Respectful, responsible and reciprocal ruralities research: Approaching and positioning educational research differently within Australian rural communities

Year: 2012

Author: Brown, Alice, Danaher, Patrick

Type of paper: Refereed paper


Rural Education SIG

It is incumbent on all education researchers to interact appropriately with participants in their projects. This is certainly the case with research conducted with members of rural communities, who are often positioned as marginal and othered in relation to residents of urban centres. From this perspective, researchers have a responsibility not only to conduct and report research about significant contemporary issues but also to do so in ways that promote the educational, physical and sociocultural health and wellbeing of rural residents.

One approach that is helpful in framing and facilitating effective and ethical rural education research projects is centred on ensuring that researcher-participant relations are respectful, responsible and reciprocal, predicated on the shared principles of CHE (connectivity, humanness and empathy). This approach derives from a strengths-based paradigm that eschews deficit discourses about supposedly marginalised groups in favour of more enabling and productive narratives.

This paper illustrates the appropriateness and utility of this approach to researching ruralities through a comparative analysis of two separate research projects involving rural residents in different parts of Queensland, Australia. One study investigated the approaches taken by selected rural families to enhancing the physical movement opportunities and experiences of their young children. The other explored the formal and informal learning aspirations and outcomes of members of mobile show or fairground communities whose itineraries pass through a succession of rural towns. Both projects were qualitative case studies that sought to understand education from the perspectives and based on the voices of the respective participants, in order to address broader research questions about educational provision for and access by Australian rural communities.

Each study mobilised data gathering and analysis techniques that aligned with and implemented the CHE principles. These techniques included ice-breaking strategies, organising interviews on familiar territory and seeking to establish a balance of power between the researcher and the participants. The paper highlights ways in which the researchers, despite approaching and positioning educational research differently in their respective project, worked to maximise the outcomes accruing to the participants. This maximising is a pre-requisite of educational research that provides mutual benefits to participating communities and that builds on their ruralities respectfully, responsibly and reciprocally.