Intimacy in the Research Process Methodological and Ethical Implications of Examining the Psychosocial Dynamics of Sexual Risk Behavior in Biographical Peer Research

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: Booth 60
Oral Presentation
Phil LANGER , Social Scienes, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Germany
Sexuality is regarded as a highly sensitive topic for empirical research, especially if tabooed and stigmatized issues are at stake and sexuality is conceptualized as a constitutive part of one’s biography. In general, peer research that is aimed at exploring life worlds as an “insider” is seen as a privileged way for researching sensitive issues because it can facilitate field access, enhance trust and openness, and play an empowering and de-stigmatizing role in the field. However, peer research on sexuality poses considerable methodological and ethical challenges that must be taken into account if the potential of peer research is to be utilised.

The paper draws on a peer research project on sexual risk behaviour of gay and bisexual men in Germany. Based on a biographically oriented approach 58 narrative in-depth interviews were conducted by an HIV-positive gay researcher. In the peer interviews subtle dynamics of a sexualisation of the researcher occurred that focussed on the researcher’s sexuality and his sexual biography.

The paper addresses methodical ways of dealing with phenomena of sexualisation and effects of intimacy in the research encounter, the interpretation of such data and its implications for writing-up and publishing the respective findings. Referring to psychoanalytic concepts of inter-subjectivity and counter-transference it argues for reflexively bringing in into the research process one’s own sexuality as a researcher as a means for a deeper understanding of the production of sexual life stories in the interview situation. The double-bind of being researcher and perceived peer that may lead to exploitations of the interviewee’s fantasies of sameness call for the integration of ethical considerations about reflexivity, power relations and responsibility as an integral element of the methodology of biographical peer research.