TransForming Research Practice: Towards ‘Best Practice’ in Transgender and Non-binary Inclusive Social Research

by Ellis Morgan and Yvette Taylor, University of Strathclyde

On 9th May 2016, we hosted the cross-sector seminar ‘TransForming Research Practice: Towards ‘Best Practice’ in Transgender and Non-binary Inclusive Social Research’ at Strathclyde University. The seminar was conceived in thinking through issues of access, accountability, practice and ‘publics’ – how to make a difference in ‘transgender and non-binary’ inclusive social research? How to stretch research categories and subjects and implicate everyone in the doing of these, rather than as done by certain researchers for certain researched groups (the perpetually ‘hard to research’).

The event was made possible by joint funding from British Sociological Association and Scottish Transgender Alliance, uniting professional-practice groups. In planning the seminar, we initially paused on questions of ‘best practice’, quickly agreeing to scare quote this phrase. But in an age of ‘impact’ and perpetually making a difference, is such a tentative phrasing appropriate, recognisable or rendered vulnerable and failing – what did you find? What impact did you have?

The seminar brought together over 30 people including academic researchers, voluntary sector professionals, transgender community groups and activists to pool their thinking on shaping the future of transgender and non-binary inclusive social research. Because this is an ongoing future, and a joint effort, it is arguably necessarily incomplete and even ‘failing’, which is not to undermine real efforts but to return again to questions (and to return to and press for resources).

The seminar responded to a social context in which transgender and non-binary people are in the public eye more than ever before but rates of suicides, hate crime and school and workplace bullying leave no doubt that widespread social marginalisation persists. The premise of the event was that this cultural complexity produces important responsibilities for those of us seeking to represent transgender and non-binary people’s experiences in our research and asked how we can best equip ourselves as researchers to meet this responsibility. And how to stretch this research responsibility beyond sexualities and gender studies to wider sociological agendas, and the interface between ‘social science’ and ‘science’ agendas.

In the first half of the event Dr Zowie Davy gave a keynote presentation on ‘Research Assemblages and Epistemological Commitments’. This paper provided a backdrop to the day, focussing on the enduring medicalisation of transgender and the critical need this creates for researchers to pay attention to the ‘social within the scientific’ in the assemblages of our trans and non-binary inclusive data.

Following the keynote a panel of researchers gave insightful presentations on their own experiences of producing research with transgender and non-binary communities. The panel comprised Ben Vincent (Leeds University), Kate Norman (Edinburgh University) and James Morton (Scottish Transgender Alliance). Each of the panellists offered reflections on the methodological challenges they had faced in designing and carrying out research that purposefully avoided reproducing the forms of marginalisation experienced by trans and non-binary individuals in other arenas. With the evoked notion of ‘perfection’ implicit in the very idea of non-marginalising research, our discussion led to how we might move forward in ways that allow for us to take risks and engage in expansive ways of thinking whilst holding ourselves accountable for unknowable outcomes.   

In the second half of the event a panel of voluntary sector organisations formed to spark thinking about ways of working collaboratively across sectors. The panel comprised Serge Nicholson (Galop), Michelle Ross (CliniQ), Gemma Rae Moncrief (Non-Binary Scotland) and Vic Valentine (Scottish Transgender Alliance). The panel drew on their collective experiences of providing key services to trans and non-binary communities, often acting as community gatekeepers in relation to research participant requests and frequently depending on trans inclusive research to develop and secure funding for their own services. The panel stimulated  discussion in which the ever present notions of insider/outsider statuses shaped questions around constraint and ideological ‘fit’; how do we include ‘our’ work in ‘their’ spaces, and vice versa? What constraints do we accept as part of an explicit agenda to work to the priorities of an ‘impact’ agenda? How do we ensure that preconceived directionalities of that impact do not lie untroubled? But alongside these potential hesitancies, what opportunities do we bring each other in melding our interests, approaches and knowledges as we bring ourselves into each others spaces? For after all, whilst a call to perpetually make impact carries within it a necessary future ‘failure’ it also promises the potential of future ‘worth’.

The delegation ended the day by pooling their thinking on practical ways of applying and extending the learning from the day, as a deliberate attempt to move away from ‘closing conference comments’ to something beyond the room.  Our discussions made clear important issues that are pressing concerns for many researchers in today’s social climate, where a desire to represent and include trans experiences in research exists alongside a deep concern to ensure an ethical, sensitive and ultimately beneficial approach for trans individuals and communities. Participants at the event made various calls in their closing remarks for the TransForming Research Practice initiative to find ways of continuing to provide a forum for sharing on this topic and take forward the rich potential for facilitating further collaborative working.

As a result of the day Ellis Morgan and Prof. Yvette Taylor have produced a paper offering some foundational thinking on how such ‘Collaborative Foundations in Trans and Non-binary Inclusive Research’ might be taken forward and the paper can be found on the website of the Scottish Transgender Alliance (www.scottishtrans.org/) see here

If you would like to find out more about the TransForming Research Practice initiative then please feel free to get in touch with us at ellis.morgan@strath.ac.uk or yvette.taylor@strath.ac.uk.

by Ellis Morgan and Yvette Taylor, University of Strathclyde


Categories: Rethinking The World

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