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Academic strangeness as uncomfortable reflexivity and academic reflexivity as uncomfortable strangeness in higher education

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  • Tine Fristrup
  • Charlotte Tulinius, Royal College of General Practioners, United Kingdom
  • Bibi Hølge-Hazelton, Region Zealand, Denmark
This paper builds on experiences gained in relation to a PhD course which dealt with researchers’ reflexivity and understanding of their own contribution to the research process by focusing on the vulnerability of the subjects involved: the subject researched and the researcher.
The paper briefly describes the strategies used to plan, deliver and evaluate the course, but the main emphasis is on the learning taking place as a consequence of working within this area and using these strategies in the educational setting.
Having participated in and studied academic and peer supervision for many years, we had a growing concern for young empirical researchers studying vulnerable subjects without any kind of attention, supervision, or education to strengthen their skills with regard to handling issues of vulnerability among their researched subjects as well as within themselves.

All three authors knew of young researchers who were clearly uncomfortable when preparing fieldwork or conducting interviews among cancer patients, people with disabilities or traumatised refugees, for instance. We could not find any academic training options that addressed the issue of how to develop good strategies to handle this vulnerability. Young researchers seemed predominantly to be left on their own with their insecurity and uncertainty, emotional responses that in our own experiences as researchers of vulnerability call for good strategies to develop some kind of reflexivity. Consequently, we decided to develop a five-day course, focusing on vulnerable research subjects, research participants and researchers.

All five teachers and facilitators knew each other, the three authors through research collaborations and because they had been part of the same academic supervision groups for a decade. Our aim for the course, as teachers, was to create ‘an academic zone of comfort’ at the course, something we had been deprived of ourselves as young researchers. Our insistence on continuous reflexivity regarding the uncomfortable in order to develop academic reflexivity among the students created uncomfortable academic strangeness among several of the students, but also among ourselves as teachers and facilitators.
We have been inspired by the work done by Ruth Behar (1996) on becoming a vulnerable observer and the work done by Pranee Liamputtong (2006) on researching the vulnerable. Both approaches involve a critique of conventional objectivity, looking for alternatives to the distanced, impersonal mode of presentation in order to produce texts with more passionate individual voices. In order to develop a reflexive framework for academic learning processes when researching vulnerable subjects in qualitative research, we follow Pillow’s notion of the relationship between qualitative research and reflexivity (2003, p. 179):
If traditional measures of validity are not useful to qualitative researchers, then what are we left with to discuss and determine whether our data and analyses are “accurate?” Thus, reflexivity becomes important to demonstrate one’s awareness of the research problematics and is often used to potentially validate and legitimize the research precisely by raising questions about the research process.

Our aim in this paper is to explore the processes and dynamics that took place during the course in order to elaborate an approach to reflexivity that will embrace the juxtapositions in the educational setting as a balance between comfortable and uncomfortable reflexivity. In this sense “resistance” becomes a productive condition in the educational juxtapositioning by unfolding the discomfort as uncomfortable reflexivity.
Based on our experiences before, during and after the course, this paper will present an analysis of the appearance of academic strangeness as uncomfortable reflexivity and academic reflexivity as uncomfortable strangeness in higher education.
Translated title of the contributionAkademisk fremmedhed som ubehagelig refleksivitet samt akademisk refleksivitet som ubehagelig fremmedhed i forskeruddannelsen
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe stranger : on the understanding of, and socialising with, the stranger in a globalised and constantly changing world
EditorsSøren Nagbøl
Number of pages24
Place of publicationEmdrup
PublisherDanish School of Education, Aarhus University
Publication year2015
ISBN (print)978-87-7684-750-0
ISBN (Electronic)978-87-7684-748-7
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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  • Videregående uddannelse

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