The Role of Research Assistants in Qualitative and Cross-Cultural Social Science Research

Stevano, Sara and Deane, Kevin (2017). The Role of Research Assistants in Qualitative and Cross-Cultural Social Science Research. In: Liamputtong, Pranee ed. Handbook of Research Methods in Health Social Sciences. Singapore: Springer.



Cross-cultural research frequently involves working with research assistants to conduct data collection activities. Due to the range of different functions that research assistants end up fulfilling, from translator to guide to gatekeeper, it is clear that their participation in the research project has implications for the quality of the study design, its process and outcomes. However, their role is not always explored. Drawing on our own research as well as that of others, this chapter discusses a set of key practical decisions researchers need to make when planning their fieldwork – from assessing whether a research assistant is needed to managing a work relation. We show how these practical considerations are intertwined with the power asymmetries rooted in the employment relation between researcher and research assistant. We also explore how the triangular power dynamics between research participants, research assistants, and researchers influence the research process and outcomes, as well as how these power dynamics reflect the broader institutional research landscape, in which questions of power, ownership, and extraction are prominent. Researchers need to reflect, discuss, and write more on this topic to fulfil a crucial gap in the literature on research methodology, to provide practical guidance for future researchers, and to identify the basis for fairer collaborations between North and South research institutions.

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