Tag Archives: silence

"…the silences of research…": power dynamics of access in feminist research

This looked quite interesting.  SSRN has the abstract, but Sage Journals Online has the full text, here.   While it appears that other papers by the same group of authors (Hoyle, Bosworth, & Dempsey from Monash University, Oxford & Villanova) communicate the research findings, (the study was designed to find out “ from the women themselves, whether and why some were “rescued” in high profile police actions and offered temporary admission to the United Kingdom, whereas others languished in immigration removal centers and prisons, detained and incarcerat–ed for false documents or prostitution-related offences. How had these women survived? Who had helped them? What had they experienced?”),  this paper takes on methodological issues in feminist research, focused on institutional partners.  It’s quite an interesting read,  a careful exploration of the various reasons different agencies (NGO’s, service providers, state agencies) offered for denying access to the women who had been trafficked – essentially stymieing the research project.

The authors write:

The agencies working with them may have been right to worry about the risk of revictimization and query whether the value of academic research is worth the risk—but ironically, in so doing, they themselves may have further silenced the very women whose stories need to be understood.

Having to tell the story is, certainly, in some contexts, described as a revictimization – but this is usually because the story is not believed or supported.  These researchers had experience in similar kinds of interviews .  More surprisingly, “we faced skepticism not just from criminal justice employees but also from the voluntary sector. Perhaps most confounding of all, those with whom politically we felt most aligned were wary. Feminist activist research, in this context, had little purchase. Rather, case workers and advocates were clearly anxious that we would revictimize the women they were assisting.”

Part of the point appears to be how changing feminist positions have rendered feminist researcher uncertain allies for some NGO’s.  Even after reading the article (forgive me, since i’m doing this on a family event holiday, in a hotel room with children and 60 assorted relatives about the place), I wasn’t quite sure how to read this paragraph:

If academics are to obtain access to victims of trafficking,  then they need to persuade victim advocates to trust them. Whereas once, this might have been a straightforward feminist matter, one that women scholars and policy makers could agree on, the decades of dispute over consent and coercion in prostitution and victims services, have taken a heavy toll. Part of the work that needs doing, in other words, is a political one: a more open discussion from all sides over the nature, causes, and effect of sexual violence and prostitution.
So, too, our experiences on this project suggest that it may be necessary in some research to devise a series of publications, some of which are not purely academic.
Perhaps, we could have been more persuasive if we had been able to offer the organizations something more useful
than a set of scholarly articles.

Lots to think about in terms of the why of what is known at my institution as “knowledge mobilization”, but also about the status of academic research.  NGO’s, producing their own work, aren’t always interested in allowing researchers (an unknown, unfettered quantity) in, and state organizations, for different reasons, aren’t either.

Here is the abstract::

ABSTRACT:  This article exposes methodological barriers we encountered in a small research project on women trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation and our attempts, drawing on feminist and emergent methods, to resolve them. It critically assesses the role of institutional gatekeepers and the practical challenges faced in obtaining data directly from trafficking victims. Such difficulties, it suggests, spring at least in part from lingering disagreements within the feminist academic, legal, and advocacy communities regarding the nature, extent and definition of trafficking. They also reveal concerns from policy makers and practitioners over the relevance and utility of academic research. While feminist researchers have focused on building trust with vulnerable research participants, there has been far less discussion about how to persuade institutional elites to cooperate. Our experiences in this project, we suggest, reveal limitations in the emphasis on reflexivity in feminist methods, and point to the need for more strategic engagement with policy-makers about the utility of academic research in general.

Finally, it is always great to read an article which delves deeply into a “research failure” and derives important questions and ideas from a seeming defeat.  Grad students, take note!

via Researching Trafficked Women: On Institutional Resistance and the Limits to Feminist Reflexivity by Michelle Dempsey, Mary Bosworth, Carolyn Hoyle :: SSRN.

Dempsey, Michelle Madden , Bosworth, Mary and Hoyle, Carolyn, Researching Trafficked Women: On Institutional Resistance and the Limits to Feminist Reflexivity (November 1, 2011). Qualitative Inquiry, Vol. 17, p. 769, 2011; Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2011-21. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1961745 (yorku subscription link here)