Reflecting on research in schools: decisions and dilemmas
School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work Queen's University, Belfast Belfast, Northern Ireland
Much childhood research is conducted within a school environment, largely because of the readily available stream of potential participants which are lying in wait. However, the heavily adult-structured nature of the institution is often seen as exerting a negative influence over the research process ? an influence which any researcher must seek to overcome. This paper aims to reflect on some of the problems and pitfalls involved in researching underage alcohol consumption within twelve different Northern Irish schools. The impact of adult gatekeepers, the physicality of the research location and pre-existing assumptions of both teachers and pupils all impinge upon the data produced. However, the paper proceeds to argue that attempts to recondition the institutional environment do not necessarily engender data which better approximates to ?reality?. Crucially, the impact of the adult gaze does not start and finish at the school gates. Following on from this, the paper stresses that while the adult-child division is certainly important, this must not detract from the peer identity battles which also shape the attitudes and responses of research subjects. The concluding argument suggests that the tendency to regard the school as a setting which presents unique challenges neglects the fact that, in Goffmanian terms, different fronts and roles are adopted in contrasting situations. As such, regardless of the age of the research participants or the location of the data collection, access to an individual?s backstage self will more than likely remain elusive.