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Doing Research on Sensitive Topics

Doing Research on Sensitive Topics

March 1993 | 240 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd
This book is a comprehensive guide to the methodological, ethical and practical issues involved in undertaking research on sensitive topics. Raymond M Lee explores the reasons why social research may be politically or socially contentious: its relation to issues of social or political power; its capacity to encroach on people's lives; and its potentially problematic nature for the researcher.

Issues examined include: the choice of methodologies for sensitive research; problems of estimating the size of hidden populations; questions of sampling, surveying and interviewing; and sensitivity in access and the handling of data. The book also discusses the political and ethical issues at stake in the relations between the researcher and the researched, and in the disclosure, dissemination and publication of research.

Limits on Inquiry
Estimating the Size of Hidden Populations
Sampling Rare or Deviant Populations
Asking Sensitive Questions on Surveys
Asking Sensitive Questions

The Access Process in Research on Sensitive Topics
Covert, Adversarial and Collaborative Research
Handling Sensitive Data
Disclosure and Dissemination in Research on Sensitive Topics

`Raymond Lee's introduction to conducting research on sensitive topics is timely and welcome, given the increased expectation that social scientists will research subjects of immediate relevance to practical policy issues. In principle, all such research topics may be regarded as sensitive, and in this sense Lee's book has a wider applicability than the title immediately suggests... these chapters provide a thorough, clear and careful discussion of some complex and important issues in the conduct of sensitive research... Lee's book is useful because it brings together material that is rather disparate in the literature on social science methodology. This will be particularly useful for PhD students and those embarking on field research for the first time. More experienced researchers will find the principal value to be the codification of issues relating to sensitivity. Ideally, this should foster an appreciation that these issues cannot be dealt with in an ad hoc fashion, as they often are.' - The Times Higher Education Supplement

`The book performs a valuable information-gathering function, providing a comprehensive summary of the sprawling methodological literature from the perspective of its central theme. The amount of literature covered here is impressive. The bibliography contains around 700 items. Fortunately, the book's index makes it possible to locate the pages on which particular authors' views are discussed.... This work is written to be accessible by general readers, but because of its range and brevity, readers possessing some knowledge of sociological research will have an advantage. Although there is an evaluative aspect to the discussion, the approach is generally cautious and balanced. Wisely, the author does not attempt to simplify the debate, but presents a range of perspectives on controversial questions, letting each make its own case and occasionally adding his own commentary.' - Library and Information Science Research

`The author's second goal is first addressed by examining the limits on inquiry into matters considered sensitive (chapter 2), and then by considering the ethical, political, and legal implications of the methodological approaches discussed throughout the remaining chapters. For the most part, the author covers these important and often delicate issues in a thorough, balanced, sensitive, and scholarly manner, calling upon over 600 references. Although the research situations addressed by the book are restricted almost exclusively to the discipline of sociology, many of the issues raised have relevance not only to other areas of the behavioral sciences, but to biomedical research as well.' - The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

`Lee's book is interesting, thorough, clearly written and widely referenced, using plenty of examples to make sensitive situations accessible to readers who wish to prepare themselves for doing sensitive research.... Since Lee's treatment does not fall into the trap of narrowness, it is relevant beyond the narrow constituency of those who intend to do research into sensitive topics. I would go so far as to say that most relevant research topics are potentially sensitive to at least some of those involved, and most researchers will have something to learn from this book' - British Journal of Psychology

`This is an important book that deserves careful study' - Journal of Communication