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Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2020

Page updated 29 April, 2020

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2020, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

CASE STUDY: Hiding opposing views (Donna Luff, 1999)

In practice, in my research the whole area of 'deceit' became quite intense and complex. Listening to views, nodding or saying simple 'ums' or 'I see', to views that you strongly disagree with or, ordinarily, would strive to challenge, may be true to a methodology that aims to listen seriously to the views and experiences of others but can feel personally very difficult and lead to a questioning of the whole research agenda (see Smart 1984). Whilst I learnt to deal with this discomfort, I none the less never quite shook off the feeling, well expressed by Didi Herman (1994:1415) in describing her interviews with Canadian Christian Coalition activists, of my research falling somewhere between the covert and overt: 'I was not engaging in covert research, but neither did I wish to jeopardise the project. I did not lie, but I did not tell the whole truth'.

Herman (1994:15) also adds that she felt 'uncomfortable' that her 'sympathetic tone or smile' might inaccurately convey agreement with their views. This discomfort was counterbalanced 'by an activist concern to acquire useful information, and in this sense the research resembled the covert model' (Herman 1994:15). Specific areas of discussion with moral lobby women made me similarly uncomfortable, not least the assumptions about my heterosexuality (that my understanding of heterosexuality would match theirs) and 'nodding' or saying 'um' to the attitudes that accompanied this assumption, which left me feeling as if I was 'colluding' with heterosexism and homophobia.

In my case a particular example stood out where my increasing warmth and indeed empathy towards a respondent made it especially difficult to deal with her prejudices against homosexuality. This woman's personal consideration towards me, combined with her willingness to share her increasing frustrations with her role in the home now that her children were leaving, made me warm to her in spite of her 'quite virulent' (her term) views. This instance again demonstrated to me how much one's own life experiences affect the rapport in the interview. As I noted in my research diary: I realised how easy it might be for me to 'fit in' or carry myself in these situations because my own upbringing was in an immaculately kept, middle-class home, like hers, and my mother was also a housewife who believed in the importance of this role but whose frustrations I sensed. I could therefore genuinely empathise with and relate to her even though I did not agree with many of her views.

My stance of listening and working from an exploratory model, gave the women considerable control over the direction of the conversation and I felt vulnerable to having my ideas challenged. None the less, they were faced with deciding how far to trust me on the basis of limited information, which meant that I retained considerable power in the encounter.

Adapted from Luff (1999, pp. 695, 698)


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