Anthropologists increasingly interview children, often as consultants for agencies working with children defined as 'vulnerable'. This panel aims to examine novel techniques for interviewing children, problematizing the idea of 'vulnerability', while exploring ethical issues.
The development of a specific anthropology of children over the past three decades means that anthropologists increasingly engage in 'structured conversations' with children (defined by the United Nations as people less than 18 years old). The advantages of listening to this previously muted group, are balanced by the difficulty some children have finding words, and sufficient confidence, to respond to adult questions. A range of techniques, such as drawings, visual stimulus, photographs, role play and puppets, has been used successfully in fieldwork with children, to minimize adult power and verbal ablities, while empowering children to share their ideas and experiences.
The ethical issues involved in research with children also require special attention, not least with children defined as 'vulnerable' by welfare agencies who employ anthropologists as research consultants. In general terms, vulnerability refers to factors, such as armed conflict and natural disaster, which might make children more likely to suffer violations of their rights, or to children who lack some basic elements of protection, such as living and loving parents. It is clear that to ask such children direct questions in interviews risks at best direct lies in response, or at worst (re)traumatization and harm to children.
This panel aims to examine the techniques anthropologists are now using to engage in ethical conversation with children during research. Papers are likely to focus on the ethical, legal and practical issues involved, and to provide opportunities for discussing and sharing experiences in this relatively new field.
Author:Kabita Chakraborty (University of Melbourne)
Paper short abstract:
In this paper I explore some of the variables scholars have to negotiate when conducting interviews with children in their everyday lives. It explores the conflicts researchers negotiate when maintaining respect for a participants’ culture, while ensuring a child’s right to participate is met. The paper showcases the importance of mixed qualitative and innovative methods in giving children multiple voices to ensure participation, and ends with a strong call for the further development of non-traditional and novel methods in research with children.
Paper long abstract:
In this paper I explore some of the variables scholars have to negotiate when conducting interviews with children in their everyday lives. Drawing on several child-centred research projects conducted in India, the paper will detail some of the methodological strategies employed when interviewing children in their everyday environments. I will explore some of the methods I have used when interviewing children when parents and other gatekeepers are present; in focus groups where the nature of the topic is considered to be risky; and in situations where children feel they need to maintain their normative identity of 'a good child'. This exploration highlights the ethical dilemmas many academics face in trying to research the lived experiences of children in certain cultural contexts. It explores the conflicts researchers negotiate when maintaining respect for a participants' culture, while ensuring a child's right to participate is met. The paper showcases the importance of mixed qualitative and innovative methods in giving children multiple voices to ensure participation, and ends with a strong call for the further development of non-traditional and novel methods in research with children.
Paper long abstract:
It is commonly argued that researches on underage participants are more demanding in terms of approaching the subject and in terms of the relationships with the research informants. Especially during qualitative approach, ethical involvement concerns the nature of developing the relationships with young respondents but also the potential effect on children when the researcher has left the field of study. Therefore for the purpose of this exploratory study on acculturation of Polish teenagers (age 12-20) the approach of working with children not on children had been taken. The shift in stress from research 'on' to research 'with' has implications for the ethical conduct of research since it emphasizes that children are competent and knowledgeable informants (Alderson1995, Seale 2004, Brzezińska and Toepliz 2007, et al). By and large existing conceptualisation on research on children focuses on their vulnerability and incompetency and treats them as objects of the research. Alderson and Morrow (2004) argue that we should move away from epistemological assumptions based on a specific formulation of the category 'child' and treat children as the social actors of research, in their own rights if we are to attempt to analyse children's experiences in social research. The research is conducted by using the qualitative multi-actor longitudinal (panel) research design. The first findings reveal that interviewing children poses many challenges: insider and outsider role combined with a uniqueness of each child and with his/her own set of experiences, sometimes very sad and burdening is demanding task to handle.
Author:Rosellen Roche (University of Southampton)
Paper short abstract:
When working with young people in areas experiencing conflict and ethnonational tension, asking questions about violence and mistrust is inevitable. This paper explores whether posing such questions in qualitative interviews could 'hurt' young subjects. Examples are drawn from over 10 years experience working with young people in Northern Ireland, and delves into medical and social literature.
Paper long abstract:
Children and young people continue to be heralded as the "reason for keeping the peace" in Northern Ireland. However, while community and government initiatives focus on plans for improving the future for the upcoming generations, researchers continually seek to qualify and qualtify this "improvement" and "change". Tracking such change in a post-Agreement Northern Ireland is imperative. However, inevitably in this process, young people face sessions with a multitude of researchers asking provoking questions. These questions often are not just about their daily activities, but circulate around how violence has affected their lives and continues to affect their lives. Consequently, subjects reveal basic facts about life in housing areas across Northern Ireland: paramilitary punishment beatings, deaths from the Troubles, and continuing sectarian hatred. And when the researchers have come and gone, what happens to these young people, walking home with each other and their thoughts following the "focus group?" This paper seeks to explore the process of qualitative investigation by examining it from another viewpoint-- that of post-interview. Drawing on personal field experience within Northern Irish housing estates for over ten years and using supporting medical literature, the author explores whether conducting qualitative sessions with children in areas of conflict and violence can do "more harm than good" for our subjects.