Presenting and representing others: towards an ethics of engagement

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Pickering, Lucy ; Kara, Helen (2017)

The ethics of research representation are rarely discussed. Yet representation can have a significant impact on research participants and audiences. This paper draws on some of the limited body of accounts of ethical challenges experienced in representing others in qualitative research. These accounts make clear that researchers often have to choose between ‘competing goods’ when representing others, such as participant control over what is presented and how, researchers’ ‘interpretive authority’, and how to represent participants’ speech. These decisions frequently involve researchers choosing between ‘literal’ (empirical, evidence-based) and ‘real’ (authentic, experiential) truths. To resolve these dilemmas, some researchers are turning to creative methods of representation, such as poems, songs, plays and dance. Like all forms of representation, these methods require compromise: in particular, some detail, depth, or location may be sacrificed in return for accessible engagement with participants and wider audiences. Conversely, traditional methods of presentation may sacrifice some scope for engagement and accessibility in return for greater detail and depth. We argue that such sacrifices are a necessary component of all forms of qualitative representation and consequently require a reflexive approach to choices about representation. It is this reflexive approach which we argue constitutes an ethics of engagement.
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