638.4 Changing practice? Reflecting on participatory qualitative research in diaconal ministry

Saturday, August 4, 2012: 9:54 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Andrew ORTON , School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom
The diaconate in many Christian churches is located at the interface between these churches and wider societies.  However, this role is often heavily contested, both within and between denominations, and it can be controversial in a range of ways.  These include, for example, in the ways it connects churches with wider societies and advocates for individuals who are otherwise marginalised, its relationship to issues of gender in ministry, etc.  This presentation will reflect on the experience of conducting participatory qualitative research into the diaconate within one particular denomination, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, and the methodological issues such research can raise.  Within such research, traditionally-recognised challenges (such as managing insider/outsider dynamics) can combine in complex ways with additional challenges of researching practitioners’ perspectives within multifaceted organisational and historical contexts.  These are further complicated by the ethical and interdisciplinary challenges of engaging critically with participants’ practical theological reflection in ways that may stimulate changes in their practice.  Furthermore, the very process of conducting and writing up such research can have an impact on the practitioners involved, and can itself trigger further methodological debates about the interpretation of findings.  Key debates include the relationship between these personal perspectives and the perspectives of others, including the normative perspectives ascribed to by the denomination as a whole.  In response to these issues, the presentation will explore the reflective engagement of the qualitative researcher when using these methods.  This reflective engagement includes considering how the ethics of research impact become an integral part of the researcher’s involvement in such work.