Symbolic violence or empowerment?

Within the academic world it is often taken for granted that if we do something “in the name of research” we can use almost any sort of methods. Yes, we do have to write all sorts of papers about the power relations in an interview situation etc but what most researchers want to do is to get a hold of “a good story” and the methods used to get to these stories are, according to me, often unethical. I would think this applies to people in media and art as well (as in the film “Born into Brothels” and the project “Kids with cameras“). How often do we take into consideration what we give back to the people we interview and also how we might change the lives of the people whose lives we touch? Pierre Bourdieu writes in his book The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society about method for analyzing sociological material (as well as about another way of practicing politics). A story (with many other stories) is about a steel worker who had worked many years in the same factory. The interview was conducted by one of the researchers in a project discussed in the book. The researcher asks the steelworker, who has just told her what good luck he has had to stay in the same works all his life, if he ‘personally is prepared to leave Longwy’ (his home town):

[amazed tone] Do what? Leave? I don’t quite see the point of it….No, I don’t think I will leave Longwy….That has just never occurred to me. Especially since my wife is still working. That holds me back perhaps. But, leave Longwy? I don’t know, perhaps, why not? One day… I won’t say, ‘never’…but it hasn’t occurred to me, particularly as I have stayed. I don’t know, why not [laughs], I don’t know, you never know..

Bourdieu stresses that we can try to take “into account the two inherent properties of the interview relationship, we have sought to do all in our power to control their effects (without claiming to eradicate them) or, more precisely, to reduce as much as possible the symbolic violence which is exerted through them.” Since social and economical hierarchies effect who has the authority and competence to tell a story and since one does need verbal skills and agency (and other resources) to be able to bring stories and compose stories to share ones experience both researcher’s and journalist’s work in trying to give voice to marginalized groups in society is imperative – it can be called empowerment.

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