Emotion and the Researcher: Sites, Subjectivities, and Relationships: Volume 16

Cover of Emotion and the Researcher: Sites, Subjectivities, and Relationships

Table of contents

(19 chapters)

Part I: Reflexivity and Research Relationships


Purpose – Occasionally, we find our social roles transitioning from friend to researcher. This chapter is a reflexive account of one such transition. The author examines the emotions, the concerns and the rewards and stresses of this shift in her relationship with individuals and community.

Methodology/Approach – The author moved to Arviat, Nunavut, in 2004 and gradually found her inner sociologist could not be contained. Through a process of consultation with the Inuit community in which she was residing, she transitioned from the role of friend to that of researcher. This was complicated by her social location as a Western outsider who had been accepted as a community member.

Findings – Reflexivity is a key component of mitigating the challenges which arose and pursuing ethical research, as well as managing the dynamic range of experiences and feelings which emerged during this process.


Purpose – This chapter explores the strategies and tactics employed by researchers when dealing with emotionally challenging situations, both in the field and in academia in general.

Methodology/Approach – It draws on a qualitative longitudinal project investigating how recent Polish migrants from cities that are rather homogenous in terms of ethnicity and religion make sense of, and come to terms with, the much greater diversity they encounter in German and British cities. The project adopts a mixed-methods approach that includes social network analysis, focus groups, creative methods and in-depth interviews.

Findings – Moving beyond the inside–outsider binary in qualitative research, the authors reflect on their management of conflicting feelings about what happens in research situations. The authors discuss interview situations they found particularly emotionally challenging and the different ways they supported each other during and after fieldwork, for instance, when faced with situations in which research participants say things that are racist, Islamophobic, homophobic, xenophobic, classist or misogynist. They reflect on their use of electronic media, especially email and messenger applications, as tools which not only allow them to unpack the emotions that emerge in fieldwork, but also enable them to collaboratively reflect on their own positionalities in the field.

Originality/Value – The chapter argues that face-to-face and virtual interactions with colleagues can create spaces of care, self-care and solidarity. These relational spaces can form integral support systems for researchers and help them to deal with both the emotionality of social-science research and the wider emotional labour of academic work.


Purpose – This chapter will discuss how the positional self and prior experiences can influence the emotional self within the research journey, for example, being a sibling and losing a sibling. It explores the researcher’s emotional experience when working with children and their families, with a specific focus on the influence of the researcher presence and the sibling equilibrium.

Methodology/Approach – The chapter draws on the dramaturgical social interactions encountered in qualitative research which explored the experiences of siblings living in the context of cystic fibrosis. The study uses narrative inquiry and creative participatory methods to elicit sibling stories and provides insight into their worlds.

Findings – The chapter reflects on specific situations encountered on entering, engaging in and leaving the field, which had a significant emotional impact. Two sibling vignettes will be presented along with a discussion of how reflective metaphorical expression can be applied as a method of processing and coping with the research context.

Originality/Value – The chapter argues that the positional self and prior experiences can influence the emotional self within the research journey, and that reflective metaphorical expression can be used as a strategy to process thoughts and gain greater understanding of a situation as well as to provide an emotional release for the researcher. It also suggests that conducting research over a longer time period, as opposed to one visit, can be beneficial in terms of participant and researcher emotional transition.


Purpose – This chapter explores the significance of emotional exchanges between historians and their research participants in the production of critical histories of the late twentieth-century British women’s movement. It argues for the importance of exploring the ways in which positive emotions, including feelings of excitement, reverence and commonality, influence the research process and potentially complicate historians’ capacity to produce histories that critically assess popular narratives of the development of the women’s movement.

Methodology/Approach – This chapter draws on qualitative assessments of my own experiences carrying out oral history interviews with women’s movement members to explore the emotional exchanges that take place during the research process. It utilises several historiographical concepts, including being a ‘fan of feminism’, discussions about historical subjectivity and oral history debates about empathy, to reflect on my emotional responses whilst carrying out research.

Findings – This chapter demonstrates that positive emotional exchanges between historians and their research participants influence the production of critical histories of the women’s movement. It highlights how historians’ personal identifications with their areas of study impact on their emotional engagement with research participants, potentially complicating or contravening their wider historical aims.

Originality/Value – Several historians have explored how negative emotional exchanges with research participants influenced their production of critical histories of the women’s movement. By focusing on the influence of positive emotional exchanges, this chapter provides an original contribution to this area of reflexive discussion, as well as wider assessments of historical subjectivity and researcher empathy.


Purpose – This chapter explores the relational and emotional lifeworlds of qualitative interviews. The chapter documents the ways in which I have negotiated the sharing of traumatic accounts without being able to fix or repair their causes, and how I struggled to listen to recollections without trying to appropriate, accentuate or ameliorate their affective resonances.

Methodology/Approach – The chapter focuses on one case from a four-year study with mothers and their daughters in a marginalised area of South Wales, UK. The study drew on visual and creative methods of data production, including mapping, collage, photoelicitation and timelines, which were accompanied by in-depth elicitation interviews.

Findings – The chapter illustrates the usefulness of reflecting on emotions to understand the communication of trauma, and its emotional impacts on research relationships both within and beyond the field.

Originality/Value – The chapter builds on earlier work that has attempted to consider in detail the nature of the interaction between researchers and participants. It argues that psychoanalytically informed frames of analysis can engender a more nuanced understanding of the relationality and emotionality of qualitative research; particularly when topics are hard to speak of and hard to bear.

Part II: Emotional Topographies and Research Sites


Purpose – This chapter critically engages with a positively oriented emotional reflexivity with the aim of improving inclusivity in bereavement research.

Methodology/Approach – The heartfelt positivity methodology intentionally creates positivity through the everyday practices of academic research. In this chapter, emotional reflexivity is guided by the heartfelt positivity methodology to identify and learn from collaborators’ emotions. It focuses on collaborators whose involvement in the academic community falls beyond that of the immediate research team at different stages of bereavement research.

Findings – The emotions of collaborators involved in bereavement research have been overlooked, yet their inclusion reveals a significant potential for the sanctioning of bereaved mothers’ potential participation in bereavement-focused research or breastmilk donation programmes. Key learnings that may be applied to conducting future bereavement research are (i) the potential for collaborators to also be bereaved parents (ii) the continued need to strive for the inclusion of bereaved parents in research and (iii) to extend the methodological principle of emotional reflexivity to include research collaborators when researching emotionally sensitive topics.

Originality/Value – This chapter argues that bereaved mothers’ knowledge and practices of thriving in hard times can either be fostered or derailed at different stages of the research cycle depending on which narratives frame human suffering. For researchers and collaborators, emotional reflexivity is crucial to inclusive research practices and knowledge translation.


Purpose – This reflexive account of bilingual research on rural household energy consumption within the researcher’s home community problematises her position as an insider researching ‘at home’. The chapter introduces the idea of the ‘transient insider’ as a way of better explaining her position, before going on to consider the ways in which fieldwork becomes bound up with emotionally and intellectually taxing professional and personal dilemmas.

Methodology/Approach – The study involved conducting repeat in-depth interviews with 11 households (25 individuals) – both together and apart – in rural north-west Wales.

Findings – The chapter illustrates the importance of paying heed to one’s own emotions during the research process – particularly those that may be uncomfortable – as a means of better understanding our own positionality as researchers and its role in the co-creation of interview data.

Originality/Value – The chapter builds on earlier work that has engaged with the role of emotion and subjectivity in shaping the research process and extends these discussions by examining the complexities involved in holding the position of the ‘transient insider’.


Purpose – This chapter reflects on selected issues raised by the emotions involved in the social relations of qualitative research. We use experiences from two separate studies to explore the role of emotion and affect in the embodied, face-to-face encounter of the interview; the ‘translation’ of interpretations of emotional responses from one cultural context into another; the reflexivity of the researcher and the researched and the ethical implications of this form of research.

Methodology – The studies, one doctoral research and one funded by a Leverhulme grant, took a qualitative approach, employing individual semi-structured interviews with young people in Zambia and women in their fifties in Swindon, UK.

Findings – The chapter argues that emotions within the interview are bound up with the potential meanings and outcomes of the interview to both the researcher and the interviewee. Emotions affect what is said and unsaid in the interview; what is communicated and hidden and how the material is interpreted.

Originality/Value – The chapter brings together experiences from conducting highly emotive research in majority and minority world contexts. It focuses on similarities in the dilemmas posed to researchers by the emotions involved in the social relations of research, regardless of location.


Purpose – Drawing on a study of data extracts ‘mined’ from the Internet without interaction with the author, this chapter considers the emotional implications of online ‘participant absent research’. The chapter argues that researchers should reflexively consider the ways in which data collection techniques framed as ‘passive’ actively impact on researchers’ emotional lifeworlds. Consequently, it is important to ensure that researchers are adequately prepared and supported.

Methodology/Approach – The data introduced in this chapter were constructed around a single case study. This example documents an incident where a woman was asked to leave a sports shop in the UK because she was breastfeeding. Not allowing breastfeeding within a business is illegal in the UK, and this case resulted in a protest. The study involved an analysis of user-generated data from an online news site and Twitter.

Findings – Drawing on field notes and conversations with colleagues, the chapter explores the value of reflexivity for successfully managing researchers’ emotional responses to disturbing data during the process of analysis.

Originality/Value – Whilst the role of emotion is often considered as part of ethnographic practice in studies utilising face-to-face encounters, it is underexplored in the online domain. This chapter presents, through a detailed example, a reflective account of the emotion work required in participant absent research, and offers strategies to reflexively manage emotions.


Purpose – The chapter explores the development and impact of the Museums Victoria’s exhibition World War I: Love & Sorrow, which aimed to present an honest, graphic and challenging account of the experience and effect of World War I on Australian society. The paper describes the exhibition content and uses a range of methodological approaches to study its emotional and other impacts.

Methodology/Approach – A range of evaluation methodologies are used: visitor observation and summative evaluation collected in the months after the exhibition opened, and quantitative and qualitative studies produced in 2017. Comparative assessment of a large sample of visitor comments cards was also undertaken. The more recent evaluations focused particularly on emotional impacts.

Findings – The research finds that emotion is central to the success of the exhibition: underpinning the exhibition concept, guiding the research process and selection of interpretative approaches, and shaping visitor response.

Originality/Value – The emotional aspects of museum work have received relatively little attention, and few studies focused on the evaluation of visitor emotions have been published. The chapter uses a case study to highlight the role of emotions in museum exhibitions and historical interpretation, argues for more central place for emotions in historical enquiry, and addresses concerns about subjectivity, authenticity and evidence.

Part III: Subjectivities and Subject Positions


Purpose – This chapter details the collaborative investigation of a neuroscientist and a literature scholar into whether reading literature increases empathy in health professionals, pre-health professionals and students outside of health care. It also reflects on the role of different epistemologies that inform researchers’ approaches, and muses on how ethnicity, sexual orientation and class inform research and teaching

Methodology/Approach – Students watched or read Margaret Edson’s play W;t and were asked if the medical drama increased their sense of appropriate empathy in medical encounters. The original research employed the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy, electromyography and galvanic skin response to measure physiological markers of empathy. These results were then compared to the self-reflection of participants to determine whether or not the physiological responses mirrored the self-report. The reflections on how emotion impacted the research were primarily narrative essay-based accompanied by feminist other literary theories.

Findings – All participants in the original study reported an increase in empathy after reading or viewing the play. This affect was even stronger when they viewed a live performance. The researchers determined that the role that their ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and class needed further study, perhaps with different pieces of literature.

Originality/Value – This chapter reflects the interdisciplinary and epistemological challenges of two researchers from very different backgrounds and training and investigates the relationship between reading, physiological empathy and perceptions of empathy. It considers the difficult and controversial challenges to quantifying emotions and the role emotions play in academic collaboration.


Purpose – This chapter reflects upon my experiences as a PhD researcher examining the portrayal of multiculturalism in contemporary Welsh- and English-language fiction about Wales. It discusses my emotions regarding my identities as a second-language Welsh speaker and as an early career researcher, and how they affected my participation in this field.

Methodology/Approach – The chapter draws on my PhD research, which examined how different cultural groups were portrayed in fiction as ‘others’ due to Wales’s complex linguistic and cultural position. This involved analysing contextual research about multiculturalism in Wales to explore discourses of belonging and alienation. This chapter reflects upon my emotional responses to the field as a Welsh speaker and new academic, and how this in turn affected my research.

Findings – Embracing my changing relationship with my Welsh-speaking identity, I reflect on how my research touched upon contradictory feelings I had about the Welsh language and Welshness. I discuss the effects my changing feelings over time about linguistic hybridity, and my growing confidence as a young academic, had on my engagement with different texts and writers. This is discussed in light of the relationships I was able to form with some creative authors and academics in Wales’s close-knit literary and scholarly society.

Originality/Value – This chapter argues that confronting their own emotional engagements with their research topics enables researchers to better understand why certain subjects are so contested. It can also prepare researchers to communicate their ideas effectively in the difficult debates that arise around such subjects.


Purpose – This chapter reflects on the importance of being reflexive as a socio-legal researcher whilst seeking to address the practicalities, challenges and methods of being reflexive during the research process. The chapter demonstrates ‘doing it’ by reporting on the use of an internal dialogue of the researcher’s feelings and choices during research encounters to reflect on the status of insider knowledge in the interview process. It also charts the unexpected emotional reactions of participants, and in doing so, highlights the challenges of reflection in and on everyday practice as a physiotherapist.

Methodology/Approach – The research reported here was an empirical ethics study using in-depth interviews and the voice-centred relational method as practical means of doing and being reflexive.

Findings – The chapter sheds light on the role of emotion in the research process, the author’s emotional position as researcher and the unexpected emotional reactions of participants.

Originality/Value – The chapter presents a practical method of reflexivity in qualitative research and considers the personal and ethical issues that arise during the research process from the competing perspectives of both insider and researcher. The key lesson learnt is the importance of reflecting on ethically important, and at times uncomfortable, moments in the research process so that other researchers can learn about the ‘how to’ of reflexivity and reflexive writing.


Purpose – This chapter represents a dynamic cycle in a collaborative inquiry conceived some six years ago. The aim of this study is to share some of our reflections, tensions, questions and uncertainties in positioning our own emotional responses as legitimate research data.

Methodology/Approach – We adopted a collaborative second-person methodology within an action research framework in the process of inquiring into our own practice as systemic psychotherapists and women.

Findings – We offer reflections on the positioning of emotion as researchers, tutors and psychotherapists. We discuss three themes from the emotional landscape of the inquiry, research process, research product and gendered voices, in anticipation that they will connect with and be useful to other researchers.

Originality/Value – The chapter introduces our sense-making framework for reflexively exploring the salience of emotion in research. It argues that attenuating, listening and responding to the emotions we feel as researchers both serves as a guide to inquiring into critical social constructs and engenders opportunities to promote social change.


Purpose – This chapter explores my responses to Carolyn Steedman’s Landscape for a Good Woman (1986) as a historian and an educated working-class woman and considers the ‘blind spots’ in some commentary on the book. The aim of this study is to unpick understandings of subjectivity, class and education in certain kinds of academic text.

Methodology/Approach – The chapter draws on a qualitative analysis of works of history and cultural studies and reflections on the author’s own emotions and experiences.

Findings – Education and class are equally important in the experiences of educated working-class people, but there are considerable difficulties in communicating these different aspects of selfhood and in ensuring they are understood.

Originality/Value – ‘Autobiographical histories’ as a form, and the use of the first person in contexts where it is not usually accepted, provide new possibilities of identification and knowledge for marginalised peoples. ‘Vulnerable writing’ therefore has a political purpose.

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Studies in Qualitative Methodology
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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