In this special section, five experienced qualitative researchers who study emotion-laden topics (healthcare professionals who treat cancer, women at end of life, sexual assault victims’ experiences with the criminal justice system, the mental health of sexual minority parents, and African American women suffering from infertility) explore the ways in which their own emotional responses to their research topics and participants affected them personally and professionally. This exploration is dual and bidirectional in that we examine both the ways in which our participants and topics elicit emotional responses in us and the ways in which our own emotional and personal development affected the way we conducted research, and responded to our participants. Together these five papers challenge the reader to think critically about a vast array of subjects, lives, and realities. These include the qualitative research trajectory and the role of emotions and the body in our projects, about how, why, and whether we choose to document these emotional and bodily processes in our final publications, and finally, about what an inclusive, embodied, emotional, and integrated field of psychology might look like if we demanded a more holistic approach to doing and documenting the messy realities of our research in our academic journals.
Qualitative fieldwork can be emotionally challenging for researchers. In this article, I reflect on my experiences conducting a mixed methods, multidisciplinary action research project with stakeholders in Detroit, Michigan to address the problem of thousands of untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) in that jurisdiction. To understand how and why police decided not to submit these kits for forensic DNA testing, my research team and I reviewed archival police records, interviewed law enforcement personnel, and conducted ethnographic observations over four years. Such in-depth engagement in research is bound to stir complex feelings, and in this article, I explore three touchpoint moments of intense emotionality that challenged traditional assumptions about the role of emotions and advocacy in social research.
Although social portrayals of infertility often draw images of high-income, White couples seeking medical interventions, African American women with infertility typically remain invisible. Relying on a theoretical framework of intersectionality, I conducted a qualitative study to examine how African American women, from different socioeconomic classes, cope with infertility. In this article, I examine the emotional aspects of conducting this research and the process of interviewing 50 African American women about their experiences with highly personal, emotionally-charged reproductive difficulties. Here, I specifically review the emotional journey that accompanied this research at different stages of the project, from its very beginning, including the decision to conduct a study, through the method and analyses (sample recruitment, data collection, and interpreting results) to writing and publishing the findings. Themes of silence and breaking silence are explored as a framework for understanding the process of bringing emotionally difficult material to light – for both participants and researchers.
In this paper, I cross-hatch the theories of ‘affective transmission’ in the research process and the ‘transnational optic’ to explore how my emotional life has both been affected and affects my qualitative research projects as a result of a new geographical, political, cultural and social environment. To achieve this aim, I use examples of identical qualitative research studies conducted in Canada and Israel on oncologists’ experiences of patient death to explore and describe the differences in affective transmission because of my location. I use my experience as a bicultural qualitative researcher to develop a theory I call the ‘transnational affective kaleidoscope’ that I argue is a central component of conducting binational and local qualitative research. This theory includes three components that I describe in detail: (a) intersubjectivity, (b) the moral and political gaze, and, (c) structure of feeling. I conclude by giving concrete examples of how other qualitative researchers can put this theory into practice in their own research studies.
In this paper I reflect on an important and infrequently discussed aspect of qualitative research: listening. Listening is often imagined as easy. It is however, is a difficult skill that not only takes practice, but also comes with possibilities and challenges for a researcher. In an effort to develop and elaborate a practice of listening in a research context, I develop the idea of vulnerable listening and offer three scenarios from my own research. These include: (a) emotional dangers associated with listening, (b) the often unacknowledged role of the listener’s body, and (c) the role of extreme emotions in research, such as feeling outraged. Drawing on my own experiences interviewing women diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, I highlight how researchers who collect data by listening might care for their own and others’ vulnerability. Towards this end, I outline several strategies for researchers looking to support and maintain a practice of vulnerable listening.
The benefits and challenges of insider positionality have been much written about in relation to qualitative research. However, the specific emotional implications of insider research have been little explored. In the article, I aim to bring the literature on insider positionality to the study of emotion in qualitative research through a reflection on my experiences as a ‘total insider’ conducting interviews for a longitudinal qualitative study examining mental health during the transition to parenthood among sexual minority women. On the basis of this experience, I highlight emotion-related benefits and challenges of my insider positionality, as they pertain both to the quality of the research and to my personal experiences as a qualitative researcher. In particular, I examine the potential benefits of my insider positioning for establishing rapport and my capacity for empathy, and the personal emotional growth and learning that my insider positioning made possible for me. With respect to challenges, I examine how my emotional investment in the researcher-participant relationship influenced my role as a research instrument, and discuss the difficulties I encountered in managing appropriately boundaried relationships and making decisions about self-disclosure. I close by highlighting promising avenues for further exploration of the emotional implications of insider research, from the perspectives of both researchers and participants.