The ever more clinical ways of extracting and analysing ‘data’ from human research ‘subjects’ are cause for concern, not only for ethical reasons, but also because the process itself limits insight. Shamser Sinha and Les Back argue for a form of research that shifts the ordering of dialogue, where researchers can make observations about participants’ personal worlds and participants can shed light on how issues in their personal worlds connect with public issues, opening up more public possibilities for social research.

The first time I met Dorothy was in a narrow, quiet and official looking interview room of a Third Sector organisation. Her son was in a pram and looking around the room. I tried to ease generally into conversation in the manner the methodology textbooks advise – general questions first, build affinity etc. So I began with enquiries into what part of London she had travelled from and how she first heard of the organisation. Inside two minutes this had turned into a rendering of deeply personal information as a list of facts, times and places; the death of a beloved grandma; abandonment when pregnant by her mother; and incarceration following working under a false national insurance card. Dorothy had been interviewed before.

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