3 Relational Accountability

In addition to social justice and applying research solutions to participants’ lives, research should benefit and include participants and their associated groups. Social research has historically been isolated from its subject matter and has acted condescendingly towards vulnerable populations (see Tuck, 2009). To counteract this trend, we encourage you to design your research to benefit participants. For example, you might be volunteering with youth, and decide to design and evaluate a program to help with their education. Participation Action Research often embodies helping participants to create solutions to their problems.

Combining Research and Respect

When thinking about your research topic, you must also think about how the processes and outcomes show respect and concern for your participants’ welfare – Chapter 2 for more on Ethics. Principles of reciprocity, monitoring power arrangements among participants, obtaining ongoing consent and permitting participants to tell their stories and empower participants as allies in the process are important guiding research principles. According to Hutchinson et al., (1994), when we take these principles in our engagement with participants, we provide opportunities for healing. Hutchinson et al., (1994) notes that qualitative interviews can be cathartic, validating to participants’ feelings and experiences (self-acknowledging), provide a sense of purpose, self-awareness (gaining new perspectives about their situation by reflecting on it); healing (providing outlets to express emotions) and providing voice for the disenfranchised. This means that when considering the issues you are already connected to or wish to connect yourself to, you should also be considering the interest, agency and proximity of the groups that would be willing to be a part of your study. This will be partly conditioned by your positionality.

Relational Accountability

Relational accountability is a term used by Shawn Wilson (2001) to describe the honest accounting of Indigenous research in relation to the people their research refers to (and therefore establishes a relationship with). “As a researcher,” Wilson (2001) asserts, “you are answering to all your relations”: implying that your research ought to (1) know its relations and (2) gain knowledge “so as to fulfill [your] end of the relationship” (p. 177). With Wilson’s concept in mind, we suggest that you do some relational accounting in generating your research question – asking about your relationship to the voices and variables which will form the datum of your argument – and then make yourself accountable to the group which is providing you access to their knowledge and experiences. Not only will the available participants of your research become more clear to you, but so too will your purpose in gathering information about those participants.



Hutchinson, S. A., Wilson, M. E., & Wilson, H. S. (1994). Benefits of participating in research interviews. Image: The Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 26(2), 161-166.

Tuck, E. (2009. “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.” https://pages.ucsd.edu/~rfrank/class_web/ES-114A/Week%204/TuckHEdR79-3.pdf

Wright Mills, C. (1959/2000). The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Practicing and Presenting Social Research Copyright © 2022 by Oral Robinson and Alexander Wilson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book