Empowering research? Some problems with "shifting" power relationships in research with young women

Year: 1994

Author: Harrison, Lyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper data generated by a qualitative research project conducted with three young women in Year 12 over a period of 12 months are used to explore the possibilities and the limits of empowering research.

During this project these young women discussed a range of health- related issues that they identified as being important to them. The aim of this research was to give these young women a "voice" and to take seriously what they had to say about their everyday experiences in order to make this research experience an empowering one for them. It is argued that the term "empowerment" is premised on a notion of power as property and as such it is assumed that this possession can be transferred from researcher to researched, if not merely through an act of will then at least by using the right research methods. Michel Foucault's conception of power as a network of relations exercised in and through everyday practices is used to problematise this notion of empowerment. An examination of the discursive positioning of research participants, influenced in part by their institutional locations, seeks to explore the different and bounded subject positions available to both researcher and researched in this particular context. As part of this critique the use of qualitative non-directive interviewing is also problematised.

This research process is premised on the ability of the researcher to persuade research participants to self-disclose. It is argued that the fact that researchers are not subject to the same imperative raises the question "empowering for whom?"