The role of trust and recognition in field research. Empirical data and theoretical explanations for a neglected methodological issue
Sociology Philipps-University Marburg Marburg, Germany
Graduiertenkolleg "Gruppenbezogene Menschenfeindlichkeit" Philipps-University Marburg Marburg, Germany
In the past decades a growing tendency in qualitative research towards large scale interview studies could be observed. In conjunction with the pressures of funded research the necessity to collect and analyze large amounts of interview data often leads to a reduced contact to the field. The role and image of the qualitative researcher as a person who intensively participates in social interactions in the field and establishes long-lasting personal relations to research participants is often changed to someone ?collecting data? like a poll interviewer. However, the quality of information which can be obtained by research interviewing is highly dependent on the relationship between interviewer and research subject and esp. on the possibility to establish mutual trust. An atmosphere of mistrust and concealment will obviously result in worthless data and ?thin descriptions? which fail to grasp social processes in the field. Research about sensitive topics and interviews with vulnerable research subjects suffers in particular from such a lack of trust.
In this paper we will draw on our field experiences and on data from two different research projects carried out in care homes using participant observation and interviews with residents and members of staff. We will provide concrete example to demonstrate how the establishment of trust in interview situation through a prolonged stay in the field leads to an improvement of data quality and thus can dramatically alter the understanding of interview data. Furthermore we will provide an analytic framework for describing and understanding the relation between researcher and research participants based on two theoretical approaches developed in the framework of contemporary critical theory: Axel Honneth´s theory of recognition and Juergen Habermas´ concept of discourse ethics. By framing our field experiences with these approaches we will show that research methodology, social theory and research ethics are not distinct domains, but closely interrelated.