RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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305 Researcher Trauma: dealing with traumatic research content and places (2)
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 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
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 (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
‘Same Sex parenting is child abuse’: Trauma in Covert Research
Kath Browne (University of Brighton, UK)
Catherine Nash (Brock University, Canada)
Andrew Gorman-Murray (Western Sydney University, Australia)
Covert research has long been considered a controversial method in the social sciences, bringing to the forefront questions about ethics and the protection of research subjects. Despite such controversy, it has proven to be an important research tool, allowing for insights into often un(der)-studied vulnerable and marginal groups. Geographers, however, have not engaged with this particular method to any large extent. This paper will discuss the challenges and traumas of doing covert research by discussing covert participant observation with groups who might be considered powerful. These are organizations opposing LGBT rights in places where these rights have been ‘won’. We will draw upon our experiences as researchers doing covert participant observation on these highly visible and political groups. We argue that, the unexpected experiences for researchers as they work to maintain their cover in the field can be experienced as traumatic and unexpected, despite on-going research in the area. We focus on experiences of the ‘New Normal’ conference, where same sex parenting was equated to child abuse and discuss the ways that we felt and dealt with these experiences.
A researcher, migration actors and interpreters all on board: Coping with the emotional ride of conflict-induced migration research
Niemi Saija (University of Helsinki, Finland)
Before leaving for fieldwork to carry out research on southern Sudanese conflict-induced migration in Sudan, Egypt and Uganda, I did realize there was a possibility of getting killed but little did I understand how my research would affect myself otherwise and those participating in it. Asylum seekers and refugees I interviewed re-lived their traumas of rape, abuse, torture and seeing family members being murdered. Authorities expressed their distress for incompetence of assisting forced migrants. Interpreters, who were often refugees themselves, translated their fellow forced migrants’ stories, which reminded them of their own horrific experiences of conflict and migration. At the same time to listening to hundreds of stories of atrocious experiences, I as a researcher faced working among armed men, being at gunpoint as well as being the target for sexual harassment and stalking by non-migrants. In addition, carrying highly sensitive data with me, trying to find reliable information on safe-enough local areas for fieldwork and implementing research in unknown places added to the challenge. Which effects did my research have on the people involved and was there any way of coping with the stress and trauma? How did all this influence the research process and its outcomes? Is there anything positive that a researcher can learn and turn into strength while being surrounded by such a negative and difficult research content and environment?
Does Humanities Research Have Space For Human Emotions? Experiences of Studies of Resettlement in India
Vinita Mathur (University of Delhi, India)
Isha Kaushik (University of Delhi, India)
Research significantly affects the physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing of a researcher. The topic of emotional impact on a researcher has rarely been addressed in any Research Methodology course or text. As a matter of fact, the very concept of a researcher with emotions was abhorrent to the true scientist. But we know that there is a deep personal link between a researcher and what he or she chooses to study. We cannot ignore the emotional connectivity with one’s research topic as it ensures our effectiveness as an interviewer and as an analyst. Trauma research suggests that interpersonal relationships, predominantly the concept of compassion and emotional empathy, may possibly play a vital role in the advance of compassion fatigue or vicarious traumatisation. In working with individuals who have experienced pain, suffering or trauma the researcher may experience adverse effects similar to the subject recurrently resulting in individuals reassessing their reality and creating a new reality based upon what they have been exposed to. The present paper attempts to unfold the changes, which we researchers experienced during two case studies in India, of people who suffered the trauma of resettlement. Upon relocation, women in particular, were victims of social and economic marginalisation, alienation and even domestic violence. The impact of their narratives on us interestingly weave the story of our field experiences which tries to articulate the negative and positive implications of working with traumatised people and dealing with content which is disturbing in nature.
Discussant: Promoting and practicing researcher self-care
Christine Eriksen (University of Wollongong, Australia)
In the context of these two sessions focussing on researcher trauma, it is important to highlight that self-care is a vital everyday activity for researchers. Promoting and practicing self-care is a tool with which to mitigate the likelihood of exposure as well as the effects of trauma. To conclude the two sessions on researcher trauma, Dr Eriksen will discuss what exactly stress is, and provide simple tips and tools to assist you in looking after yourself. These tips and tools are the results of hard-won personal lessons from a decade of disaster research.