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Tijdschrift Law and Method x Jaar 2016 x

    Sensitive interviews involve emotionally difficult topics which require participants to face issues that are deeply personal and possibly distressing. This paper draws together reflections concerning how researchers manage the challenges of conducting sensitive interviews, including the author’s own reflections concerning interviewing clinical negligence claimants. First, it examines the ethical guidelines that regulate sensitive research, and the challenges of obtaining informed consent and maintaining confidentiality. Ethical guidelines, however, provide limited assistance for ensuring the emotional care of research participants, and we also consider challenges that are not usually formally regulated. These include preparing for the interview, and then ensuring the emotional care of participants both during and after the interview itself. Sensitive research also raises deeper ethical issues concerning the negotiation of relations between researcher and participant, especially when this relationship is unequal. Finally, while previous research has generally focused on the need to take emotional care of research participants, less attention has been given to the emotional needs of researchers. It is argued that support systems for researchers are too often ad hoc, and that providing support is often not a priority of granting bodies, grant holders or supervisors, and that formal systems need to be put in place.


Angela Melville
Flinders Law School, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia. Email: angela.melville@flinders.edu.au.

Darren Hincks
Flinders Law School, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia.
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