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!