The too hard basket? The politics of researching, culture, religion and sexuality at school.

Year: 2012

Author: Allen, Louisa, Rasmussen, Mary Lou, Sanjakdar, Fida, Quinlivan, Kathleen, Aspin, Clive, Bromdal, Annette

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This presentation engages with the methodological politics of researching at the intersections of culture, religion and sexuality in schools. It draws upon experiences garnered during an on-going, two- year Australian Research Council Discovery Project. The project team is comprised of a group of ethnically and religiously diverse researchers from Australia and New Zealand with a commitment to working together to better understand how students from different religious and cultural backgrounds experience school based sexuality education. Our own cultural and religious diversity is integral to our organic methodological approach, and hopes for working together in ways that are respectful and equitable. The presentation will explore the struggle to hold onto these methodological desires in the face of institutional pressures in the schools and institutions we work in which effectively dissolve them.

The aims of this presentation are three-fold. Firstly, to illuminate some of the challenges involved in conducting research in schools at the intersections of culture, religion and sexuality. These difficulties will be explored in relation to gaining access to school sites, participant recruitment and the nuances and complexities of voluntary consent. The second, is identifying discourses of fear and anxiety which congregate around research which dares to link sexuality with culture and religion and shape it in particular ways. How to implement a methodology which respects the cultural and religious diversity of its research team and that of its participants, in the face of regulatory institutional practices is the final area traversed.

The presentation contributes to thinking about the methodological limits and possibilities of conducting research into areas deemed as 'controversial' and 'volatile' as sexuality, religion and culture. It also engages with notions of ethical integrity and how these might be stymied by external institutional forces ironically charged with upholding standards for ethical research (Halse and Honey, 2005). It is hoped that this discussion will be of particular benefit  for those interested in working in diverse research teams, focusing on controversial issues across cultural and religious divides.