Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tea Reception, Workshop #2, and Feminist Research Methods

Last Sunday was fantastic - it was so cool to meet WomenNC alums and supporters and get the chance to talk with them over tea. I left feeling inspired (and with several new contacts and book recommendations).

After the reception, we moved on to our second workshop, where we discussed such topics as paper logistics, techniques for reaching out to potential partner organizations, and the nuts and bolts of advocacy research.

For me, though, the most interesting workshop segment was our discussion of feminist research methods. Feminist research is fraught with ethical dilemmas, many of which revolve around the issues of informed consent and the possibility of causing harm to research subjects.

This week's reading elaborated on some of these dilemmas, including the importance of recognizing differences in lived reality - the notion that individual variations in personal background (including race, social class, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc.) should be taken into account when attempting to understand a group's experiences.

Because the other fellows and I are exploring complicated and contentious issues in marginalized communities, many of the points brought up in our reading for this week were directly relevant to the work we'll be doing through the CSW program.

Particularly important, I think, is the practice of reflexivity - examining how our own backgrounds and biases can influence the research we do.

There's a surprisingly significant body of research on the ethics of research with sex workers. Though I've just started to delve into the literature on this subject, I've noticed several recurring themes.

Many of the articles I've read note the challenges involved in designing ethical, nonexploitative research projects with sex workers. One challenge is the difficulty of finding a representative sample. Because membership in a 'hidden population' like this involves oftentimes stigmatized or illegal behavior, concerns regarding participants' privacy and confidentiality, too, are paramount in protecting sex workers' rights.

I just got ahold of a book called "Ethical Research with Sex Workers: Anthropological Approaches," a slim volume published in 2013 that provides a comprehensive overview of the ethical issues faced by contemporary sex work researchers, as well as specific 'best practice' recommendations for those seeking to conduct their own ethically sound research. Because it was written by researchers who have spent years conducting ethnographic fieldwork with sex workers, it should prove incredibly useful in helping me to articulate the goals of my project and develop a solid framework to conduct ethically aware research.

It was a little terrifying to realize that our next workshop won't be held until after the rough drafts of our papers are due, but I am so, so excited to get started.

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