As Hammersley and Atkinson have remarked, the interviewer is “intellectually poised between familiarity and strangeness” (Gray, 2003: 85) and I have found this to be the case throughout the data gathering process and throughout the MA. Indeed Buckingham has described “making the familiar strange” (Buckingham 2003:71) as one of the primary tasks of media education from the point of view of “Critical Framing” (ibid: 145, drawing on Cope and Kalantzis). Over the past couple of years I have assumed various guises as: student, writer, researcher, interviewer, observer, film-maker, photographer, videographer, teacher, translator, mentor, blogger and consultant; and all the while it has felt like an elaborate identity- balancing act located somewhere in the pivotal space between the familiar and the strange, the subjective and the objective. I can conclude that the process of isolating aspects of ‘the normal’ to produce research material for creative interpretation gives one’s sense of intuition – or one’s willingness to follow it – a full work out. I like to think that openness, blended with a certain breadth of contextual knowledge limits the potential for the findings to be skewed or for common-sense assumptions to gain traction.
The two rudders of ethics and neutrality have informed my data collection strategy. I went to some lengths to comply with BERA ethical standards. Given that the majority of my participants were children, it was important to establish ethical boundaries and informed consent in an effort to reassure them as much as to preserve the integrity of the findings. This was addressed by implementing signed letters of parental consent (see Appendix 2) and by informing participants that their input would be completely confidential and anonymous. The data would be stored securely and only entered into the public domain on their consent. It was also made clear that their contributions would be received with non-judgemental impartiality.
That said, remaining neutral in my different roles presented a real challenge, particularly whilst interviewing. There was a fine line between encouraging a natural revelatory conversation and as Connell has suggested – making sure you harvest your exploratory crop to produce the necessary “high theoretical yield” (Gray, 2003: 160). I often found myself fending off thoughts that the whole endeavour was merely the pursuit of the obvious. In these moments it is comforting, not to say vital, to bear in mind Hall’s and Simons’s insights above and an observation made by C. Wright Mills in 1959, that the ethnographic research process is a scholarly craft (Gray, 2003: 5), the accumulative impact of which could have dramatic consequences in the wider world. It can only be concluded that there needs to be an abundance of it, preferably disseminated in the public realm.