Young ghosts: ethical and methodological issues of historical research in children's geographies

2013-04-19T08:36:33Z (GMT) by Sarah Mills
Geographers researching children and young people have often been at the forefront of disciplinary debates in geography surrounding methodological practice and ethical considerations (Matthews et al. 1998, Valentine 1999, Pain 2004, Hemming 2008, Hopkins and Bell 2008, van Blerk and Barker 2008). In this short paper, I want to focus on a less-popular research method used by children’s geographers – archival methods (cf. Gagen 2000, 2001) – and reflect specifically on some of its methodological and ethical challenges. I argue that thinking about historical research can challenge children’s geographers to consider other types of encounter from that of the (embodied) encounter between a researcher and a child (Horton 2008). These different and multiple encounters include those between the (adult) creator of ‘material’ and a young person, a young person (as creator) and their intended audience, and the further encounter between a young person from the past and a present-day researcher during fieldwork. The spatial and temporal deferral in some of these encounters suggests a re-thinking of how we approach and conceptualise research ‘with’ young people. Furthermore, these (dis)embodied encounters can challenge ethical norms in children’s geographies such as consent, confidentiality and positionality in different but overlapping ways. I contend that children’s geographers are well versed in these ethical issues, some of which transfer well into the practice of historical research. For example, issues surrounding children’s ‘voice’ and responsibility are quite similar (as I later discuss), but there is a difference between contemporary and historical research in terms of the media involved (your own tape recordings or someone else’s recorded tapes; fresh participatory artwork or dust-covered diaries) and a different retrieval process (direct embodied research with young people or deferred connections in another building, time and place).