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'Joking apart...': a 'processual' approach to researching self-help groups

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It is well known that 'feminist research methodologies' reject the traditional and positivistic insistence on detached objectivity, favouring instead a situated and empathic responsiveness to particular research contexts. In practice, however, interviewees often have a justifiable interest in maintaining a communicative distance between researcher and researched, thereby retaining a degree of control over the research process. Although the nature and function of this communicative distancing change over time it may (initially at least) emphasize the boundaries between the respondents' 'insider' and the researcher's 'outsider' status. This phenomenon seems especially pertinent where those researched comprise a tightly knit group with shared interests and experiences such as self-help groups for those suffering from specific disabilities. This paper reflects on my own experiences interviewing agoraphobic women members of two such groups in Central Scotland and discusses the manner in which humour acted as an indicator and facilitator of these changing communicative distances. It concludes that a processual methodology is required in circumstances where managing the research process is often as much a matter of coping with as directing change.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-06-01

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