Volume 12 Issue 1 (2016)
Main Articles

Sensitive Research and the Collision of Advocacy and Research: Consequences for the Researcher

Mary White Stewart
University of Nevada, Reno
Published August 12, 2016
  • battered women,
  • sensitive research,
  • advocacy,
  • research ethics,
  • imposter syndrome,
  • researcher vulnerabilities,
  • second-order narrative
  • ...More


Doing sensitive research presents particular problems over and above other social science research because of the nature of the issues being asked about and their potential impact on both the participant and the researcher. In some instances, the factors that engage the researcher in the project may also be of interest to advocates who are working for the benefit of the participants in the research. In the current instance, the researcher was interested in understanding the impact of “life without” the possibility of parole on the lives of women convicted of killing their abusers, as well as the impact of their imprisonment and clemency on their families. At the same time, a powerful advocacy group was devoted to gaining clemency for the women. The resulting clash between the goals and purposes of these two entities resulted in a significant impasse and unanticipated consequences for the research agenda as well as the researcher. Analysis of one specific research project and the problems resulting from the clash between researcher and advocates can contribute to the literature on sensitive research as well as on the clashes between advocacy and social science research.