Recognizing the role of the larger social and cultural contexts in the life of research participants

The perspective of symbolic interactionism is not just concerned with the individual but “with the joint acts through which lives are organized and societies [arej assembled” (Plummer, 2000: 194). Actions are always joint, organized through the mutual response and adjustment between actors. It is crucial that researchers recognize and understand the larger social context in which individual research participants lead their lives. Even if the research involves interviews with just one person, the life of that one individual always implicates others. Research participants are part of a (or multiple?) (sub)culture(s), enmeshed in a web of interrelations. To ignore those interrelations is akin to ignoring the relevant facets in the life of research participants and arriving at a less faithful or truthful understanding of one’s findings. Symbolic interactionists have a theoretical stake in considering the web of social interrelations. The concept of generic social processes (Prus, 1987; Grills, 2019) derives its value from bridging the world of the individual and that of the wider culture, pointing to systematic patterns of action and belief. Far from being an attempt to generalize findings, using generic social processes identifies and clarifies a social process that can be found in a variety of dissimilar social settings without losing site of the specific characteristics of particular settings. The social process of acquiring an identity, for example, might be quite similar whether one sees him- or herself as a chess player (Puddephat, 2003) or as a widow/widower (D. van den Hoonaard, 2001). A symbolic interactionist will recognize that social process is a useful tool in building up a common stock of knowledge about many research settings that seem, at first glance, quite dissimilar.

Ethics codes do not typically include reflections on these types of issues whether pertaining to the individual or the larger social and cultural contexts.

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