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INDIAN JOURNAL OF HEALTH STUDIES - Volume 1 Issue 1, July 2019

Pages: 83-114
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Getting Close to the Context and Experience of Illness: Critically Reflexive Fieldwork in Qualitative Health Research

Author: Roli Pandey, Anuja Khanna, Deepika Sharma, Arpita Gupta, Prama Bhattacharya, Shilpi Kukreja, Dr. Kumar Ravi Priya

Category: Health Studies


Since more than three decades, the perspectives of critical health psychology and new cross-cultural psychiatry within the field of health sciences have renewed the focus on experiences of illness and healing. Such an impetus to research exploring the person’s life experiences was based on the imperative of how the cultural and structural processes intricately shape the diverse experiences of illness, distress, or healing. The task of getting close to the person’s experiences of illness or healing inherently requires a qualitative researcher’s orientation or motivation to unravel the hierarchies or power positions (related to gender, religion, caste, class, or academic expertise) surrounding not only the participant’s life context but also the researcher-participant relationship. In order to understand these hierarchies and build a trust- or compassion-based research-participant relationship and to explore the participant’s experiences within context, this paper illustrates the use of critical reflexivity, i.e., researcher’s critical and continual awareness of his or her personal, theoretical, epistemological and ideological assumptions behind research and the researcher-participant relationship. Examples from our ethnographic studies (on caregiving of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, transgenerational trauma, disability experience, ‘personal’ recovery among severely mentally ill persons, social suffering of homeless mentally ill people, and institutionalized care for mental health) indicate how doing critically reflexive fieldwork not only helped us comprehend the socio-political and cultural contexts of participants’ lives but also enabled us to develop an empathic understanding of their distress or healing.

Keywords: critical reflexivity, experience, health, illness, qualitative research

DOI: 10.56490/IJHS.2019.1105