Researching Marginalised Groups Symposium

It’s been a while since my last post – embarrassingly long. Full time work and a hefty commute have eaten up any available time I had to do this, but in trying to sort out my notes from some recent conferences, I took the plunge and got back on the blog-wagon. This might be interesting if you are working with either ethnographic approaches or marginalised/marginalising groups. It was a cracking day for me -organised by Professor Ross Deuchar and very inspiring – lovely people and great discussions.


This symposium gave me an opportunity to find out more about ethnographic methodologies and about a research project that had take place in the SoE. The following scholars gave accounts of their chapter in a recently co-authored book of the same title.

Marginalised and silenced voices were surfaced. Extremist groups also considered within this definition as they are ones who marginalise and we need to understand what they do and how the operate as well.

Kalwant Bhophal raised pertinent methodological questions: no matter who we are we affect the groups we research (her area of research interest is travellers and Roma communities).

How have we used the respondents?
have we unconsciously exploited them?
How do we affect the communities?
Our subjectivity always affects our research.

Research should always make a difference even if it’s small.

Ethics – compromises are sometimes necessary. Discourse is often nebulous. Needs to be more transparent – we have diverse duties in ethics:  to respondents, university, discipline.

ACCESS- this can be problematic: rapport and trust are key. I co-authored a paper on methodological difficulties  of access and participation with colleague Nighet Nasim Riaz, which is under review.

Openness and recognition of the right time to stop when dealing with students  are essential!

Member checking –  giving transcripts back to respondents to check is an important part of trust building process – before data is analysed or used. This is important especially with marginalised groups.  Reflexivity and positionality – power is dynamic, not static: it will change throughout  the research process.

Gavin Bailey: Research Associate, University of Leicester

Gavin researches extremism in a community context; he is interested in the ones who do the marginalising – the extremist groups within working class communities. His big question was – are hard to reach groups really hard to reach or are the just hard to hear?

What happens if the residents association in a community  happens to be run by BNP ACTIVISTS? Where does that leave the researcher? How might trust be understood by other oppositional participants?

Extremism and how it is conceptualised in research: community as a key analytical object.

Stereotypes are dominant representations of these extremist groups- see Jeremy Paxman interview Nick Griffin: the way demonstrations are represented in media is always as confrontational.

Being on Paxman – this is not being marginalised , this is mainstream media- doing the marginalising. The doer of the marginalising and the subject of the marginalising- needs to be broken down a bit.

GB’s study avoided the public representation of the extremist groups as portrayed in media and focused on what they do in their day jobs; the extremist groups are the unit of analysis . Beware the focus on the spectacular groups- counter terrorists focusing on different groups who actually do violence: are they unreformable? Is that why they are ignored?

Activists have chosen to become activists – lots haven’t, but are still in the dynamic geographies of danger of otherness. In this paradigm the research starts with these places. But often activists drive into performing activism and drive away assumptions that are being recreated – seek and you will find.

Stigmatising communities: some objects become indicators of extremism- we know what it looks like and where to find it – so they think anti fascist or anti racist- what was the question again? Is it part of this older debate of extremes? Where is the concern with white middle class attitudes and actions, exemplified so ably by certain print media? Why is this mainstream and not seen as extremism? You know which papers I mean!!

Try the implicit association test – see link.

Tiago Neves

This I found really challenging. Tiago completely overturned my assumptions about researching people and asked lots of awkward questions like – are these extremist groups really hard to reach? They are easy to reach  compared to bankers, about whom very little research is done!

Ethnographic work – is it non intrusive or the most intrusive?

You study people – that’s ugly! To put them under the microscope , intrude in their lives is disturbing. We go into places we don’t know much about and try to make sense of what they do. Maybe we should make sense of out own lives?! Intrusion can cause deception – the definition of impression management, which we need to do in research is ‘the work of successfully staging a character’ (see Goffman). In ethnography we intentionally create a character in order to pry into people’s lives- that’s the ugly bit of ethnography: it can blur the divide between a social encounter and a sociologically useful encounter.

The naturalism of the ethnographer is an artificiality. What is reciprocity ? – an illusion? Who reaps the benefits of our research, or should we base this relationship on something else? Tiago sees this as a relational quandary. There are different motivations to do research: What can we do? – get real – no person is perfect so no researcher is either.

Get real – there will always be betrayal, hands will get dirty.

Get ample – write about all our experiences, keep the  detail as context sensitive accounts of ethical matters as they pose themselves in the field.

Emiliano Grimaldi

Positionality, symbolic violence and critical ethnography.   Foucauldian influences. Experienced uneasiness- chapter draws on critical moments reflecting this in two research projects. Foucault – power and knowledge are mutually constitutive.

Fieldwork has an inherently political nature – symbolic violence is inherent in fieldwork? Every time we engage – esp with marginalised groups – we exercise symbolic violence. See chapter on symbolic violence. This author gave a worrying account of some researchers’ interview data with Roma groups in Italy. Their responses were counter-indicative to the researchers’ expectations, and the manipulation, constant rephrasing, rewording, reiterating on the part of the researchers was blatantly driving at a pre-determined conclusion which the participants were making it very difficult for them to arrive at it. A lesson in interviewing.

Stephen Locke

This was the least helpful presentation for me – it was lacking a bit of coherence, although it was on an interesting question of giving a face to those we study. Should we be protecting identity or giving a voice? What are the barriers to making visible those who are invisible, and how seriously do we take this ethical question – does protecting identity deny voice and agency to some respondents?

Questioning the IRB ethics boards:

Institutional control of knowledge/ legalistic nature of IRB/ conflicting ideas of informed consent: these are represented differently in north south divide between USA and South America. As an illustration of this in reviewing ethics guidelines, the US took 130 pages to explain their guidelines compared to 13 pages for Costa Rica and they were mostly concerned with science.

Am I more or less ethical after this?
This symposium has extended my knowledge and interest in ethnographic approaches, and certainly raised some very probing ethical questions . My area of research interest is teacher professional learning. I’m not sure how easy or relevant ethnographic approaches are to this subject area, but the ethical questions raised here are valid for any methodology involving people.


Gold’s typology of participant observation 1958
Ross Deuchar
Hammersley on ethical absolutism.


About catrionao

I'm a lecturer at UWS and a PhD student at Stirling University, studying a school based practice of teacher professional learning.
This entry was posted in Disadvantage, Ethics, Impact, innovation, Methods, PhD and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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