Researching up? Interviews, emotionality and policy-making elites

Neal, Sarah and McLaughlin, Eugene (2009). Researching up? Interviews, emotionality and policy-making elites. Journal of Social Policy, 38(04) pp. 689–707.



This article recounts the methodological story of a qualitative research project that investigated the work of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain and the news media's deconstruction of the Commission's report – the Parekh Report – which was published on 11 October 2000. Our project used a multi-method fieldwork approach, combining textual analysis of news media coverage and the extensive documentary archives of the Commission, along with semi-structured interviews with Commissioners and other figures involved in the publication of the Report. The article attempts to offer a reflexive account of the experiences of interviewing a particular public policy-making elite and examines how a particular ‘public trauma’ – that is, the damaging political fall-out of extremely negative news media coverage of the Parekh Report – inflected our research encounters. We argue that the openness with which many of the participants spoke about this traumatic experience suggests that the production of policy documents can constitute highly emotional labour for participants. We extend this argument by examining how this openness also reveals the instabilities and uncertainties of power within the research interviewee/interviewer relationship. In this way the article seeks to contribute to debates about the problems of defining the category ‘elites’ in both public policy and social research worlds.

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