1st Edition

Unpacking Sensitive Research Epistemological and Methodological Implications

Edited By Erica Borgstrom, Sharon Mallon, Sam Murphy Copyright 2022
    142 Pages
    by Routledge

    142 Pages
    by Routledge

    The term ‘sensitive research’ is applied to a wide range of issues and settings. It is used to denote projects that may involve risk to people, stigmatising topics, and/or require a degree of sensitivity on behalf of the researcher. Rather than take the notion of ‘sensitive research’ for granted, this collection unpacks and challenges what the term means.

    This book is a collective endeavour to reflect on research practices around ‘sensitive research’, providing in-depth explorations about what this label means to different researchers, how it is done – including the need to be sensitive as a researcher – and what impacts this has on methods and knowledge creation. The book includes chapters from researchers who have explored a diverse range of research topics, including sex and sexuality, death, abortion, and learning disabilities, from several disciplinary perspectives, including sociology, anthropology, health services research and interdisciplinary work. The researchers included here collectively argue that current approaches fail to adequately account for the complex mix of emotions, experiences, and ethical dilemmas at the heart of many ‘sensitive’ research encounters. Overall, this book moves the field of ‘sensitive research’ beyond the genericity of this label, showing ways in which researchers have in practice addressed the methodological threats that are triggered when we uncritically embark on ‘sensitive research'.

    The chapters in this book were originally published in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology and the journal Mortality.

    1. Introduction: Unpacking sensitive research: a stimulating exploration of an established concept 
    Sharon Mallon, Erica Borgstrom and Sam Murphy 
    Part 1: Unpacking ‘sensitivity’: the tyranny of established definitions 
    2. What is ‘sensitive’ about sensitive research? The sensitive researchers’ perspective 
    Sharon Mallon and Iris Elliott 
    3. Relatively normal? Navigating emergent sensitivity in generating and analysing accounts of ‘normality’ 
    Tom Witney and Peter Keogh 
    4. Involving young people with life-limiting conditions in research on sex: the intersections of taboo and vulnerability 
    Sarah Earle and Maddie Blackburn 
    Part 2: ‘Sensitive’ Ethics in action: Research encounters and 'Whose research is this anyway'? 
    5. Reflecting on asynchronous internet mediated focus groups for researching culturally sensitive issues 
    Noirin MacNamara, Danielle Mackle, Johanne Devlin Trew, Claire Pierson and Fiona Bloomer 
    6. ‘Working together is like a partnership of entangled knowledge’: exploring the sensitivities of doing participatory data analysis with people with learning disabilities 
    Elizabeth Tilley, Iva Strnadová, Sue Ledger, Jan Walmsley, Julie Loblinzk, Paul Anthoney Christian and Zara Jane Arnold 
    7. Difficult data: reflections on making knowledge claims in a turmoil of competing subjectivities, sensibilities and sensitivities 
    Lesley Hoggart 
    Part 3: ‘The ideal sensitive researcher’: reflexivity, internalisation and the cost to self? 
    8. Internalising ‘sensitivity’: vulnerability, reflexivity and death research(ers) 
    Erica Borgstrom and Julie Ellis 
    9. Researching perinatal death: managing the myriad of emotions in the field 
    Kerry Jones and Sam Murphy 
    10. ‘Men, we just deal with it differently’: researching sensitive issues with young men 
    Martin Robb 
    11. The performance of researching sensitive issues 
    Carol Komaromy 


    Erica Borgstrom is Senior Lecturer in Medical Anthropology and End of Life Care, The Open University, UK. Her work focuses on death and dying, with a focus on end-of-life care, care delivery, and research methods.

    Sharon Mallon is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health, The Open University, UK. Her teaching includes critical approaches to mental health. Her research includes suicide prevention and postvention, and the impact of sensitive research on researchers.

    Sam Murphy is Senior Lecturer in Health Studies, The Open University, UK. Her background is in medical sociology, especially the study of reproductive loss.