Building understanding: Sensitive issues and putting the researcher in the research


  • Jennifer O'Brien School of Environment and Development



Stemming from ethnographic research in a chronically poor district of rural Uganda, this paper recounts a number of attempts to investigate young people’s understanding of HIV and its transmission. The failure of the initial, more traditional methodologies are used to critically evaluate the positionality or role the researcher played as she became embedded within the community to the extent she lost objectivity as a researcher. Inadvertently, a simple building block game was used as a methodology. This was successful in generating interesting ‘data’ and proved that even research groups deemed difficult to access can be reached with some methodological consideration. The tool was, however, almost over successful and generated dramatic ethical dilemmas which ethically questioned the potential of the research and had a significant impact on the researcher. This paper therefore stresses the necessity to give ethical consideration to the research and its participants but to not over look the researcher.

Author Biography

Jennifer O'Brien, School of Environment and Development

Jennifer O’Brien is a PhD student at the School of Environment and Development, the University of Manchester. Working predominately in rural Uganda her interests lie in health systems’ delivery of appropriate pro-poor care, particularly child maternal healthcare, embedded in a context necessitating a local understanding of notions of health, care, illness and wellbeing.