Thursday, June 03, 2010

M.I.A. can respond. Uh-oh.

Just over a year ago, I blogged about Jared Diamond being sued for libel by a research participant, and I pointed out my chapter in Amy Kimme Hea's collection predicting that participants would exercise increasing power to "talk back." As I said in that chapter, current human subjects guidelines assume that the researcher enjoys an asymmetrical power relationship to the participant since the researcher has a publication avenue - a way of representing the participant - and the participant doesn't have a reciprocal way to represent themselves or the researcher. That assumption, I argued, is now false because everyone has access to publication avenues, and therefore researchers need to protect themselves by using measures that keep participants on board - such as member checks.

So over the last few days, we've seen another example (thanks to my flagger for spotting this one). Recording artist M.I.A. didn't like how the New York Times reported its interview with her, so she's done exactly what I predicted participants might do: she has disputed particular points, posting her own recording of the interview as evidence. It's fascinating, and it opens the black box of reporting in ways that were unthinkable a few years ago. She's also tweeted the cell phone number of the reporter - which seems like burning her bridges, but M.I.A. is comfortable doing this (I assume) because she realizes the NYT needs her more than she needs it.

This incident might be amusing, but it should also be a wake-up call for qualitative researchers. At the very least, use member checks. Think defensively, but also cooperatively. Don't think of these people as subjects but as gracious hosts. Be true to your evidence and give them a chance to present their own framing for that evidence. Find ways to reach detente. Oh, and read my chapter!


Douglas Walls said...

On my phone so please forgive hickups but I really like what you are saying here. Good research activity is something that should have been but certainly is now an accountabile activity a number social entities in ways that it was not before. I like that this makes us think about doing better research for all involved.

Bill said...

See also this story:

Chevron wins access to film-maker's Amazon pollution footage

US court rules in favour of oil giant's request to view 600 hours of outtakes from Joseph Berlinger's Crude: The Real Price Of Oil, a film higlighting the plight of victims of an environmental catastrophe in Ecuador’s oil-producing Amazon region

A US federal court has ordered a documentary film-maker to hand over footage relating to pollution in the Amazon to the oil giant Chevron, the latest twist in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit.

Judge Lewis Kaplan, of the district court in Manhattan, yesterday ruled in favour of Chevron's request to view 600 hours of outtakes from the award-winning film Crude: The Real Price Of Oil.

The 105-minute film sympathises with the victims of an environmental catastrophe in Ecuador's oil-producing Amazon region, but Chevron hopes unused segments will help it to fend off potential damages of $27.3bn (£17.9bn).