Cancer, life review and the boundary between the 'personal' and academic research

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2009). Cancer, life review and the boundary between the 'personal' and academic research. Electronic Nottingham Quarterly for Ideas, Research and Evaluation - ENQUIRE, 4 pp. 1–22.



Much social research and commentary derives from the personal position and interest of the writer with, in recent years, a marked increase in the use of case histories, vignettes and auto ethnography, as legitimate methodological research tools. This article, drawing on that tradition, is a reflective commentary on the author's experience of supporting a friend through a critical life-threatening illness, highlighting the dual aspects of personal engagement and academic reflection. The ways in which the 'personal' can be opportunity for methodological and empirical reflection, but also serve as ethical constraint, are considered. An underpinning concern is the requirement for ethical probity, both in maintaining confidentiality within the account and in considering the issue of consent, in reporting the personal details of the author and those of the friend whose critical health episode is central to the discussion. Attention is also drawn to the importance of life review on the part of those who face life-limiting illness. Discussion focuses on the experience of life review from the perspective of both the author and friend, suggesting that this may be a more meaningful support in the form of intimate exchange rather than as clinical therapeutic intervention. The article argues that the personal, rather than disrupting critical social research, particularly in the field of health and well-being, can contribute positively to shaping new understandings and insights.

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