Researching the Vulnerable
Sage Publications, London
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Influenced by a difficult childhood inside a marginalised migrant family in Thailand, Prainee Liamputtong has attempted to discuss the methodological, ethical, moral and practical questions regarding the research on 'vulnerable people'. The book is therefore presented as a first attempt to explore how to work with people at the margins of the society, putting together the salient issues for the conduct of 'sensitive research' within layers of population that encompass new opportunities, but also difficult dilemmas to the researcher.
Across eight chapters, the author has tried to fulfil a particular set of questions, like what makes the researching of vulnerable social groups different than researching other groups, how would researchers ensure that their research processes will not further marginalise the vulnerable, how to carefully plan the safety issues before encompass the research, the selection of the research methods or how might their vulnerabilities prevent researchers accessing research sites and undertaking their research. At first, the concepts of vulnerable population (all the 'hard-to-reach' and 'hidden populations' that include the deviant, the tabooed and/or the marginalized people in a society) and sensitive research (the research conducted through vulnerable populations, a research that can itself pose threats and create vulnerability to the researched, requiring extreme sensitivity) are presented, under arguments based within a feminist and postmodern theoretical framework. The former paves the way to discussion about the representation of the research, while the later is presented as an activity to clearly improve something and play a somehow useful role in everyday life. The reliance in qualitative methods is explained by their fluidity and flexibility, which makes them especially appropriate to hear the voices of those who are constrained by the dominant social order.
The particularities of conducting the sensitive research are then presented, focusing in moral and ethical issues, the procedural sensibilities, or even the idea of the researcher itself as a vulnerable individual that has to seek also for the best strategies to its own protection. Some traditional and appropriate qualitative research methods are scrutinized, primarily as mechanisms to capture the richness of human experience, but also explained through their role in the sensitive research. However, the original contribution of the book comes from the innovative and alternative research methods that are explained in detail. Although subject to criticism in many spheres, some researchers tend to think of the photographic method, the drawing method, diaries, art-based research or online method as valid tools. Also the writing of the research findings can be fulfilled under new conceptions, like a autoethnography, a short story and fiction, a performance and staged play, to name a few. More than building new theories, the main goal is to transmit research findings, using alternative forms of representation and those forms are not consensual. As one can infer, this sort of approach poses many questions and it has been under the criticism of many from a more conventional academia during the past years.
Discussions about methodology are recurrent around the so-called 'soft' sciences, demonstrating the relatively young presence of such disciplines in the academia. Pranee Liamputtong has offered a well organized, clear and accessible work in Researching the Vulnerable. Some of the current difficult issues in qualitative research methods have been presented and analyzed in order to favour a possibly sensitive research. The author has placed together many contributions under a well defined objective. Therefore, this book can offer very good guidance to the postgraduate student who is willing to focus in qualitative research methods, but also to an experienced researcher who may consider testing out its procedures or eventually is attempting to put into practice innovative qualitative research procedures. Thus, people at the margin are unfortunately a growing part of every society. Consequently, this sort of discussions may prone to more relevant Social Sciences.
Faculty of Economics, University of Coimbra, Portugal