RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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275 Researcher Trauma: dealing with traumatic research content and places (1)
Affiliation Geographies of Health and Wellbeing Research Group
Convenor(s) Christine Eriksen (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Danielle Drozdzewski (University of New South Wales, Australia)
Dale Dominey-Howes (University of Sydney, Australia)
Chair(s) Christine Eriksen (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 119
Session abstract We all ‘do’ research, but in ‘doing’ research, we rarely spend time thinking about the outcome of that research on our own emotional well-being, let alone on our writing and analytical research practices. In the context of broader institutional pressures and inadequate attention to self-care within the academy, we frequently keep ourselves, and our emotional responses, separate as a matter of practice.

As researchers, we are taught to remain vigilant about the ramifications of our research and subsequent methodologies on our participants. University ethics approval processes contain specific clauses about the potential for research to cause trauma to participants, and the measures required to mitigate and or remedy such trauma. Yet, seldom are we prompted to consider how our research topics, methodologies and subsequent work affect us as researchers. What are the impacts and outcomes of working in traumatic research environments, or examining stressful and distressing research topics?

While some research on secondary traumatic stress within clinician-orientated disciplines exists, within geography – a discipline whose research thematic is broad and multiple – there are few tools given or taught to us for dealing with especially traumatic research experiences.

Building upon a thought-provoking session at the 2016 AAG Meeting, the objectives of this Session are to:
• demonstrate how as researchers we think about, but do not always necessarily come to terms with, our experiences researching in traumatic places and with traumatic content
• provide a place to devote to encounters into the traumatic; a place where they can be the feature events of the presentations, and not merely sentences embedded within methods sections
• promote critical reflection on our own research practices that involve traumatic experiences for us as researchers and
• identify a set of guidelines, best practices, tools and materials that can be used by researchers to help them prepare prior to and reflect upon their experiences in the field of traumatic research
References: Special Issue of Emotion, Space and Society on Researcher Trauma, Vol.17, November 2015.
Linked Sessions Researcher Trauma: dealing with traumatic research content and places (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Reflections on experiences with researcher trauma: implications for professional practice
Danielle Drozdzewski (University of New South Wales, Australia)
Dale Dominey-Howes (University of Sydney, Australia)
In this paper we reflect on several years of professional work focused on the topic of ‘researcher trauma’. As Geographers, we have been engaged in long-term programs of research dealing with traumatic content, people, places and events (namely survivors of war and the Holocaust and natural disasters). Critical self-reflection, collaboration and discussion with colleagues and friends enabled us to realize we have been experiencing ‘assemblage’ of trauma symptoms that had impacted our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. As difficult as this has been, it enabled us together with colleagues, to explore the breadth, deep and commonality of researcher trauma and to begin to identify mechanisms for coping and to develop a set of guidelines for researchers, their supervisors and institutions to consider when embarking on traumatic research. Here we share some of those lessons learned.
Speaking Through Silence: Mapping Researcher and Respondent Relations
Bashabi Gupta (Delhi University, India)
Conducting research on gendered violence that is often imperceptible creates shifting locales of experiences. The difficulty arises even more when the entire story is told in a sequence of silences. How does one understand silence? This paper is based on such silent data on reproductive histories and rights of women in Western Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in Northern India. Silence shrouds gender violence in terms of reproductive rights of women in these regions. The conversation is about the violence that women experience as sex selective abortion. Gendered dualities exist but always in conjunction with other discourses of family, religion and generation where the centrality of each is enclosed and reflected in and through mirrors of the others. The focal point in addressing such issues are the power dynamics that usher radicalized social relations inscribing familial and social modes of subjectivity and identity. This paper argues that the researcher is not a disconnected stranger in the field; that it is important to appreciate the interplay of issues of reflexivity, location and power relations in the field in order to understand silence. Moreover, the researcher is also a part of the trauma being narrated as most of this work is through collection of narratives based on participatory methods in fieldwork. There is a double bind of guilt that the researcher faces in representing and the experience of the participation of the helplessness and trauma. How such dilemmas are faced and can there be a resolution of such issues in research is significant portion of the paper.
Researcher Trauma: A PhD Candidate's Perspective
Sandra Astill (James Cook University, Australia)
Human geographers understand the importance of stating one's ontology and epistemology when developing a research project. PhD students are all too familiar with these terms, with their importance emphasised constantly by supervisors and supervisory panels alike. Yet, the inexperienced and unprepared disaster studies PhD student naively proceeds, completely unprepared for any change in their world-view, which inevitably alters and matures as they engage with those whose lives have been changed forever following a natural disaster. This scenario is further complicated if the student was also affected by the same natural disaster, which can lead to the resurfacing of their own suppressed emotions while interviewing impacted participants who openly recall raw feelings of fear, loss and anger. Researcher trauma alters ontologies; confusion reigns and the typical feelings of doctoral isolation are amplified. Ethics considerations only extend to the participants, with little or no regard to the well-being of the researcher, be they experienced academic or inexperienced new-comer. Advice sought from supervisors typically falls short, as the student fumbles to explain their shortcomings, fearful that their work to date may have been compromised, leading often to students further suppressing their emotions for fear of being accused of being subjective and sympathetic. Such was my PhD experience. There are questions that for me remain unanswered: Is researcher trauma typical for those for those who study traumatic environs and their citizens? Has the focus of other PhD students become the provision of a platform for affected participants to voice their fears, experiences and anger, rather than simply fulfilling the student's academic goals? And finally, does the PhD journey of those who study disasters typically become a cathartic experience for the researcher upon which to confront one's own fears, losses and anger? These questions remain unanswered, yet this call for papers provides hope that others might provide a pathway to solutions.
Christine Eriksen (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Summary reflections and group discussion on the issues of researcher trauma