Why do people participate in our research projects?

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Interviews, listening to and talking with people are the best thing in my work as an anthropologist. This morning I met a woman who kindly and openly talked to me about her career as a researcher. Like before every interview, I was a bit nervous. It is always exciting to meet new people but in research encounters, I always wonder what will people who give us their time, get from the interviews. Why should they share their experiences and stories with us?

In this project, our interviewees are mainly women with academic background. Many of them work at the university, and like the woman I met today, they might feel that it is their duty to participate in an academic research project. On the other hand, when I contacted one interview candidate, she replied that she was confused about the request. She wanted to know more about the interview, the questions of anonymity, and how many people we would interview, i.e. could readers recognize her in our publications. After I had explained the ethics of our data management, she wrote to me: “I dare to participate.”

I have met many interviewees who have their own agenda for the interview: they feel that their stories need to be made public, and they might even want to influence the politics. But what about the rest, sometimes reluctant participants? Once I met a retired lumberjack to hear his work life story. When I arrived, he said that he had almost cancelled our meeting. However, he agreed to give it a go, and when we finished he was happy with the interview, and said that he told me things he hadn’t told anyone else before.

After that interview, like after most interviews, I was overwhelmed by the trust people have in me, in us researchers. In the productivity competition of the academia today, we must do everything to be worthy of this trust, to keep on having fruitful and respectful encounters in the future, too.

Tiina Suopajärvi

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