Plain English: My Research
Image: a stack of books. Photo by Dayna Bateman (cc).
If you’re a postgrad student and you haven’t discovered #phdchat on twitter yet, it’s worth taking a look. A number of contributors to the discussion have been putting their research into plain English to make it more accessible for readers – here are some examples. It’s a brilliant idea, and especially relevant to my project. Emancipatory research should be totally accessible to all, even though that can be difficult to achieve when universities demand styles of writing that are inaccessible to most. I find it particularly hard to write in clear, plain English (mostly because my brain doesn’t like making sense), but that’s no excuse for not trying. So I’m going to try to write updates in accessible language more often. Let me know if I start drifting into academic-speak and making no sense.
In my research, I’m looking at the experiences of disabled Christians. I’m also looking at the way Christians and churches respond to disabled people, and to the issue of disability. This is going to involve finding out where Christians get their ideas on disability. I plan to start by listening to disabled church-goers about what church is like for them. This will involve listening to people about their experiences of being included in a church, as well as their experiences of exclusion. Exclusion could means lots of things. It could be about physical access difficulties, attitudes that people find unhelpful, or discrimination because of disability. It could involve other things that I won’t have thought of but that I hope disabled people will tell me about. I will then go on to listen to church leaders, and to observe church services. I’d especially like to observe healing services in different denominations of churches.
At the moment I’m looking at theories of disability in Christianity, before I go out and talk to people. So far, I’ve been looking at the Bible, especially stories in the gospels where Jesus heals people. I want to go on to ask people in churches how they use these stories and how they feel about them. I’ve also been looking at research studies about disability and Christianity. I’m very interested in ideas of healing and the body, which I think will be the next thing I look at closely. I hope that these theories will help me understand the categories that Christians use to organise ideas and experiences about disability.
For me, the most important thing about my research is that I want it to be an emancipatory study. Emancipatory disability research is a way of doing research, designed by academics and activists in disability studies, which tries to make sure that disabled people have control of research. In the past (and often still today), academic research on disability was done by people who know nothing about what it’s like to be disabled. Disability studies has tried to change that by making sure that, in research studies, disabled people are treated as the experts on disability, whereas the researcher is only an expert on research. (This gets more complicated when you’re a disabled researcher yourself, as I am, but that’s another story!) This approach to research has proved extremely difficult to do, in practice, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. I’m planning to look for disabled people who will be co-researchers on the project, forming a group that will tell me if I’m asking the right questions and doing the right things, when it comes to disability and churches. I’m currently applying for money to cover costs (like travel and access needs) for this group, at the very least, or maybe even do more than that. Of course, there’s unlikely to be much (if any) money available, so I might end up funding these costs myself. I’m determined to find a way to make this research accountable to disabled people, though, even if that turns out to be an expensive commitment. This kind of research also involves a principle of ‘giving back’ to the community you’ve researched – in this case, to disabled Christians, and churches. So towards the end of the research, and afterwards, I hope that I’ll be able to offer training to churches in how to make their practice more accessible for disabled people, for example. I’m still working on my ideas of what else I could do, but as a trainer, campaigner and researcher, I hope there will be various things I can do to ‘give back’ to disabled Christians and their churches. I intend to commit to doing this long-term after the project has finished.
So that’s my research – as far as it’s got, anyway. At the moment I’ve only been working on this project for a few months, so I’m still putting together my ideas about how I will do the research. I’m really looking forward to the stage where I start looking for the group of co-researchers, and then when I start listening to people. I hope that people will find it interesting to be involved and that the research will be mutually beneficial, in lots of ways.
(By the way, if you know anyone who you think might be interested in being involved in the research, as a co-researcher or simply as a participant, I can tell you more about it if you contact me here, or on twitter, where I’m @naomi_jacobs .)