Quality in research often depends on how systematic we researchers can be, but at the same time, the relationships on which the research depends are a matter of researchers’ personal style. Certainly there are consistent standards and expectations for research, as well as codified behavior such as IRB requirements. But the actual face-to-face interactions through which we gather information are personal. In field methods, we value and discuss (read: debate) issues of quality such as trustworthiness, validity and reliability, but the researcher’s approach to working with others in a ‘real-world’ context (a context outside of a research laboratory) is both highly personal and critical to the course of the research. Ethnographic methods, and probably most types of field research, center on the concept of relationship. Being in a community but acknowledging that researchers can never be fully inside a community implies relationship, but exactly what that relationship is or is supposed to be probably depends on the individual researcher.
Where the researcher’s style is most apparent is in the relationships she constructs with others. So this highly personal and perhaps idiosyncratic aspect of the researcher is fundamentally important to all aspects of research: the design of the study, the field work in which data is gathered, and in the analysis of the results.
I take my conceptualization of ‘relationship’ from Carol Gilligan’s work, especially her book titled “The Birth of Pleasure,” which sounds salacious, but really isn’t.