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Reflexivity in 'sensitive' qualitative research: Unfurling knowledge for nursing


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Sensitive research presents particular challenges for the qualitative researcher because it involves topics that are stressful and may cause emotional pain for both the participants and researcher (McCosker & Berber, 2001). This paper presents challenges I have experienced in researching with registered nurse participants, who like me, had cared for a dying family member in palliative care. The research was inspired by my curiosity about what it was like for other nurses living within their family and community as a nurse and how they managed the complexities caring for a dying family member brought to their lives.

Face to face interviews with these nurses made me aware of the participants’ vulnerability, and my own, in sharing experiences about loss and bereavement. As the interviews progressed I realized how much I shared the participants’ culture; linguistically, relationally and experientially (Harper, 2003). While shared identities and experiences give qualitative nurse researchers particular skills and insights (Leslie & McAllister, 2002), my relationship to the topic, and with the participants, had to be made explicit in writing up the research. The term reflexivity describes this process of explaining how the researcher’s experience has influenced the research.

As the research progressed I realized that I was having trouble asking the ‘hard to ask’ questions in the research interviews. Counselling, undertaken as part of the ethics approval for the research, reflected my own words and actions back to me. It allowed me to see how the idea of vulnerability and a desire to avoid harm had preoccupied my thinking about the participants. I was turning the audio-tape off the moment participants became distressed and backing away from exploring sensitive issues.

Reflexivity involves being able to think critically about the self and others, with a robust and open curiosity about how we find ourselves situated in events and interpret the behaviour of other people and ourselves (Coles, 1992). It creates deeper insight and understanding of what it means to be a researcher by facilitating awareness of the effects of my own actions and values in gathering data and making decisions in the research (Harper, 2003).

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Reflexivity, sensitive research, vulnerability, nursing, research interviews
Subjects: R Medicine > RT Nursing
Divisions: Schools > Centre for Health & Social Practice
Depositing User: Patricia McClunie-Trust
Date Deposited: 13 Sep 2011 04:51
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 02:35

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