Silent about silence: the ethical importance of ‘non-talk’ in qualitative health research

Miller, Paul K. ORCID logo ORCID: and Grimwood, Tom ORCID logo ORCID: (2011) Silent about silence: the ethical importance of ‘non-talk’ in qualitative health research. In: University of Cumbria Research and Enterprise Conference, 8 July 2011, University of Cumbria, Lancaster, UK. (Unpublished)

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One of the key tenets of ethically robust health research is the effective demonstration of what is said by participants, i.e. the preservation of a speaker’s original meaning, without misrepresentation or decontextualisation of verbal data to better fit a theoretical model or anticipated research outcome. This principle is grounded in long-standing philosophical traditions in both moral philosophy and the philosophy of research itself (see Alexandra & Miller 2009; Schwartz, Preece & Hendry 2002). While this, appropriately, directs health researchers to take great care in the ways they ‘tidy up’ these kinds of data during transcription and presentation for qualitative analyses, the same attention is rarely accorded to the matter of participant silence. As Harvey Sacks (1992) observes, pauses, non-answers and extended silences in any verbal interaction are central to the understanding of its practical, contextual sense. Not speaking when one is expected to, for example, or delaying an answer to a question it rather than providing it instantly, are not simply absences of activity but highly meaningful interpersonal events. To delete or overlook non-talk in qualitative data is therefore, potentially, an act of misrepresentation. Using evidence from an empirical study of the diagnosis of depression in primary care, this paper explores (a) some of the practical ways in which orthodox qualitative data presentation measures, even when reporting exactly what is said, can radically alter the sense of those data by failing to consistently highlight where non-talk is significant, and (b) the direct ethical implications thereof.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)
Departments: Institute of Health > Medical Sciences
Depositing User: Paul Miller
Date Deposited: 02 Mar 2018 16:26
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2024 10:15


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