Researcher Identity: Exploring the Transformatory Power of the Research Experience

Susan Dunnett, K Hamilton, H Downey

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In consumer research we frequently focus on the phenomenon of transformation (Schouten 1991); be that the transformatory effects of a particular consumption community (cf Belk and Costa 1998) or the great body of work being carried out under the banner of Transformative Consumer Research (Mick 2006). However there is a particular transformation which occurs in the field of interpretivist consumer research that, we would argue, is overlooked – that of researcher transformation.

In this paper we explore the emotional labour (Hochschild 2003) and presentation of the self (Goffman 1959) required to conduct interpretive consumer research with vulnerable populations. We explicitly view the research process as a transformatory one. Reinharz (1997) talks of the construction of the researcher-self in the field stating that ‘we both bring the self to the field and create the self in the field’ (ibid: 3). Similarly, Humphries, Brown and Hatch, (2003: 9) suggest that ‘the discovery of the self is an integral aspect of discovering the other’. While Coffey (1999: 1) highlights the personal nature of research, seeing it as a kind of “identity work” that constructs and produces researcher identity both during and after fieldwork. Interaction with research contexts and informants provides a new vantage point from which to critically view the self, as we become accustomed to ‘the ‘looking-glass self’ [we] see reflected in the eyes of observers,’ (Mead, 1934 cited in Cole, Kemeny and Taylor, 1997: 320).

We present the ways in which our own research with vulnerable consumers has affected and changed us - both as consumer researchers and as human beings. We consider short term transformations in the field, reflecting on the various ways that researcher identity is carefully managed and negotiated to fit with the social-cultural setting, for example, adapting language and style of dress. We also consider longer term transformations and discuss the enduring impact of the people we have met, the homes we have visited and the stories we have heard. In addition we share insight from conversations with fellow researchers. Our aim here is to expose the hidden labour and emotional management of the research encounter by unfolding the narratives of those working in sensitive contexts. It is our hope that by reflecting on the shaping of identities ‘in the field’ we may deepen our appreciation of the interpretive consumer research process and contribute to the theoretical understanding of transformative identity research.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011
EventCRAW conference - Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 1 Apr 2011 → …


ConferenceCRAW conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period1/04/11 → …


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