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Empathy as Emotion Work in Research: Study of Women Sex Workers in India

Mon, August 22, 10:30am to 12:10pm, TBA


The qualitative mode of research enables a reflexive approach to explaining the process of data collection. Such a mode entails maintaining a delicate balance between being ethical and having empathy for participants among marginalized populations whose life experiences differ considerably from the researcher. The reflexive turn in qualitative sociology and its consequent challenge to the notion of objectivity has created the space whereby it is now possible to write the researcher into the world they investigate. In fact, emotional reflexivity is a resource rather than a methodological problem. Yet emotional reflexivity can be a strain on the researcher because of the delicate balance s/he has to maintain between relating to the narrative of the participant and remaining ethical. Drawing from research on women sex workers (WSWs) in India, we examine the research process, particularly the emotion work involved in in the interview conversations for the data collection. Emotion work is conducted by both the researcher and the researched. Emotion work may compel researchers to adopt strategies for managing their feelings and focus on the work of data collection as discussed in this paper. Feeling and displaying empathy is a key component of the emotion work. Such emotion work on the part of the researcher may ease and diminish the differential power between the researcher and the researched but is never completely eliminated.


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