Finding willing research informants is a concern for every doctoral researcher, thank god for it! What a contradictory sentence this may seem. But had I not known the component I have highlighted, I would have thought it is only me (and moped about ‘poor me’!). In a sense, it is great to have a mentor who can placate your fears that you are not a lone wolf facing the abyss alone; all lone wolves who do qualitative research continue doing that as part of their work- from the time research was invented 🙂
The first time I had to deal with people as ‘research participants’ and I had chosen to study mental health on my own, without guidance, without any reality check, without a real framework- I encountered this phenomenon – of capriciousness. Back then, in 2012, people would promise to be part of the research and at the last minute- back off. Or back off mid-way, or back off after meeting me and hearing about it.
It was a great setback , for I also took a lot of it as personal rejection. Oftentimes these people would be known to me for long. Now that I am doing a phd research, a position which in fact establishes my research more seriously, there is not much difference- known people outright slamming the door in your face, or not responding to emails or backing off after saying yes once, or not responding to their phones. I am time and again toying with the reasons behind this apathy. Is it mere caprice?
“her caprices made his life impossible”
synonyms: whim, whimsy, vagary, fancy, notion, fad, freak, humour, impulse, quirk, eccentricity, foible, crotchet, urge More
Or is it a rejection of me, or a rejection of putting themselves out there -in front of a ‘stranger’, an outsider or someone they have not known too long or too close?
Of course research is a long winding road and experiences continue to mount- but this hesitation to talk about their mental suffering for the purpose of research has made me inquisitive about the phenomenon this silence points towards.
Here are a few of my guesses why people do not want to talk about themselves to a researcher/me (a certain kind of researcher)
We Indians are incredibly secretive about our lives. Talking to someone about an area which invites great stigma is something they do not want to deal with or possibly even admit.
As in someone like them has recovered, while they themselves are subjects of research. Feeling powerless that they have to ‘surrender’ their stories for an outsider’s gaze and scrutiny
Why should she? Who the hell is she?
Why should she grow at our expense? What do we get out of this? She is getting a degree but what about me?
Or is it plain jealousy, which is a part of our human mind?
So how does one read this sort of a message, that I received in the wee hours of the morning today …(the spellings and grammar are copied verbatim)
Hi P…mam, Sorry about my late responses…Please don’t take that as ignorance or arrogance but at this point I am just a little overwhelmed with Work pressure and too many tight schedules.
If you don’t mind I would like to bowout of the research program for the moment while I can manage and fix the other things in life. I hope you will understand and we can meet sometime…I miss talking to you as its always a great enlightening experience listening and learning from your advise.
I admire your patience and capability to understand people from much higher perspective, hope we can discuss more soon. Thanks a lot Mam.
(I was quite heart broken to read this actually, and had tears in my eyes. I feel so tired sometimes in managing so many sides of life, research, my ill dogs, my own pains and fatigue, household chores, and of course music-new compositions, students, research and whatnot)
I would love to write this off the above WhatsApp message as bullshit…but can i really? People suffer so deeply in their lives that their own meaning and day-to-day existence is a struggle. May be I would just forget this person and move on.
Many years ago, when I had finished doing my data collection he had met me and told me that if ever I do research in future, he would be interested in participating. People just talk I think- to stick to your word, takes another sort perhaps.
It is perhaps a time to reflect inwardly and acknowledge people’s suffering as something real, therefore worthy of empathy – and not just a personal affront to me.