Messing up research: A dialogical account of gender, reflexivity, and governance in auto-ethnography


Hales, S. and Galbally, P. 2023. Messing up research: A dialogical account of gender, reflexivity, and governance in auto-ethnography. Gender, Work and Organization.
AuthorsHales, S. and Galbally, P.

This paper aims to contribute to a growing critical and reflexive awareness of the implications of gendered assumptions about ontology, epistemology, and ethics in academic research governance and practice. It provides a retrospective account of the authors' shared experiences of an autoethnographic study of lap dancing clubs, focusing on critical or “sticky moments” encountered, and considering the implications of these for research more widely. It does so by highlighting the gendered power relations shaping academic research, showing how Judith Butler's critique of the heterosexual matrix can be applied to a critical, reflexive understanding of the impact of binary, hierarchical gender power relations. The analysis provides insight into some of the ways in which autoethnographic research on sexualized work may become messy, dirty, and sticky in ways that accentuate power inequalities but also open up moments of opportunity for gender binaries and hierarchies to be revealed, challenged, and resisted. Using a Butlerian lens to reflect on our experiences, we contribute to understanding how heteronormative assumptions shape perceptions of what makes “good,” “clean,” and ethically (formally) approved research that conforms to the governmental norms of the heterosexual matrix and, by implication, those contaminating forms of research that disrupt or resist its disciplinary effects. As ethnographic research is often messy by its very nature, and particularly so when situated within sex/sexualized work, we aim to show how gendered assumptions can inhibit reflexivity in academic knowledge production, resulting in research processes that are (paradoxically) unethical. In response, we suggest three ways in which gender reflexive research might be pursued, by: (i) identifying gendered assumptions reflexively and dialogically, (ii) adopting an anti-essentialist approach that foregrounds experiential, embodied knowledge, and (iii) developing an anti-hierarchical methodology. We do so in the hope of opening up ways that might enable others to avoid heteronormative assumptions having potentially detrimental consequences for their research and to offer a starting point for developing gender reflexive knowledge production in the future.

KeywordsDirty research; Gender; Reflexivity; Research ethics; Writing differently
JournalGender, Work and Organization
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Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
Online11 Feb 2023
Publication process dates
Accepted19 Jan 2023
Deposited14 Feb 2023
Copyright holder© 2023 The Authors
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Lost for Words: Difficult Conversations about Ethics, Reflexivity, and Research Governance
Hales, S., Galbally, P. and Tyler, M. 2023. Lost for Words: Difficult Conversations about Ethics, Reflexivity, and Research Governance. in: Ryan-Flood, R., Crowhurst, I. and James-Hawkins, L. (ed.) Difficult Conversations: A Feminist Dialogue Abingdon, England Routledge.