DOI link for Introduction
DOI link for Introduction
Let us begin with a bold claim: all research involves secrets and silences of various kinds, and these secrets and silences matter. That is the premise of this volume, which brings together twenty-one articles to explore the dilemmas and challenges presented by secrecy and silence in the research process. United by a shared concern to reﬂect upon secrecy and silence, the contributors discuss an extraordinary range of diﬀerent aspects of research, from the moment in which a research idea is conceived to its publication and reception by the media – and every moment in between. In the process the essays presented here trouble, unsettle and destabilise any singular understanding of secrecy or silence. Secrets may be kept from research participants or kept for them, they may be misunderstood or disclosed, may become a currency of exchange or a means of exclusion. Silence, meanwhile, has radically diﬀerent meanings dependent upon context and power and the aﬀective relations of the research encounter: one may silence or be silenced, keep silent out of respect, rage, fear or shame, or even as a mode of resistance. What emerges from this collection is a sense of the diversity of ways in which secrecy and silence are implicated in research, and the diﬀerent ways in which feminist researchers reﬂect upon this in their own practice. By highlighting this we locate ourselves within an ongoing tradition of feminist ‘troubling’ of the taken for granted in research, and hope to inspire further discussion of the ways in which secrecy and silence matter – ethically, politically and epistemologically. Feminist research has a tradition of demanding that the unseen and the
unacknowledged be made visible and heard. Early feminist work was primarily concerned with writing women’s voices into history and recording their lives and narratives. The very act of treating women’s experiences as worthy of academic research was in itself a revolutionary concept in the face of much theory by the ‘founding fathers’ of social science and generations of empirical work that assumed male perspectives and experiences were universal. Beyond introducing gender as an analytical concept in research, feminist work has played a key role in transforming the terrain of epistemology and ontology in the social sciences. It has highlighted the importance of attention to power relations in research, both in terms of reproduction of social power in
research relations and attention to potential harm to participants. The myth of the objective, neutral observer who leaves the ﬁeld without inﬂuencing the data, untouched by the research process, has been soundly critiqued by feminist social scientists. They have illustrated the messiness of social interactions and the embodied nature of research. Far from being a straightforward, clinical, easily manageable process, research inevitably presents numerous challenges at ontological, epistemological, political, ethical and personal levels. In exploring the consequences of diﬀerences in subjectivity and location,
feminist literature has transformed understandings of epistemology, methodology, subjectivity and agency in social research. Writings on gender and epistemology have problematised the positivist notion of objectivity, have highlighted how the interaction between the researcher and interviewee – especially shared empathy and rapport – aﬀects the data produced, and have reconceptualised subjectivity as an embodied and plural process. Identity categories, such as gender, ‘race’, ethnicity, sexuality and age, are viewed as signiﬁcant in the practice of research for both researchers and participants. The situatedness of the researcher and researched therefore aﬀects the production of knowledge, which has been theorised as constructed, partial and situated. Critical reﬂections on epistemology and methodology have foregrounded
notions of voice and representation. This has been particularly important in feminist research that aimed to contribute to an emancipatory project of bringing women’s voices in from the margins. Questions of who speaks for whom and about what, as well as the situatedness of the researcher and researched, constitute important concerns in contemporary work on methodology and epistemology. This reﬂexive engagement with research praxis has raised many important questions about ethics, epistemology, power, subjectivity and agency. Feminist writing has been at the forefront of this enterprise. However, notions of silence, secrecy and omission have been less often
directly examined. Research inevitably presents dilemmas, challenges and choices, which are not always explicated in writing up. Often the liberatory potential of research has been unproblematically assumed to be a linear move from silence to voice. In this collection, we trouble that assumption and explore what becomes the unsayable and the unspeakable as it relates to the research process. The complexity of human interaction often leads to diﬃcult dilemmas for the researcher, who is ultimately the person responsible for writing up the research and making choices about who to represent and how, what to omit and what to include. Our own experiences as researchers and our shared discussions about some of the dilemmas we encountered in the lived practices of research led us to the topic of secrecy and silence in the research process. The process of reﬂecting on these experiences, both individually and in discussion, inspired us to invite other authors to consider how secrecy and silence might inform research praxis.