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H I S T O RY O F T H E H U M A N S C I E N C E S

Vo l . 2 1 N o . 4

2008 SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore


and Washington DC)

pp. 116

[21:4; 116; DOI: 10.1177/0952695108095508]

Introduction: intimacy in
research
MARIAM FRASER and NIRMAL PUWAR

ABSTRACT
The introduction to this special issue addresses the production of
intimacy in the labour of research. It explores the sensory, emotional
and affective relations which form an integral, if often invisible, part of
the process through which researchers engage with, produce, understand and translate research. The article argues that these processes
inform the making of knowledge, shape power relations and enable or
constrain the practical negotiation of ethical problems. These issues are
not, however, often foregrounded in debates on methods or methodology and are frequently erased from researchers own accounts of their
work. The article explores some of the possible reasons for this, which
include institutional and cultural conventions of academic practice, the
historical legacies with which disciplines often struggle, and the difficult issues and decisions that individual researchers face as they try to
negotiate the relations between scholarly research and personal relationships across time, and between scholarly research and, for example,
creativity, fiction, or sensationalism. The article concludes with a review
of the main themes in the special issue, focusing in particular on the ways
in which the contributors use the concept of intimacy to challenge the
boundaries between creativity and analysis; spatial and temporal proximity and distance; freedom and censorship; subjects and objects.
Key words

ethics,

intimacy,

methodology, methods,

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Intimacy in research rather than research on intimacy defines the parameters


of this collection. The production of intimacy in the labour of research, in
the processes of collection, writing and presentation, marks the distinctive
contribution of this issue. It is an exploration of the ways in which
researchers encounter, navigate and invent intimacies during their research.
In the social sciences, there is a well-established literature on the intimacy
of social relationships (see, for example, Giddens, 1992; Luhmann, 1998;
Plummer, 1995). The changing nature of personal, familial, public and technological intimacies has also been analysed from a number of different disciplinary perspectives (see, for example, Berlant, 1997). Yet the intimacies
afforded by research materials and activities, those materials and activities
that inform the making of knowledge, that shape power relations and that
enable or constrain the practical negotiation of ethical problems, are not often
foregrounded in debates on methods and methodology.1 The rhythm, smell,
sense, tension and pleasure that go into producing what will become research
and data remain largely outside of such discussions, even though these are
the very ways in which we carry research into the library, the studio and the
lecture hall. By privileging considerations that are usually edited out of the
research process, this issue explores how sensory, emotional and affective
relations are central to the ways in which researchers engage with, produce,
understand and translate what becomes research.
This special issue follows from a conference called Inventing Intimacy
through Research which took place at Goldsmiths, London, in 2006, under
the auspices of CSISP (the Centre for the Study of Invention and Social
Process).2 It was initiated and organized by the authors of this introduction.
Our intentions were not to define intimacy in advance of that event, but rather
to enable researchers from a range of different disciplines (anthropology,
geography, history and sociology), using different materials and methods
(ethnographies, archives, scientific experiments and photography), to describe
and define it with reference to their own research experiences. The articles in
this special issue are testimony to the generosity of the contributors, who
offer detailed descriptions of what their research involved as the principal, if
not sole, focus of their accounts. In doing so, they offer theoretically informed
and empirically grounded ways for thinking through the intimacies that are
produced during the course of research transitions. The contributions offer
insights into how we creatively carry the smells, textures, pains, desires,
sounds and the visual store of memories of the research encounter with us,
from the points of collection, to analyses and public presentation.
The strains of speaking and writing of the intimacy of research in an academically respectable manner, without editing out the substance and texture
of the conditions under and through which research is made, have partly
propelled this edited collection. While poststructuralism might have played,
and may continue to play, an important role in challenging the crisp boundary

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between creative, imaginative or fictional writing on the one hand . . . and


knowledge, theory and analysis on the other (Barrett in McLennan, 2006: 58),
it is still more feasible to preserve the affective qualities of an enquiry within
a novel than it is within the documentation of fieldwork. There are a number
of reasons for this. It might, for example, be attributed to researchers own
conceptions and ambitions with regards to the boundaries of a discipline and
its methods. In his discussion of the limits (the productive limits, in his view)
of sociological explanation, Gregor McLennan acknowledges Runcimans
point that novels are sociology to the extent that their authors make them
so (Runciman in McLennan, 2006: 61) but adds the proviso that novels are
never just sociology, and if they do contain good sociology, this will not be
a matter solely of their imaginative accomplishment (McLennan, 2006: 61).
McLennan, in other words, seems to be suggesting that while sociological
problems require imagination for their formulation, they are not solely imaginative fictions (for more on the historical relation between sociology and
literature, see Lepenies, 1992).3
Whether one agrees with McLennans point, or the way that it is articulated, or not (see Fraser, forthcoming, for a fuller discussion of this), it will
be interesting to see whether and how the distinctions that he draws are challenged by the novel methods that are now being deployed in the social
sciences which often make use of the visual, the aural, touch, and other senses
(Back, 2007; Gabrys, 2007; Pink et al., 2004; Portelli, 2003; Puwar, 2007). We
are currently witnessing the reemergence of influences from the arts sectors
within social sciences methods (and vice versa). Borrowings between sectors
are of course not entirely new. One only needs to recall the development of
cinma vrit and its strong relationship to (visual) ethnography in the 1950s,
or, for instance, the works of Jean Rouch and the sociologist Edgar Moran
(most notably in the film Chronique dun t, 1961), by way of example here.
Radical interviewers have often sought to do more with the words they have
collected by exploring their expressive potential, albeit via performance texts
as activated by Howard Becker et al. (see Denzin, 1996), or the production of
long-playing records based on field research in oral history, by Alessandro
Portelli. Located in a politics of engagement, collaborations between people
from different fields are once again increasing, as specialists in sound, the
visual, narratives, performance and tactile technologies forge connections with
each other. The play Fallujah (produced by the academic Jonathan Holmes,
2003) or the installation Noise of the Past (Puwar et al., 2008) are recent
examples, as is the installation The West Indian Front Room (McMillan, 2003)
at the Geffrye Museum, or the student engagements, from sociology, with
the tactile provocation of 30 pieces of black hair by Sonia Boyce in her installation Do you want to touch? (Round, 2005).
Not confined to being analysts working from a distance, academics are
moving towards becoming co-producers and critical interlocutors within the

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creative processes of happenings and designs. This will undoubtedly be


encouraged by the United Kingdoms Arts and Humanities Research Councils 5.5 million Beyond Text: Performances, Sounds, Images, Objects programme, that runs from 2007 to 2012, and by funding initiatives that go
under the umbrella term of knowledge transfer, which also support interdisciplinary and especially cross-sector transfers. In some instances, these
opportunities are being used to renew methods of exchange and engagement
(see http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/methods-lab/). Nevertheless, despite the
current emphasis on interdisciplinary research (which arguably complements
novel research techniques), the tensions and strains potentially raised by these
methods might be amplified by the mundane but nevertheless efficacious
practical conditions of academic knowledge production. The disciplinary
pull of the United Kingdoms Research Assessment Exercise and its future
manifestations would be just one example.
Sharing knowledge of what it is like to be in the middle of a research
method, whether it is based on working collaboratively or alone with the data,
is never straightforward. Although social researchers often seek to communicate their methods to other researchers for the sake of transparency, it is
not always easy or acceptable for a variety of different and often competing reasons to discuss what it is really like in the field of collection and
production, as an embodied being. The smells, the sounds, the spatial confines,
the tensions and the emotional demands are not readily laid out on the
academic table. Yet these are the affective properties of research labour. In
the social sciences and humanities, these details often get reduced to autobiography which then stands in as an anthropological platform of display of
the researcher and the researched. Many of the contributors to this collection, however (see especially Cohn, Figueroa and OConnell Davidson), are
concerned instead with the dynamics of display and disclosure in and of
themselves. Certainly there is space for such discussion within an autobiographic mode of writing. Nevertheless, if one wants to move between the socalled micro and the macro, and between texture, pattern and systematic
analysis, baldly laying out the affective details often seems to detract from
academic authority. The sense of adventure, drama, mystery, fear and sometimes, lets face it, the boredom which produces research is not easily articulated in part because it risks revealing, perhaps even exposing, the so-called
unscholarly, anecdotal, irrational and unscientific dimensions of the research
process. The very opposition between rational and irrational, analysis and
imagination, subjectivity and objectivity, constitutes an important if not a
central part of the legacy of an ideal of modern science with which the social
sciences have long struggled, in different ways (for a recent example, see Law,
2004). As Isabelle Stengers puts it, with modern science [t]he whole of
human invention, imagination, intentionality, and freely engaged passion is
. . . mobilized in order to establish that there is one interpretation only, the

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objective one, owing nothing to invention, imagination, and passion


(Stengers, 2002: 251). Or as Simon Cohn illustrates in this issue, in his discussion of the processes by which neuroscientific images of emotions, and
especially empathy, are produced, the special kind of intimacy [that] is established between researcher and researched . . . later gets extracted as artefactual noise. One might describe the essays in this collection as, precisely, noisy
(cf. Attali, 1985).
The risks of appearing to be overly or overtly sensational in the discussion
of the flesh, fabric, glamour, sounds, grease and grit of the everyday nature of
research, often polices communication of how the research was undertaken.
For example: in order to understand the domestic conditions that may have
led Ann Mead, a 15-year-old domestic servant who was hanged in Hertford
in July 1800, to murder her employers child (Mead administered half a
teaspoonful of arsenic to the child in revenge for being called a dirty slut),
Carolyn Steedman takes us through, in her article in this special issue, the
difficulty of nappy-washing and waste disposal in a hot, hungry summer,
when there was a shortage of water and the country had been at war. While
the meaning of shit-work, of what it means to work with human excrement in such an environment, is central to plotting a wider understanding
of the labour conditions of domestic servants, this level of detail is arguably
more acceptable in a novel such as the brilliantly written Untouchable by
Mulk Raj Anand (1940) than it is in research, where the thick descriptions
of texture could be considered to be rather dramatic and unnecessarily
fleshed out. For some of the contributors to this special issue, a kind of selfcensorship, or self-policing, is often considered to be an answer, albeit a
problematic and high-charged one, in the face of such risks (see especially
Julia OConnell Davidsons article on sex-work, Monica Moreno Figueroas
discussion of racism and the visual and, to a lesser degree, Bronwyn Parrys
accounts of her experience in the UK Brain Bank).
At stake, as noted by Pierre Bourdieu (2004a, 2004b), is the veritable
epistemological conversion of the most intimate details gained in close proximity into systematic analyses, with a reflexivity that seeks to exorcize a
voyeuristic gaze. The movement between proximity and distance was an
enduring research strategy for Bourdieu, but how he expressed proximity
was no doubt shaped as it is, differently, for academics today by intellectual environments and influences. In the latter part of Bourdieus life, he
noted that his association with and support from Raymond Aaron in the
early part of his academic career steered him away from non-scientific forms
of expression. Literary and novel forms of communication, which might have
allowed more space for the affective qualities of his research, were curtailed
in favour of an academic style that offered authority and legitimacy via a form
of sociology dominant at the time in North America. In the later part of his
life, before he died, suddenly, of cancer, Bourdieu began to free himself from

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this form of presentation. The Bachelors Ball (2007) is clearly different in this
regard.
Our purposes are not to come down, or at least not to come down straightforwardly, on the side of intimacy but rather to explore the different ways
in which it is produced, invented, or emerges in research and the different
theoretical, practical and personal implications and responses it may provoke.
The articles in this collection clearly illustrate that different researchers find
their intimate encounters to be more or less welcome, and that their relation
to their research intimacies may change during the life-course (and beyond)
of a particular project. For some, as in Bronwyn Parrys sudden and startling
meeting with Iris Murdochs brain, intimacy rears up (out of a bucket) unexpectedly, interrupting the research process and sending it spinning off in
new directions. For others, as in Carolyn Steedmans accounting for intimacy,
intimacy is to be cultivated and nourished, not only through reading (archives,
novels) but also through mimetic material practices (chopping, grating, slicing).
Intimacy may be considered to be ethically desirable Rebecca Coleman
argues that the intimacy that characterizes Bergsons intuitive method is an
inherently ethical mode of research but it can also raise problematic ethical
issues, as Julia OConnell Davidson shows in her often painful description
of her relationship with Desiree: sex worker, friend, research collaborator,
research object. And in the end, for Monica Moreno, the intimacy which she
and her research participants generated through the use of personal photographs during interviews, is something to be protected from academic audiences rather than shared with them.
The attention paid to the specificities of the research process in each of
these contributions serves to highlight the ways in which particular materials
and methods shape in particular ways what counts as data, what counts as
analysis, and what counts in dissemination. These articles attend to the how
of research: how exactly does a historian build an intimate relationship with
an archive? What might be physically involved in working in a brothel? In
what ways, precisely, do scientists build and erase personal relationships with
their research participants? In short, how do the practical, physical, material
dimensions of research form an integral, if often invisible, part of the final,
finished, ostensibly abstract product?
As a collection, these pieces also speak to long-standing and familiar
tensions that inform academic research more generally. One of our hopes in
organizing the conference and in commissioning these articles was that some
of the characteristics that define binaries such as creative versus analytical
might be redistributed and reconfigured when thought through the concept
of intimacy. For example: putting intimacy to work, both Simon Cohn and
Rebecca Coleman bring new perspectives to the subject/object distinction
that underpins the methods and debates that frame and inform their research
areas (neuroscientific imaging and the relations between womens bodies and

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images respectively). In Carolyn Steedmans and Bronwyn Parrys analyses,


intimacy serves to challenge the distinctions between spatial and temporal
proximity and distance. Both show how intense relations can be generated
and sustained across vast spaces and times through material artefacts (in
Parrys article, through Iris Murdochs books and her brain) and material
practices (Steedman, as noted earlier, shows how she uses shared cooking
practices to build connections between herself and her archival figures).
Finally, the (different) intimacies described in Julia OConnell Davidsons
and Monica Moreno Figueroas articles both serve to draw attention to the
role of researchers themselves in mediating the perceived relation between
academic freedom and censorship. Both, in different ways, point to the
limits of ethics, to the burden of self-imposed responsibilities, and to the
personal judgements that are required in order to honour, to use Figueroas
term, research subjects and objects.
The special issue opens with Carolyn Steedmans Intimacy in Research:
Accounting for It. In speaking of an 18th-century person with whom I have
had intimate relations, Steedman observes how her affinity with Frances
Hamilton (who farmed her own 60 acres [24 hectares] outside Taunton in
Somerset) and her understanding of the labour conditions of 18th-century
domestic workers, one of the largest yet neglected working groups of the
period in studies of class formations, is brought about in part by what she calls
intimate reading. Hamiltons account books, ledgers and reading materials
specifically, the lineage between the cookery and housekeeping books that
are read by both her historical figure and herself become the nodal point
of Steedmans relationship with Hamilton. Social contact with the dead is
regularly forged through what they have published in papers, books and
pamphlets. Private diaries and letters (depending on their custodians) usually
offer further means for bringing us into their orbit. Thus it is that Steedman
also gets intimate with Reverend John Murgatroyd of Slaithwaite, from the
18th century, through the hours that she spends poring over his written
materials, including his diaries and a 900-page Book of Records. These practices of course presume our persons of interest have literary skills and contacts.
Often, though, it is in the seeking out of events, and of the motives of figures
whom the archive is on but not of, that attachment is invented through the
research process. It is the intangible yet insatiable hunt for those bodies
whose lives lie between the lines of an archive that is not even on them, let
alone by them, that informs the imaginative work of what Steedman terms
the poetics of indeterminacy.
With a great sense for texture, Steedman notes that she gets close to
Hamiltons kitchen and pantry by way of the charm of recognition, the extraordinary materiality of processes and procedures stretching back over 200
years or more that entrances me. I chop an onion, scrape a nutmeg on a grater,

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in the same way. And it is a very great pleasure to contemplate what is in this
kind of sensate physical activity. Like words, physical activity carries the past
and something of everyone who has sliced a lemon in half for squeezing.
Within the movement of the body in the act of cooking at home, across the
shared cookery textbooks, as well as the aroma and texture of the lemon,
embodied recognition occurs. The body can have a memory across time, a
memory which is distributed across the spaces of everyday life. Steedman also
shows how the materiality of establishing intimacy with the dead happens in
the acts undertaken between research, just as much as it does in front of the
printed texts of libraries and archives. Intimacy is invented both within and
beyond the officially recognized sites of research. Connections with an
archives characters and details emotional and affective research investments
are made in the private time and activities of the home, as well as on the
journeys on trains, buses and planes from home to archive, and back again.
A very different kind of archived material informs Bronwyn Parrys article
Inventing Iris. Here, we learn again how intimacy is derived from reading
specifically, in this article, reading Iris Murdochs novels which becomes a
mode, as it is Steedmans work, of contracting space and time by stretching
out intimacy: I want to suggest here that these spaces of intimacy may, in
contradiction to what is suggested by our popular conception of intimacy
(up close and personal), be stretched out such that they extend their encompassing arc across not only great geographical distances but also, curiously,
across social parameters that may seem to be non-negotiable as conditions
for the construction of intimacy. Murdochs novels operated, as do other
material artefacts Parry argues, as interfaces; as an interface, in this case,
between the coastal backwater of Humpybong in Australia where Parry was
raised and the dreaming spires of Cambridge to which she aspired, and where
she later arrived first as a PhD student and then as a researcher into human
tissue brain banks in the UK. During the course of this research Parry was
presented casually, unexpectedly, and initially perhaps even unwontedly
with Iris Murdochs brain in a white plastic bucket. Unlike the technician, for
whom the brain was just another of many that were refridgerated, sectioned,
scanned and catalogued in the bank, for Parry this was more than an archived
scientific object: it had produced the books that, during her teenage years in
Humpybong, created a space of intimacy and possibility, a vision of the
intellectual and emotional habitus that awaited me elsewhere.
This, in other words, was an intimate encounter. Indeed, in so far as Parry
understands the brain to be the author herself (cf. Foucault, 1991) in so
far, that is, as the brain, an iconic object, is able to call forth a powerful sense
of immediacy and contact it was an encounter with intimacy itself.4 Having
only met Murdoch on the page, this meeting with her (brain) dead, but in the
flesh, was experienced by Parry as transgressive, shocking, sad, too intimate
to be decent or honourable. For these and doubtless other inarticulable

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reasons, she initially carried the event and its disturbance as a private matter,
hidden even from those personally close to her. She felt that she had seen
some thing which is not supposed to be seen or spoken of as a seen object,
a sentiment apparently shared by the brain bank, which seeks to shield its
highly artefactualized organs from the prurient public gaze. Ultimately,
however, and in an example of the potentially recursive character of intimacy,
it was precisely Parrys engagement with Murdochs partly phenomenological
moral philosophy (cf. Paterson, 2007) which insists that concrete particulars of touch and sensation are the stuff of philosophy as well as the stuff
of life that led her to ask whether Murdoch herself would have wanted,
were she able, to protect her own privacy.
Parry found a way of speaking of this intimate and touching encounter
whilst remaining sensitive to the potential sensationalism of meeting the
brain of a public intellectual celebrity in a white plastic bucket. The risks of
being accused of sensationalism are especially exacerbated for researchers
who work in sectors which are popularly understood to be zones of subterranean worlds, such as gang cultures, prostitution, drug-taking; essentially,
those areas that are classified as deviant and/or that are recognizably located
at the edges or, in some cases, in the thick, of criminality. Steedmans account
of the case of Ann Mead is an example here. The risks of appearing sensational are perhaps even more likely in the context of live primary research.
In her article If No Means No, Does Yes Mean Yes?, Julia OConnell
Davidson shares in rich detail the nuances and implications of the friendship
that developed between herself and her key informant during the course of
her research into the conditions of labour for sex work. Working as a receptionist for one day a week in Desirees brothel, OConnell Davidsons role
was to book and welcome clients, and to generally assist Desiree in whatever
way possible, which included the emotional labour of care to manage her
moods and stress. She supplemented this participant observation with indepth, unstructured qualitative interviews with some of the regular clients
and with other receptionists; a survey of the services requested by 150 of
Desirees clients; textual analysis of clients letters to Desiree and of transcripts of some of Desirees sessions with clients. Her immersion in this field
the proximity she wanted and achieved as an ethnographer was in part
enabled by the close friendship that she formed with Desiree: [f]or four years
running, Desiree spent Christmas and birthdays with my family and me. We
became, in short, best mates. The potency of OConnell Davidsons article
serves as a sharp reminder of the continued relevance of established research
dilemmas: how are boundaries, between researcher and researched, proximity and distance, to be maintained? Where do the power relations lie? Is it
an ethics of research, or of friendship, that requires negotiating here?
Desiree challenged OConnell Davidson to reduce the labouring distance
between them by making her engage in physical tasks she would rather not

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undertake. Desiree, OConnell Davidson writes, would sometimes call me


upstairs when she had a domination client naked except for a dog collar and
ask me to hold the dog leash while she whipped him, or even tell me to whip
him myself. The disclosure of this information in her article in this collection5 not only enables the working conditions of Desiree or other sex workers
in the brothel to be made explicit, but is also central to understanding the
nature of the affective labour that OConnell Davidson, as a researcher, felt
obliged to employ in the field. This is part of how she found herself there,
in the field, as a researcher. It was how her data were made. That there also
enabled and constrains her experience of here, and draws attention to some
of the often contradictory demands of academic research. There were periods
during this collaborative relationship, for instance, where OConnell Davidson
chose to privilege an intensely negotiated ethics at the expense, some might
say, of the distance required for systematic analysis: she made judgements
about the information which she believed Desiree had shared with her as a
friend rather than as a research subject, and edited the former out, and she
discussed her analytical ideas with her key informant, who not only provided
information but also herself read the literature on prostitution by scholars.
Desiree was a research subject, in short, who was also the researchers initial
audience. Perhaps inescapably, however, the ethics of this research project
met with its limits both during and after the friendship ended. Desiree, argues
OConnell Davidson, was ultimately objectified within both the long and
intimate field relationship and the textual products it generated. She became
a prostitute on paper, to be dissected and discussed not only by herself but
also by secondary researchers and students. The words and perspectives
Desiree had provided in one singular moment were for ever impaled and
frozen on the pages of books and journals. In this context, where there is
no going back to renegotiate what is now in print and so in the public
domain, OConnell Davidson revisits debates around consent and sex work
in order to ask whether it is possible to say yes to research and to mean it.
When we become intimate and close with our research subjects and then
make them into materials we take what are often intense private moments of
exchange into the public realm in the name of a scholarly good. The dissemination of primary data to a wider public can be plagued by a sense of betrayal
and disloyalty, and this is perhaps especially so, Mnica Moreno Figueroa
argues, in a field which is saturated by racialized images of the other. In her
article Looking Emotionally, Figueroa describes how her use of personal
photographs and in-depth life-story interviews created closeness, familiarity
and a sense of loyalty between the women, their images and me as researcher.
The use of the photographs was central to her methodology. More than a
mere prompt for discussion, the visual images became an integral part of
her conception of how her participants experienced and confronted racisms
formed through regimes of the visible. These private photographs were

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subsequently given to Figueroa, with consent, for use in her research as she
saw fit. Knowing that they were given to her on trust, in the specific context
of intimate and personal conversations on the racialized gaze, Figueroa felt
the full responsibility of carrying them into the public eye of academia, where
they would be subject to scrutiny, redistribution and, potentially, dilution.
And so she asks herself: How could the privileges of intimacy be respected
but also honoured? Uncertain of how the photographs would be received, she
wonders: who would be looking? What contexts would inform their gaze?
The questions Figueroa raises are especially pertinent as social scientists
increasingly make use of visual materials to elicit and document research data.
While Figueroa notes that what images do cannot be decided or known in
advance, her uncertainty as to how they would be read nevertheless led her
to exercise a degree of protectionism: she makes the somewhat surprising
decision not to show the photographs. While this decision is informed by her
understanding of the voyeurism of both the erotics of the exotic as well as
of charitable coffee-table images, it is notable that even in the context of the
academic arena, where there is now a long-standing literature on the visual
and race, Figueroa doubts whether her own textual framing could offset the
risk that the images would simply constitute a visual confirmation of the
stereotypes that inform the discrimination these women experienced in the
first place. Instead, Figueroa develops a conception of looking that is not
reducible to seeing, a looking emotionally that is part method, part ethics.
In attempting to analyse not what is seen but how that which is seen feels,
what it is like, Figueroa finds in not showing a working resolution to the
problematic nexus of obligations, responsibilities and loyalties that are inspired
by the social and emotional relationships that both produce and are produced
out of academic research.
Although Rebecca Colemans and Simon Cohns articles address very
different research fields, they both exploit the concept of intimacy in order
to challenge and refigure the boundaries between subjects and objects,
researcher and researched. As the title of Cohns article, Making Objective
Facts from Intimate Relations, indicates, his is a field of research, neuroscience, which seeks to establish the objective status of subjective states of
mind, to [discover] objects in subjects as he puts it. Based on ethnographic
fieldwork in cutting-edge labs, Cohn takes the reader through the delicate
negotiations that the scientists undertake with their volunteers in order to
maximize the value of experiments that take place under time and technological constraints. Trust emerges, for these scientists, as a crucial guarantor
of scientific truth: if the volunteers are to be trusted and the scientists do
as much as they can to ensure that they can be then the potential vagaries
of a persons subjectivity [can be said to] have successfully been avoided.
This relationship between the scientist and the volunteer is better understood
however, Cohn argues, not in terms of trust but rather in terms of intimacy.

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For what is striking in this context is that despite the dazzling technology,
the success of the experiment depends on the success of the intimate relationship that the scientist establishes with the volunteer.
Cohn illustrates that what gets captured by the scan is not simply coproduced by the scientists and the volunteers who participate in the experiments, but is rather the combined response of the person in the scanner, the
physical provisions of the experiment, and the thinking of the scientist who
not only has to prime the volunteer, but who also establishes an essential level
of intimacy with him or her in order for the experiment to be conducted in
the first place. While the discourse of trust, he argues, is intended to contain
the subjectivity of the volunteer or to produce it, rather, as an isolated and
isolatable thing the concept of intimacy serves to draw attention to the intersubjective relation between scientist and volunteer, an intersubjectivity that
not only makes the scientists final claims possible, but which, further and
more astonishingly, becomes the referent, Cohn argues, for the final representations of mental states (the scans of specific brain activities): in many
ways the minds of the neuroscientists themselves are effectively subjects of
the investigation.
The special issue finishes with Rebecca Colemans A Method of Intuition.
Colemans focus lies on debates that seek to address the relations between
womens bodies and images in academic discourses as well as in the domain
of governmental policy. As she notes, such debates often turn on an assumed
causal relation between popular media images on the one hand, and girls
and young womens bodies on the other, a relation which also, necessarily,
depends upon a distinction, a perceived gap, between objects (images) and
subjects (embodied young women). In order to explore some of the more
complex connections between images and bodies that emerged during the
course of her own research in this area, Coleman considers what Henri
Bergsons method of intuition might offer to social researchers and how, in
particular, it serves to contest the subject/object binary. Drawing on her
discussion of three key concepts (movement or becoming, uniqueness or
in-itself-ness, and coincidence or sympathy with), Coleman argues that
intimacy is not solely generated by nor does it only emerge out of the relations
between researcher and researched, subject and object, but rather that the
intimate entering into an object by way of intuition, the relationality of
intimacy understood thus, itself produces these positions.
But of what use, Coleman asks, can intuitive social research be? What
is the value of cut[ting] out for the object a concept which is appropriate to
that object alone, of cutting out, in other words, a concept that is not already
known in advance? And what does research that has few, if any, predictable
aims, procedures or outcomes offer, particularly with regards to the question
of social change? Coleman chooses to answer these questions with reference
to ethics; specifically, with reference to a conception of ethics, as opposed to

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INTRODUCTION: INTIMACY IN RESEARCH

morality, that finds resonance with her earlier discussion of the distinction
between intuition and analysis. Building on Deleuzes reading of Spinoza,
Coleman suggests that ethics, understood in terms of the affective capacities
of a given assemblage, the qualitative difference of modes of existence, offers
an alternative way of evaluating body-image encounters. Just as the method
of intuition displaces the imposition, from above, of pre-existing concepts
on to an object, so ethics is possible not through the imposition of an already
existing, transcendent system of judgement (i.e. Morality), but through the
coincidence with, the relationality of, the immanent becoming of the thing.
In practical terms, in her own research field, this enables Coleman to identify
good and bad not with reference to particular bodies and/or images (bad
images, bad bodies, for example) but in good or bad encounters between
bodies and images. Or to put that differently: Coleman asks not whether
particular images of women are good or bad for women, but about what
particular body-image encounters make possible.
While the factual details of research subjects, dead or living, are usually
recorded, as far as they can be, in a variety of lists and ledgers, the entanglements out of which the actual results of the data emerge often remain or
become invisible. Cohn shows his reader just how such entanglements are
eliminated during the production of neuroscientific results which take many
weeks to prepare, and during which time conversations, collaborations, and
concerns pass away unrecognized. Perhaps this is not surprising, in the context
of a scientific experiment. But it is also the case in social science research that
we often lose touch with our research subjects, no longer maintain our friendships (as OConnell Davidson and Desiree were unable to do), or that they
die (a point that was not lost on Parry, who interviewed elderly people who
intended to donate their brains for research into neurodegenerative conditions
after their deaths). The intensive affective labour, much of which is immaterial and immeasurable, that shaped and produced the data also fades. And
yet we can carry on using the words, opinions and feelings of our research
subjects in papers, books, lectures and conferences. In a legal contractual
sense, most of our research-based consent forms offer us unbounded copyright licence with regards to the material, as long as we maintain anonymity
and confidentiality. Thus it is that with each act of re-presentation, ethical
questions are raised.
Of course, as Figueroa shows, the data generated through research relationships is not, and cannot be held to be, a static snapshot. It is always
already abstracted from the concrete particulars of research encounters, and
such abstractions mutate, and sometimes transform into something new, at
different points in the research process. Over time, our own relationship with
the data, as well with the people who produced it with us, changes. We move
data around, we put it in the kitchen, we carry it in our bags (or buckets), we

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return to it with a different set of academic reading in our minds. We can


even go back to transcripts we collected 20 years ago and write a second
entirely different book from the one we did first time round. We have that
academic and creative licence. And, while we do not usually sell our raw
research data but rather make it an accessible resource to each other,6 it is
nevertheless a commodity in kind which can be translated into (exchanged
for) published articles, royalties, esteem-ratings, reputation, status, departmental income, promotion and invitations in the global circuits of academic
productivity. What becomes of the relationships as we move away from the
initial intensity of contact is subject to discussion, dissection, distance, perplexing ethical responsibilities, disappointments but also, sometimes, hopefully,
re-enchantment and revivification. One might then understand research to
be, in effect, an archive of living activity (Hall, 19992000: 4).

NOTES
1

4
5

Notable exceptions here would be the overlapping subdisciplines of science


studies and feminist work on science, both of which problematize scientific
ways of knowing. In doing so, feminists in particular often offer (more or less
explicitly) accounts of intimate research relations between subjects and objects
(see, for example, Evelyn Fox Kellers (1983) biography of Barbara McClintock,
A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock).
CSISP is an active interdisciplinary research centre based in the Sociology
Department at Goldsmiths. For more details of the centre and its activities, see
www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/csisp/
Consider also Carolyn Steedmans point, in her article in this special issue, that
although what someone did never was never could be as I have told it, the
fact that historical facts are made in the narrative of historians does not thereby
make them fiction (a point which Steedman further underscores when she notes
that her long-standing interest in the Little Watercress Girl disappeared the
moment I discovered that she was not real).
The authors of this introduction would like to thank Parrys reviewer for
capturing this point so neatly.
A disclosure that OConnell Davidson has previously resisted, on account of a
double discomfort: first, with her participation in these acts and second, with
how this information would be received in the public domain of the academy
and especially policy circles.
Publicly funded research materials are increasingly often made freely available
to other researchers on an open access basis via data archives, such as the ESRC
Qualidata at Essex University. One might compare this to the BBC, for example,
which may charge 250 for the first minute of a sound recording from its
archives, and 100 for each subsequent minute, used in educational projects that
academics may be working on.

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BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES
MARIAM FRASER is a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Her research currently focuses on how and whether core issues in the philosophy of social science remain relevant to contemporary sociology in the
face of a series of conceptual, methodological and organizational challenges.
NIRMAL PUWAR is a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. She has
published widely, including Space Invaders: Race, Gender, Bodies Out of
Place (Oxford: Berg, 2004). Currently she is working collaboratively on
creative critical methodologies, including Noise of the Past: Post-Colonial
War Requiem. These projects are housed in http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/
methods-lab/

Address: (Corresponding author) Dr Mariam Fraser, Department of Sociology,


Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW, UK.
[email: m.fraser@gold.ac.uk]

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