Ethical dilemmas encountered in researching sensitive issues

Year: 1994

Author: Rowling, Louise

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Data gathering through repeated in-depth interviews on sensitive issues such as HIV/AIDS, grief, and child abuse poses ethical dilemmas for the social researcher. These arise from the interaction of the self as the chief instrument, the interpersonal context of the interview, and the sensitive nature of the topic. Recent qualitative research on loss and grief in school communities will be used to exemplify the dilemmas encountered. These included: the ontological beliefs favouring a collaborative approach to research, brought to the research by the researcher; the spontaneous intimate self-disclosure of participants; the acknowledgement of interviews as a form of intervention in people's lives; the dilemma of maintaining distance in interviews, but also developing rapport; the clash of the various "I's" the researcher brought to the research process; and the impact of the emotionality inherent in the research topic.

Mechanisms for coping with these dilemmas will be presented, including the use of a research journal as a form of debriefing and the development of trust in the research process by the return of interview transcripts.