Emotion and the Researcher

In October 2017, news broke that multiple women had accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Not long after, actor Alyssa Milano posted on social media: ‘If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet’.  The #MeToo movement was born. Milano’s original post has now been retweeted more than 24,000 times. Women have rallied round the hashtag, recognising and naming their experiences of sexual abuse, and gaining strength from this shared understanding.

The #MeToo movement was not an overnight success. The activist Tarana Burke first used the phrase in 2006 to promote ‘empowerment through empathy’ among women of colour who had experienced sexual abuse. Who knows why it finally took off in 2017? Perhaps it was the rising tide of accusations against men like Weinstein; maybe it was the promotion of the phrase by a famous actor; it’s likely that it spread more quickly once white women started to use it too.

It’s too soon to tell what the lasting effects of #MeToo might be. Already, many of those named and shamed for their mistreatment of women are slinking back into public life. But surely one result will be a new realisation of the power of telling stories and sharing experiences – of bringing what has never been told into the light, as a way not only to comfort each other but to work against the continuation of abuse.

It’s a big leap from a global movement to call out sexual abuse to an edited collection on emotion in academic research – or is it? When #MeToo first took off, I was in the final stages of co-editing Emotion and the Researcher: Sites, Subjectivities and Relationships with Dawn Mannay. Our contributors research varied topics from many different perspectives; they work in diverse environments including clinics, hospitals, museums and universities; and they are drawn from the UK, Europe and North America. But they are united in the claim that emotion matters, and it is important that we admit, understand and even celebrate the power of emotion. In the book, researchers share their different stories as a way of making this single point – and the force of that point gathers momentum as it is repeated in their different voices, through their different stories.

This act of admitting emotion and its role in the research process is important for lots of reasons. Academic researchers often pretend that emotion is not there. Admitting that a real person with real feelings carried out the research is somehow seen as undermining the scientific validity of the data – but describing this attitude out loud shows just how ridiculous that assumption is. Who else can carry out research but flesh and blood researchers? Yet calling a scholar ‘emotional’ or ‘subjective’ is still perceived as an insult – as a claim that their research is driven by impure motives, or that their findings are not applicable to other situations.

What’s important here, though, is that some people are more likely to be accused of being ‘emotional’ than others. The standard ideal of the ‘objective’ academic is still a white, middle-class, western male. Anyone who doesn’t fit that mould is more likely to be perceived as speaking from personal interest alone. This attitude reinforces the sense that female, working-class, LGBT and BAME scholars don’t quite ‘belong’. As a feminist historian, I’m quite used to suggestions that historians of women are ‘biased’ and unable to achieve an appropriate academic distance on their subject. There are two possible responses to this kind of accusation: make sure you never speak from a personal position and never show emotion; or shout twice as loud, twice as often, using your own voice, to make people listen and to show that you’re not going away.

Sharing emotion exposes us. It makes us vulnerable. But at the same time, it makes others stronger as they realise they are not alone. By sharing our stories, we create something bigger than ourselves. We realise what we have in common and that we can move forward together. This is important action whenever and wherever it happens, whether it is in an academic book, a small community or on a worldwide stage.

Article Details
Author:

Tracey Loughran,
Reader in History and Deputy Dean (Research) , Faculty of Humanities at the University of Essex, UK

Date Published:

October 17th, 2018

Would you like to contribute to our Real Impact blog? Find out how.

Recent News & Blogs

- Discover impact news from across the globe

Autism and Technology: Placing autistic people at the centre of research (or how we can move closer to this)

Nigel Newbutt - Education, Health

The field of autism and technology, or put another way technology used to help support autistic groups and individuals, is a field that has existed for over 40 years.  Over this period of time the field of research has grown and diversified in many ways.  Researchers first started looking at multimedia applications in the 1970’s

Read Article

Why do Cities Matter in Sustainable Development Discourse?

Maha Al-Zu'bi, Vesela Radovic - Business Innovation, Culture, Environment

As current projections indicate that the majority of the world’s future population will live in urban areas, cities play a central role in the pursuit of sustainable development. This recognition materialized through the inclusion of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 (in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development): “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient

Read Article

Looking backward to move forward for real-world socio-economic impact

Riad Shams

Dr. Riad Shams is a Senior Research Fellow at the Ural Federal University, Russia. Dr. Shams has discussed here how looking back on the historical perspectives in business and management research and practice can be instrumental to proactively and profoundly move forward, in terms of prolifically dealing with the contemporary real-life socio-economic challenges. To advance business

Read Article

We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our website.
You can find out more about which cookies we are using or switch them off in .

Emerald Publishing Logo

Privacy Overview

This website uses cookies so that we can provide you with the best user experience possible. Cookie information is stored in your browser and performs functions such as recognising you when you return to our website and helping our team to understand which sections of the website you find most interesting and useful.

You can adjust all of your cookie settings by navigating the tabs below.

Strictly Necessary Cookies

Strictly Necessary Cookies should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings and ensure that the website works correctly, for example logging into the website.

If you disable these cookies, we will not be able to save your preferences and you may not be able to log in to the website. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.

3rd Party Cookies

This website uses Google Analytics to collect anonymous information such as the number of visitors to the site, and the most popular pages.

Keeping this cookie enabled helps us to improve our website.

Privacy and information

You can find further information about our privacy and cookie policy in our Privacy and information section

To enjoy the full experience of our website please .