‘A Friend Who Understand Fully’: Notes on Humanizing Research in a Multiethnic Youth Community

Mar. 31, 2011

Source: International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Vol. 24, No. 2, March–April 2011, 137–149.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Through participant observation and interview, the researcher’s efforts must coincide with the students’ to engage in critical thinking about the problems and issues of interest as both the researcher and participants seek mutual humanization through understanding.
Working from a 2006–2007 study of language, literacy, and difference in a multiethnic high school and youth community, the author provides examples fieldwork moves youth and him made together. The author looks to understand these moves as humanizing for both the participants and him as a researcher.

Humanizing research is a methodological stance which requires that our inquiries involve dialogic consciousness-raising and the building of relationships of care and dignity for both researchers and participants.

The author will attempt to provide a description of how his field methods allowed him in small ways to ‘understand fully’ and, in even smaller ways, ‘to inspire’ the youth in his study, to humanize through research rather than colonize by research.

Humanizing through fieldwork

Participant observation and interviewing have long been deemed the key methods of ethnographic and qualitative fieldwork in the social sciences.

‘How Jamaicans look’: sharing understanding and self in the ethnographic interview Interviews remain at the center of our work as qualitative, ethnographic, and social language researchers. Researchers attempt to gain an insider understanding through talking with participants about their past, present, and future worlds. However, the author resists the notion that researchers who sharing about themselves during interviews attains less genuine and valid responses.
In many research contexts, the researchers must share of themselves as they ask people to share of themselves. This is especially true when the researchers are asking their participants to share things that are close to the heart, private, and sometimes painful.

The author argues that in order making the interview humanizing means, in part, looking to make it a more humane interaction – one where both parties are willing to share about the problems of interest as both parties, researchers and participants, explore those problems in the search for understanding and voice.

E taalo au basketball [I play basketball]: the participation in participant observation
Learning about cultural and linguistic worlds from participants means being a participant observer at times, an observer at other times, and a participant at still other times.
The author claims that when he was sitting in the back of classrooms jotting down fieldnotes,
he was primarily an observer, whereas when he was playing basketball at the community or school gym he was primarily a participant. In each of these circumstances, he was gathering understanding, but his role as a member of the activities shifted throughout his research.

Toward humanizing inquiry

The author's relationships with the participants were strong and each of them told the author explicitly that they learned much from their time together, that they enjoyed the process of research with the author. The author also remains connected to many of their lives, since humanizing research does not end when the study does.

For many researchers, relationships of care and dignity and dialogic consciousness-raising during the research make far greater an impact on participants and on the community.
However, the author concludes that researchers can be friends with their participants. Researchers can, in small ways, come to understand. Researchers can inspire their participants as they inspire the researchers. Researchers can humanize through the act of research.

Updated: May. 16, 2012