Learning from the Research Process: Discussing Sensitive Topics as a Cultural Outsider: Gary Manders & Sarah Galvani
This paper explores the sensitivities and cultural complexities of engaging in research about substance use with a Sikh Punjabi community in England, from the perspective of cultural outsiders. The objective of the research was to explore the feasibility of developing a Community Alcohol Support Package (CASP) within the community, where existing alcohol service provision was felt to be limited, using ethnographic research methods. Tensions between a strict religious prohibition against drinking and a cultural acceptance of a heavy drinking culture created the conditions for the research and its particular challenges. This paper reports on the process of conducting the research and the transferable lessons for social work teaching and practice. Two key methodological challenges are highlighted together with reﬂections on how they were addressed: ﬁrst, the problem of engagement and negotiating access to the community in focus; second, the challenge for outsiders of tuning into the socio-political context of the community and the power dynamics within it. Overcoming these challenges required high levels of sensitivity to the concerns of the community, while maintaining research integrity, and demonstrable openness and honesty in the course of developing research relationships. The lessons for social work education and practice are discussed.