Putting everything that is “life” aside I look at my PhD journey, the quest for finding answers. Answers to a burning question, or too many burning questions. That’s probably how every PhD journey is like. Or maybe not. To each their own.
But I am sure we all can agree, everything in life is pretty much scary and confusing and all the other things we cluster into the word complex.
Probably because things go way beyond human comprehension and language.
With all that in mind, I have been thinking a lot on why I have been really scared to dig up into my data and do the needful to push my PhD project forward. One of the answers I found while looking back at all the conversations in person, online in Aid communities and in general is.
People. Emotional. Personal.
(That’s really not an answer but..)
The simplest way to put it would be, listening to people’s stories which are very personal and very shaking. Things they say when they put their trust into you. Things they say when they share their insecurities, fears and vulnerabilities.
As story tellers, I believe, we have to ensure utmost respect to our subjects as equal human beings. Honour their humanity and dignity, yet somehow maintain their privacy at the highest level to ensure that their stories are still being told. I think that word would probably be integrity.
As a rule, I do not engage in discussions about my research, which is specifically about the Aid Industry, with Non-Aid Professionals or Researchers. Like any other industry, it is a very specific with its own set of concepts, terminology and reality. On an abstract level, well, that’s another line of discussion.
On and off, one tends to get into a territory that you get drawn into someone’s curiosity and get lost in the critical line of reasoning. Just for the sake of “talking”. And since, one is passionate about the topic, one gets emotional.
Being passionate can come off as judgemental, aggressive or just plain rude. Which is why my first principle, do not discuss the topic with people who do not work in the area. But we are all humans, and we are all inherently curious. Curiosity also killed the Cat.
I had few such encounters during my travels and it was getting tiring at one point. People like to believe what they believe. But that made me realise, that the last few discussions I have had with would be of two kinds. First kind would be people who just started to work in this industry after finishing their Bachelors/Masters (or just Voluntouring the third world, teaching English) and are trying to make sense of everything. The other kind, who are just curious about the sad state of affairs and poor people in some third world country and feel the need to do something about it.
Keeping all judgement aside, one gets in tricky waters when discussing such topics which circle around power, privilege, money, dignity etc. We all learn and see the world, through our own lived experience. To each their own.
There is plenty of advice available on “Importance of Data” or “Importance of Data Analysis” in the area of Qualitative Research and Social Sciences. But irrespective of the discipline, I imagine we all know that without looking at our data, you are never finishing your thesis.
So my data, is obviously conversations with people. Real people. Real Stories. Their Perspective. What would you do when someone shares a very sad, shaking personal story that shakes all your reality and the way you look at the world?
You get scared. You don’t want to do it. You are too scared to listen to those audio files again.
In a qualitative research class, I asked the Professor conducting the lesson on Research Methods this question. How do we do justice to the subject, the data, and the story and yet not sound like investigative journalists?
Recently, after listening to a talk from our Professor, one of the audience member asked this question. “I think investigative journalists would do a better job than (social science) researchers”. Apparently it’s a very common question, and the answer given was. The academic community has another audience to answer to, apart from the general public. The academic community, which is entrusted with the task to tear our research, assumptions, biases, limitations, representations etc. all apart. Journalists, have a different set of audience to hold them accountable. Obviously there are boundaries and people cross those boundaries, think: inter-professional in the lines of inter/multi-disciplinary.
All that gave me a little hope to address the challenge: fear!
So I went home, cooked myself a good meal, took a shower. Then I open up the folder “Fieldwork” and said, “I am ready to plunge into the pool of Data. Even though I am still learning to swim.”
“Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”