A few days ago I posted on the “research innovations” of a phenomenological psychosis/unusual experiences study we’ve just launched. As is probably obvious from that post, in theory I’m totally committed to the democratization of research & the unsettling of the power-knowledge hierarchies usually operative between ‘researchers’ and ‘participants/informants’….
Yesterday, however, a prospective ‘participant’ reminded me of how difficult more robust democratization actually is. Would, she asked simply, the study’s ‘participants’ have access to the data? (Their own data, at a minimum? Others’ data?) Who, that is, actually ‘owns’ the narratives we’ll be collecting?
Not incidentally, community vs university research ownership & management is something I’ve already written about (see, e.g., this forthcoming book chapter). It’s always much easier to propose ‘radical’ innovations, however, than it is to figure out how they might actually “work” in the messy context(s) of a concrete project.
The phrase “the community,” for starters, is obviously little more than an empty abstraction. Thus even COMR (community owned and managed research; e.g. here) projects in fact privilege certain community groups (presumably those with the most resources & which likely involve their own internal power-knowledge hierarchies) over others, and (to my knowledge) still essentially ‘purchase’ other (less powerful?) community informants’ “raw data,” de-identify these informants, and then transform their narratives (or quantitative data points) into ‘their’ own/owned argument(s). Although progressive groups often do employ some form of “community validity check,” I’ve never heard of a team actually changing a core finding because of critical feedback. (And often, the unspoken power hierarchies are so clear, that more disenfranchised community members don’t even bother with it.)
Second, there are complex issues related to human subjects protections and institutional review. (E.g. the requisite “pre-specification” of all individuals who will have access to project data & questions of who does or doesn’t need to formally “consent” to what.) The question of non-academic “research” uses is also complex; what “rules” apply to community co-researchers who have no interest in academic publications but want access for the purposes of, for example, a literary project or protest piece?
Finally, the issue of intellectual property grows even murkier (at least here in the States) given the rules and contingencies of different funding streams, institutional ‘rights’ tied to the provision of space & resources & faculty salaries, and the often ambiguous role of the many different forms & loci of other (paid or unpaid) ‘labor’ involved.
I really wish that there were more open public discussions of these & related issues (whether in conference spaces or journals) but suppose that, for now, I’ll just had to move forward in as critical and reflexive a way as possible, accepting the many limitations that I am certainly not in any position to surmount. At the same time, however, I find myself haunted by (and unable to escape) my own memories of research involvement as an all-too-obviously disempowered and disenfranchised subject/object; a status or positionality I am loathe to impose on anyone else.