Keeping faith in troubled times

By Wendy Stainton Rogers, July 2020

Last month I found myself in a weird situation. It had taken me some time to make the final corrections to a paper I had had accepted (by Feminism & Psychology). I had written it under what we now call ‘normal’ conditions, and here I was, ‘shielding’ myself while working within the  Covid 19 + #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) situation. The world had changed profoundly, and I realised the paper needed to change too.

The day before I submitted it I found myself frantically writing a list[1] of ‘ten top tips’ for doing research that encourages us to respond to the exceptional times in which we have to re-build our lives. Let us, while we are at it, rebuild a much better health psychology. So here it (shortened and modified)is:

Ten tips for doing research that will help us rebuild health psychology

  1. Start with an open mind. If so far you have only used one method/form of analysis, explore a fuller range of possibilities. Actively seek out the scholarship of indigenous and minority researchers and theorists. Recognise the limitations of a colonised mind-set.
  2. Make your research genuinely participatory. Work with the people whose health and wellbeing you are aiming to improve. Dismantle hierarchies of expertise – challenge assumptions about whose knowledge is the most valid and valuable. Recognise, respect and include expertise gained through experience.
  3. Design your research project in solidarity with relevant activist organizations. Recognise the importance of community collectiveness to health, and work with local communities who will know when you are getting things wrong and what you are getting right.
  4. Do not begin a study with the research method and fieldwork already ‘mapped out’. Begin instead by thinking carefully about what you and your co-investigators want to achieve, and spend time carefully pinning down your research question(s) before you chose your methodology.
  5. Be brave and inventive. In critical health psychology we should not aim for objectivity or narrowly focus on ‘the issue’ as we understand it. Consider novel ways of collecting data and interpreting meaning and salience. Do not analyse data, be shameless and interpret it. But do so wisely and respectfully.
  6. Act ethically. Never do ‘dirty’ research. Never engage in scientific surveillance on already marginalized communities. Consider and consult about whether you are acting ethically at every stage in your project. Celebrate your successes but also work on developing humility.
  7. Don’t tell a single story. (see TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2009). Enrich your representations of Others with whom you research so that you and your audience know them as people, not sources of data.
  8. Be ‘inconclusive’. Publish multiple interpretations of your findings, and offer them not as ‘the answers’ but a set of readings and/or suggestions. Encourage feedback and debate.
  9. Produce provocative outputs. Don’t just publish in academic journals. Create varied products that have impact, such as videos, radio shows, blogs, community leaflets, performances. Use social media wisely and with great care
  10. Resist the pressures to conform as far as you can within your capabilities and limitations. Go out and do the research you believe in and care passionately about. Seek kind mentors and smart allies.   

I write this as a highly privileged British woman who recognises her coloniser heritage and linguistic imperialism. The list is intended as the beginning of a conversation, from which I hope to learn a lot.

[1] I was inspired by a paper by Michelle Fine (Fine, M. (2011). Troubling calls for evidence: A critical race, class and gender analysis of whose evidence counts. Feminism & Psychology, 22(1), 3–19). She has allowed me to steal from it with grace and encouragement). It’s a paper well worth reading.

About the author

Wendy Stainton Rogers is spending lockdown in retirement, still enjoying only doing the academic work she wants to. Her latest book Perspectives on Social Psychology: A psychology of Human Being, deserves a plug here (it’s her blow against neoliberalism). As someone who is clinically vulnerable, she will be spending maybe a couple of years being shielded by kind people until it’s not too risky to go out. There are rumours that she is planning to write a critical health psychology book to keep her busy while confined to home.

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