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Emotion, empathy and exit: reflections on doing ethnographic qualitative research on sensitive topics

By J. H. Watts


Within ethnography, observation and participation are interwoven as sociological research practice that involves watching, listening and asking questions about people’s daily lives and experiences, and the meaning they attach to these. For ethnographic researchers a close and regular engagement with participants raises both practical and ethical challenges related to intrusion, relationship boundaries and issues of ‘attachment’ on leaving the field. Research that has the added dimension of profound sensitivity may also present the researcher with the challenge of managing the impacts on them of emotional stress caused by watching people’s discomfort and suffering. This article discusses the author’s methodological reflections on an ongoing ethnographic study of a cancer drop-in centre, focusing on the ways in which emotion and empathy shape researcher-respondent rapport. An underpinning theme of the discussion is the potential for emotion deluge and fatigue on the part of the researcher and the consequent need to establish self-care strategies

Year: 2008
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Provided by: Open Research Online

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