Reducing or Reproducing Inequalities? Ethics and the Researcher's Role in Negotiating Power Relations Between Young People

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 9:30 AM
Room: F204
Oral Presentation
Vicky PLOWS , The Victoria Institute, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia
A key concern of youth research is the ethical issues that arise through the inherently unequal power relations between adult researchers and young research participants (Brooks 2013, Matthews 2001). However, less attention has been given to the ethical dilemmas that arise for youth researchers when confronted with negotiating their own role in witnessing and responding to unequal power relations and oppressive behaviours between young people during the research process.  We know little, for example, about how youth researchers respond to racist, sexist or homophobic behaviour (Curtis et al 2004) or negotiate the exclusionary practices of young people towards each other (Morris-Roberts 2001).

For youth researchers concerned with and committed to challenging issues of injustice and exclusion and/or to adopting a non-authoritarian role with participants this can be particularly troubling (Morris-Roberts 2001). Ethical dilemmas involve the choice between two or more alternative actions all of which may test an ethical belief or cause some potential harm (Banks 2010).  Reflecting on some of my own experiences of ethical dilemmas, as a participant observer in a Scottish youth club over a 12 month period, I analyse the basis of my reactions, actions and inactions to potentially harmful, exclusionary and oppressive behaviours between young people and how this connects with broader theorisations of young people’s agency and conceptualisations of challenging interactions.

Like others, I advocate for ongoing reflexive engagement with ethical issues as they emerge in the research journey (Sime 2008) and for openness about the everyday ‘messiness’ and ‘sense of failure’ that commonly occurs with qualitative research practice (Horton 2008). I show how engaging with these processes aided my research development and analysis of the project data, as well as the implications of these ethical dilemmas for a social justice research agenda.