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My viewpoint on emotions in scholarly research

While perusing Pat Thomson’s blog, I came across a blog entry in which she describes what she calls “emotional research” (e.g. “research about which the researcher feels emotional about“). Pat’s post rings familiar, as I often feel a strong degree of emotion attached my own scholarly work.

Basic sanitation services for rural populations

Photo credit: Gates Foundation on Flickr

Of course I feel emotional. While most academics who read my stuff would probably call my research approach along the lines of positivist scholarship where I strive to maintain myself as unbiased and non-subjective as possible, I do recognize that there are biases that one needs to acknowledge. I learned to do this early in my career. In my training as a graduate student, I took several courses on qualitative research methods. One of the main points the professor made during his lectures was that one needed to recognize oneself’s scholarly position. This is common practice in disciplines like anthropology and sociology, although I have seen political science scholars also openly declaring their own position.

Philippines - Waste picker in Patayas, Manila

Waste picker in Patayas, Manila. Photo credit: Global Environmental Facility on Flickr

It’s no secret to anyone that I have publicly declared my own research position and what drives and fires my research focus: I strive to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. I want to see poverty alleviated and, if possible, eradicated. I want to address global inequalities and inequities. My research is driven by an intense desire to increase access to proper sanitation. Water poverty pains me and I want to help reduce it. Informal waste recyclers’ frequently face inhumane working conditions, thus making them vulnerable populations. I am interested in empowering the disenfranchised, and thus I strongly believe that my research benefits from the raw emotions that I feel whenever I am faced with, for example, the realities of poor communities with little access to water.

I wrote a little monologue on Twitter that I think complements my thoughts nicely.

I found some nice insights on this piece on qualitative methods in leadership research by Dr. Sonia Ospina (someone I consider a solid scholar) on the topic of recognizing your own position.

Posted in academia, bridging academia and practice, research.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Conditionally Accepted | Objectivity Doesn’t Exist (And That’s A Good Thing) linked to this post on April 10, 2014

    [...] as researchers is why we study what we study.  Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega recently reflected on the role of emotions in his (and other scholars’) research.  Though his work might be classified as positivistic [...]

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