Vulnerable Listening: Possibilities and Challenges of Doing Qualitative Research

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In this paper I reflect on an important and infrequently discussed aspect of qualitative research: listening. Listening is often imagined as easy. It is however, is a difficult skill that not only takes practice, but also comes with possibilities and challenges for a researcher. In an effort to develop and elaborate a practice of listening in a research context, I develop the idea of vulnerable listening and offer 3 scenarios from my own research. These include: (a) emotional dangers associated with listening, (b) the often unacknowledged role of the listener’s body, and (c) the role of extreme emotions in research, such as feeling outraged. Drawing on my own experiences interviewing women diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, I highlight how researchers who collect data by listening might care for their own and others’ vulnerability. Toward this end, I outline several strategies for researchers looking to support and maintain a practice of vulnerable listening.

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