From empathy to care: A feminist care ethics perspective on long-term researcher-participant relations

Austin Toombs, Shad Gross, Shaowen Bardzell, Jeffrey Bardzell

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    33 Scopus citations


    Care pervades all interactions between people. Therefore, research that engages with human participants necessarily includes care, both from researchers and participants. These caring relationships are frequently left unaddressed in research reporting, disguising the fact that researchers are also cared for in their interactions with participants. In this paper, we demonstrate how a care ethics perspective helps to bring clarity to the care entanglements that pervade the relationships that develop between researchers and participants. This perspective not only leads to a more complete ability to disclose the position of the researcher in their data, but also provides insights into how we describe the empathic character of these relationships. We analyze the researcher-participant relationships we developed during two separate long-term research engagements - a 19-month ethnography and a 6-month design deployment-using a care ethics perspective. We discuss how researchers and participants navigate a complex set of roles and reflexively engage with interpersonal vulnerabilities and needs for care. We argue that researchers, particularly those who participate in long-term qualitative studies, have to engage authentically with the multiple subject positions they themselves occupy, as well as the multiple subject positions in which their research participants become entangled. This importantly includes researchers' positions as individuals with human and social needs who participate in reciprocal, caring relationships with their participants. We argue that HCI research can benefit from incorporating a care ethics perspective, particularly in adopting the goals of developing empathic relationships with participants, acknowledging the reflexivity of research and engaging in researcher self-disclosure.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)45-57
    Number of pages13
    JournalInteracting with Computers
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 2017

    All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

    • Software
    • Human-Computer Interaction


    Dive into the research topics of 'From empathy to care: A feminist care ethics perspective on long-term researcher-participant relations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this