Orozco, C., & Saetermoe, C. L. (2013). Doing No Harm and Getting It Right: Guidelines for Ethical Research with Immigrant Communities. New Directions for Child & Adolescent Development, 2013, 43-60.
https://doi.org/10.1002/cad.20042

[19]   Horn, L. (2007). Research Vulnerability: An Illustrative Case Study from the South African Mining Industry. Developing World Bioethics, 7, 119-127.
https://doi.org/10.1111/dewb_151.x

[20]   Horstman, M., Aldiss, S., Richardson, A., & Gibson, F. (2008). Methodological Issues When Using the Draw and Write Technique with Children Aged 6 to 12 Years. Qualitative Health Research, 18, 1001-1011.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732308318230

[21]   Ismail, M. M., Gerrish, K., Naisby, A., Salway, S., & Chowbey, P. (2014). Engaging Minorities in Researching Sensitive Health Topics by Using a Participatory Approach. Nurse Researcher, 22, 44-48.
https://doi.org/10.7748/nr.22.2.44.e1268

[22]   Kaplowitz, M. D. (2000). Statistical Analysis of Sensitive Topics in Group and Individual Interviews. Quality and Quantity, 34, 419-431.
https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1004844425448

[23]   Kastner, B., Behre, S., Lutz, N., Bürger, F., Luntz, S., Hinderhofer, K., Bendszus, M., Hoffmann, G. F., & Ries, M. (2015). Clinical Research in Vulnerable Populations: Variability and Focus of Institutional Review Boards’ Responses. PLoS ONE, 10, e0135997.
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0135997

[24]   Kelleya, M. C., Brazg, T., Wilfond, B. S., Lengua, L. J., Rivine, B. E., Martin-Herz, S. P., & Diekema, D. S. (2016). Ethical Challenges in Research with Orphans and Vulnerable Children: A Qualitative Study of Researcher Experiences. International Health, 8, 187-196.
https://doi.org/10.1093/inthealth/ihw020

[25]   Kia-Keating, M., Santacrose, D., & Liu, S. (2017). Photography and Social Media Use in a Community-Based Participatory Research with Youth: Ethical Considerations. American Journal of Community Psychology, 60, 375-384.
https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12189

[26]   Kipnis, K. (2001). Vulnerability in Research Subjects: A Bioethical Taxonomy. Commissioned Paper at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
http://www.aapcho.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Kipnis-VulnerabilityinResearchSubjects.pdf

[27]   Lajoie, C., Poleksic, J., Bracken-Roche, D., MacDonald, M. E., & Racine, E. (2020). The Concept of Vulnerability in Mental Health Research: A Mixed Methods Study on Researcher Perspectives. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics, 15, 128-142.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1556264620902657

[28]   Lambrechts, D. (2014). Doing Research on Sensitive Topics in Political Science: Studying Organised Criminal Groups in Cape Town. Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies, 41, 249-265.
https://doi.org/10.1080/02589346.2014.905257

[29]   Leigh, J. (2015). Crossing the Divide between Them and Us: Using Photography to Explore the Impact Organisational Space Can Have on Identity and Child Protection Practice. Qualitative Social Work, 14, 416-435.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1473325014555442

[30]   Matsudaira, T. (2003). Cultural Influences on the Use of Social Support by Chinese Immigrants in Japan: “Face” as a Keyword. Qualitative Health Research, 13, 343-357.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732302250130

[31]   Merry, L., Clausen, C., Gagnon, A. J., Carnevale, F., Jeannotte, J., Saucier, J.-F., & Oxman-Martinez, J. (2011). Improving Qualitative Interviews with Newly Arrived Migrant Women. Qualitative Health Research, 21, 976-986.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732311403497

[32]   Mitchell, W., & Irvine, A. (2008). I’m Okay, You’re Okay? Reflections on the Well-Being and Ethical Requirements of Researchers and Research Participants in Conducting Qualitative Fieldwork Interviews. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 7, 31-44.
https://doi.org/10.1177/160940690800700403

[33]   Muller, A. E., & Gubrium, E. (2016). Researcher Linguistic Vulnerability. Qualitative Health Research, 26, 141-144.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732315613312

[34]   Noue, G. R., & Bush, A. (2010). Institution Review Board Rules: Should One Size Fit All Discipline? International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 5, 239-258.
https://doi.org/10.18848/1833-1882/CGP/v05i08/51833

[35]   Parker, N., & O’Reilly, M. (2013). “We Are Alone in the House”: A Case Study Addressing Researcher Safety and Risk. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 10, 341-354.
https://doi.org/10.1080/14780887.2011.647261

[36]   Peterson, P., Sackey, D., Kay, M., Correa-Velez, I., & Nicholson, C. (2017). Using a Peer Led Researcher Model to Connect with Vulnerable Communities around Health. International Journal of Integrated Care, 17, 116-117.
https://doi.org/10.5334/ijic.3177

[37]   Ryan, J. E., Smeltzer, S. C., & Sharts-Hopko, N. C. (2019). Challenges to Studying Illicit Drug Users. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 51, 480-488.
https://doi.org/10.1111/jnu.12486

[38]   Snoek, A., & Horstkotter, D. (2018). Ethical Issues in Research on Substance-Dependent Parents: The Risk of Implicit Normative Judgments by Researchers. Bioethics, 32, 620-627.
https://doi.org/10.1111/bioe.12514

[39]   Taylor, S. (2019). The Long Shadows Cast by the Field: Violence, Trauma, and the Ethnographic Researcher. Fennia, 197, 183-199.
https://doi.org/10.11143/fennia.84792

[40]   von Benzon, N., & van Blerk, L. (2017). Research Relationships and Responsibilities: “Doing” Research with “Vulnerable” Participants. Social & Cultural Geography, 18, 895-905.
https://doi.org/10.1080/14649365.2017.1346199

[41]   Wakai, S., Shelton, D., Trestman, R. L., & Kesten, K. (2009). Conducting Research in Corrections: Challenges and Solutions. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 27, 743-752.
https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.894

[42]   Wilson, E., Kenny, A., & Dickson-Swift, V. (2018). Ethical Challenges of Community Based Participatory Research: Exploring Researchers’ Experience. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 21, 7-24.
https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2017.1296714

[43]   Yiu, T. S. (2015). Methodological Reflections on Researching Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender University Students in Hong Kong: To What Extent Are They Vulnerable Interview Subjects? Higher Education Research & Development, 34, 722.
https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2015.1051009

[44]   Yoshikawa, H., Whipps, M. D. M., & Rojas, N. M. (2017). Commentary: New Directions in Developmentally Informed Intervention Research for Vulnerable Populations. Child Development, 88, 459-465.
https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12736

 
 
Top