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Conspicuous consumption and the researcher

October 8, 2018

WatchOK this one is a bit awkward but it is a thing I have to think about all the time in my line of work so I’m just going to spit it out.

I’ve had a professionally paid job now for 16 years and I’m married to one of those ambitious private sector types.  We’re comfortably off.  And because we’re comfortably off I have a few nice things.  Most notably for this blog post, I have a Tag Heuer watch and a cupboard-full of nice handbags.  My current work-bag is a Michael Kors.

These are things I have to think about when I’m working in the charity sector as I do.  I have to think carefully about what I carry with me.  No, not “don’t look too fancy or they’ll realise they are paying me too much” or “help help the poor people might steal my stuff” but more… I don’t want to be a dick.

So when you start doing qualitative research (interviews, focus groups) you are advised to try and ‘blend in’ so that you put people at ease. This means wearing something equivalent to what you expect the respondents to wear.  So if you’re going into an investment bank you might wear a suit, and if you’re meeting with random punters you will probably wear jeans and Converse.  I’m good with that.

But these days I’m routinely talking to people living in challenging circumstances.  I’ve talked to people who are currently or have recently lived in B&Bs or hostels because they don’t have a home.  People who rely on food banks, or are functionally vegetarian because they can’t afford to buy meat.  People whose children don’t have any toys because of the cost, or because they are in storage while the Council finds them accommodation, or because they’ve had to drop everything and flee from an abusive partner.

The world is absolutely brutal.

And then I turn up with accessories that cost a month’s rent, rubbing their faces in my privilege.

Yeah.  That.

So I wear my Argos watch and I carry my supermarket handbag and I hope that they don’t really notice me.

Just something to think about.

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