Attempting to Engage in “Ethical” Research with Homeless Youth


  • Sue-Ann Belle MacDonald Professeure adjointe


homeless youth, risk, practitioner-researcher, power/knowledge, ethics, subjectivity, anti-oppression


Risk pervades contemporary discourses surrounding and describing homeless youth. Deemed to be at risk and vulnerable to a range of dangers related to living on the street as well as risky due to their delinquent behaviours, homeless youth tend to be reduced to narrow conceptualizations bereft of complexity, variability, or respect for individual agency. Largely left out of dominant discourses are youths’ own voices, perceptions, and experiences relative to their individual efforts to engage in, confront, and negotiate the various risks associated with street life. In this article, I explore my own attempts, as a social work practitioner and budding researcher, to engage in research that aimed at destabilizing dominant discourses of homeless youth and privileging homeless youths’ diverse articulations of risk in their day-to- day lives. Specifically, I describe my lack of acumen related to positionality and subjectivity and to asymetrical power dynamics. I propose ways in which I could have better reflected upon, and negotiated, these issues in my doctoral project as lessons for future researchers, in particular, practitioner-researchers. I argue that bridging subjectivity, situated ethics, and anti-oppressive research practices may provide meaningful ways to address these misgivings.