BERA Conference 2023

Activity: Academic conference/seminar/workshopConference (academic)


'Ethical conundrums and puzzles of research with working mothers’

This presentation discusses the ‘negotiated text’ (Fontana & Frey, 2000) of interviewing women, in particular mothers, and explores the ethical dilemmas this raises when interviews move away from a traditional ‘masculinist mechanistic’ approach (Oakley, 2016).

The presentation draws from two research studies.

For the second research study, working mothers with at least one child in the early years age range (0-5 years) living in the rural county of Lincolnshire (n=11) were interviewed through photo elicitation interviews. The interviews aimed to explore how mothers make sense of their own identities as both working women and as mothers through a poststructuralist feminist lens. Participants were able to choose the format of interviews, either face to face on a University Campus (n=5) or online via video conferencing software, Microsoft Teams (n=6). Additional research questions were developed during the project and the final six participants all completed post interview questionnaires around the methods employed.

Oakley’s (1981) own research with mothers, highlighted a gap between ‘textbook’ interviewing, through a ‘masculinist mechanistic’ approach and her real experiences of interviewing (Oakley, 2016). She discusses how the desire for interviews to be seen as quantifiable and ‘objectified functions of data’, with limited personal meaning and interaction is ‘morally indefensible’ from a feminist perspective (Oakley, 1981, p.41). Both studies highlighted similar feelings and this presentation discusses the role of the researcher in the interview process, acknowledging that researchers are not ‘invisible, neutral entities’ (Fontana and Frey, 2000, p. 663). The presentation explores how their approaches adapted, including the importance of supporting and empowering participants to develop a reciprocal relationship (Lillrank, 2012), whilst also highlighting the ethical challenges this can create.

The research highlighted the need for reflexivity at all layers of the research process, acknowledging that poststructuralism often presents a problematic image of an all-powerful researcher, capable of seeing, identifying, and analysing their own discourse (Saukko, 2000). The presentation considers the role of negotiated text (Fontana & Frey, 2000), reflexivity (Bischoping & Gazso, 2016; Finlay, 2012; Saukko, 2000) and insider researcher (Attia & Edge, 2017; Hellawell, 2006; Reay, 1996) in addressing the dilemmas faced.

This presentation is of relevance to all qualitative researchers, but particularly applicable through a social justice lens.


Attia, M. & Edge, J. (2017). Be(com)ing a reflexive researcher: a developmental approach to research methodology. Open Review of Educational Research, 4 (1), 33-45, DOI: 10.1080/23265507.2017.1300068
Bischoping, K. & Gazso, A. (2016). Analysing talk in the social sciences. SAGE Publications Ltd,

Finaly, L. (2012). Five Lenses for The Reflexive Interviewer. In. J. F. Gubrium. J. A. Holstein. A. B. Marvasti. & K. D. MicKinney. (Eds) The Sage Handbook of Interview Research: The Complexity of the Craft (2nd ed.). Sage.

Fontana, A. and Frey, J. H. (2000). ‘The interview: From structured questions to negotiated text’, in N.K. Denzin, and Y.S. Lincoln. (eds). Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd ed.). Sage.

Hellawell, D. (2006). Inside-¬ out: analysis of the insider– outsider concept as a heuristic device to develop reflexivity in students doing qualitative research. Teaching in Higher Education. 11 (4), 483– 494.

Lillranks, A. (2012). Managing The Interviewer Self. In. J. F. Gubrium. J. A. Holstein. A. B. Marvasti. & K. D. MicKinney. (Eds) The Sage Handbook of Interview Research: The Complexity of the Craft (2nd Ed.). Sage.

Oakley, A. (1981). Interviewing women: a contradiction in terms. In H. Roberts. (eds). Doing Feminist Research. Routledge.

Oakley, A., (2016). Interviewing Women Again: Power, time and the gift. Sociology. 50 (1), 195-213.

Reay, D. (1996). `Insider Perspectives or Stealing the Words out of Women's Mouths: Interpretation in the Research Process', Feminist Review. 53, 55-71.

Saukko, P. (2000). Between Voice and Discourse: Quilting Interviews on Anorexia. Qualitative Inquiry. 6 (3), 299-317

Period7 Sept 2023
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • ethics
  • mothers