In the eye of the researcher: Unravelling the elusive contours of participant groups

Ms Karen Paiva Henrique1

1University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia


Given the complex nature of social research, identifying, categorising, and assembling research subjects into discrete participant groups is often considered a logical and necessary step in data collection and analysis. It allows researchers to order their empirical inquiry, ensure methodological clarity, and approach research questions from multiple standpoints. Assembling participant groups, however, is not an impartial process; it reflects researchers’ a priori understandings of the landscape being studied, reproducing preconceived notions of formal/informal, insider/outsider, and good/evil as these relate to research participants. This paper explores how assembling participant groups shapes the way urban landscapes are examined, understood, and chronicled. Drawing on my work on the politics of flooding in São Paulo, Brazil, I demonstrate how assembling participants into groups essentializes their role in the city’s contentious adaptation landscape. I argue that pushing understandings of vulnerabilities and agency forward requires methodologies which embrace research subjects’ messy, fluid, and deeply entwined positions.


Karen Paiva Henrique is a Ph.D. Candidate in Geography and Planning at the University of Western Australia. Her work lies at the intersection of climate change adaptation, social and environmental justice, and urban development.

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