Ethical Considerations in Biographical Research on Vulnerable People

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 08:43
Oral Presentation
Baiba BELA, University of Latvia, Latvia
Paper addresses the ethical challenges during the research on subjective experience of poverty and social exclusion, focusing on respect to dignity of research participants during fieldwork and during final stage of research - writing. Analysis focuses on research under the programme SUSTINNO 2014-2017. The project’s goals are in-depth analysis of Latvia’s post-crisis social problems, the options to overcome these problems and their impact on sustainable social and regional development. Data for this study is collected using quantitative and qualitative research methods. The biographical research is used in order to elucidate the lived experience of vulnerable persons. Twenty five life story interviews with persons representing various experiences of adversity were recorded.

The problem is that the terms ‘poor’ and ‘socially excluded’ is perceived as humiliating and stigmatizing by people in temporary or prolonged difficulties (Walker 2014) and research participants are reluctant to identify themselves as ‘poor’(Fahmy, Pemberton, 2012). In the same time, social scientists are using poverty objectification language in all quantitative research and also in many qualitative research.

At first, ethical issues addressed by students involved in interviewing will be analyzed (for instance, how to explain research aim and interview purpose without injuring dignity of potential research participants) and at second, the challenge to write about personal experiences of vulnerable narrators avoiding poverty objectification language and further discursive marginalization of research participants (for instance, how to relate to body of texts exploring poverty and social exclusion and in the same time not reproducing dominant discourse of poverty objectification). There is few excellent examples of ethical writing on subjective experiences of poverty in English, but not in Latvian - it was very difficult to find a different discourse in Latvian in the discussion about the experiences of living with limited resources and long-term accumulation of difficulties.