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The Role of Emotions in Fieldwork: A Self Study of Family Research in a Corrections Setting

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Data Analysis
Wordcount: 6310 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Name of the Authors: 

Joyce A. Arditti, Karen S. Joset, Jennifer Lambert-Shute, and Latanya Walker

Title of the Article:

The Role of Emotions in Fieldwork: A Self Study of Family Research in a Corrections Setting

Title of the journal, volume number, date, month and page numbers

The Qualitative Report, Volume 15, Number 6, November 2010, pages 1387-1414

The credibility of the Authors

 The researchers of this study consisted of 4 personnel. Of the four personnel, Joyce A. Arditti is also the 1st author was also the lead researcher for this project. She appeared to have a very instrumental role in all of the data collection and interpretations.  Arditti, Joest, Lambert-Shute, and Walker (2010) noted that they were all researchers who well-versed professionals whose life experiences, assisted them in understanding what they were witnessing in the correctional facility. The researchers also noted that their diverse backgrounds also helped them to interpret and process the data from the data collection (Arditt, et al., 2010).

Strengths of the Researchers

 These researchers appeared to conduct an ongoing self-analysis of their emotions during and after the 10-week study. The self-analysis was an essential aspect of their research as this information included their thoughts and feelings, which may have changed as they progressed through the research. Another strength is that the lead researcher is also one of the authors of this assigned journal article (Arditti, et al., 2010).   The ultimate strength that I will highlight includes the team of four researchers instead of just one researcher. Having four researchers permitted team opportunities to share their emotions and feelings. Besides, if necessary, they could be debriefed together.  Also, a team of the researcher may be able to bring forth different perspectives of this research. As the researcher’s emotions were exemplified throughout this research, this helped to break down the myth associated with emotionless fieldwork (Arditti, et al., 2010).

Limitations of Researchers

While this article highlighted that the researchers had diverse backgrounds, the specific background experience was not discussed.  Google showed over ten articles that these researchers have worked on together, and they were similar as they appear to be addressing the stressors and emotions of families of those incarcerated. While they appear to have experience working together with this population, I would question the level of diversity with this research team.

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This research team consisted of only one minority- African American female, but there were 3 Caucasian females and no males on this research team (Arditti, et al., 2010). The specific races were not provided for the inmates; however, it was a men’s correction facility and not one male on the research team.  WISELI (2010) stated that research has shown that diverse working groups are more “productive, creative, and innovative” in comparison to standardized groups. The male inmates and guards might have responded differently if the team had at least one male research instead of all females. As a feminist, I know that the females are capable of being professional and obtaining the data; however, in this setting, it may have helped their research.

This article highlighted how the researchers felt uncomfortable in the jail setting, and they experienced intense emotions because of the way the family members were being treated by the staff at the correctional facility (Arditti, et al., 2010). The data collection and interpretation of the data might have been different if at least one male was on the research team as he may not have felt this intense level of discomfort as experienced by the females. I would hypothesize none of the researchers have ever worked in a correctional facility or had to go to one as a part of their job. The researchers noted that the visitors of the inmates had to endure no privacy, extensive long lines and waiting periods, being humiliated and treated rudely by correction officers, noisy and crowded visitation rooms, and dirty facilities (Arditt, 2010). A lot of these feelings are left up to interpretation, such as feeling humiliated of being treated rudely. Due to the stigma associated with correctional facilities, some of these variables may be based on the researcher’s interpretation. These interpretations could be contributed to a lack of knowledge and insight as to why the correctional officers are doing their job in a precise manner. When they stated that the facilities were dirty, they may not know how often the rooms are cleaned and how many families have been through there before they come in with their clients. If at least one of the researchers had background experience working in a correctional facility, then maybe that individual could explain to the other researchers why the correctional staff have to exert a certain level of authority over visitors and inmates and observe them as they may attempt to provide the inmates with contraband (drugs and other things that are prohibited).

According to Gramlich (2019), African American and Hispanic males make up more of the prison population than white males. The data might have been different if a Hispanic researcher was working on the team as well. Diversity amongst the researchers could have helped the inmates, guards, and families witness diversity within this research, and the male have provided more information.

Writing Style

 This journal article provided much great information; however, I did not find this writing style to be very clear. I had to read this article several times while highlighting and taking notes on it to fully grasp the concept of how the research was conducted and the results. I found that obtaining specific data and information challenging to decipher in this journal article as it was not clearly outlined. Much valuable data I feel was not included or expected to be interpreted by the reader. Usually, when I read journal articles, the sections are broken down to show the research was conducted, which is easier for me to interpret (e.g. , abstract, introduction, problem statement, purpose, approach or methods, hypothesis, theory, results, strengths, limitations, recommendation for future research, etc.). This journal article would have been more straightforward for me to follow if that information had been clearly defined.

The information provided appeared to be solely on the emotions of the researchers and little on the emotions of the families and correctional facility staff. Personally, if I were researching a topic that was similar to this article, I would not use this article as a reference due to it not providing enough information and a lack of clarity.  However, I did find the article titled, “Reflexivity in correctional research: Researcher perspective on parenthood in a study with incarcerated parents” by Rossiter, Power, Fowler, Elliott, and Dawson (2018) to be more insightful and the breakdown of the article was well articulated and easy to understand. I did not have to speculate about anything with Rossiter, et al., (2018) article as it was all written out.

I did not find any grammatical errors; however, some of the information was repeated 9 or 10 times throughout the paper, which could be a bit excessive. One of the things that I correctly remember reading over and over was regarding processing the researcher’s emotions  “feeling powerless and angry” of what they witnessed and how the data was collected.

Purpose and Data Collection

 The purpose of this research was to gain an understanding of how the researchers elevated emotions in fieldwork can impact the research design, implementation, and results (Arditti, et al., 2010). These researchers interviewed 56 parents/caregivers of children who visited their incarcerated family members at the research site over a 10-week timeframe (Arditti, et al., 2010). The researchers collected their data using closed-ended questions and quantitative scales that obtained insight on the family’s economic stability, health, and social aspects of the parents and children who were visiting their incarcerated family members (Arditti, et al., 2010). 

These researchers addressed the themes that they noticed regarding the family member’s discomfort associated with the institutional jail setting, their intense emotions concerning the life and situations of the participants involved in the study.  They also highlighted the treatment by the correctional officers, in addition to the researcher’s concerns about what would happen to the family members after they left the research setting (Arditti, et al., 2010). Some of the researchers questioned would things go back to the way they were, had the participants felt used by them to gain information and then abandoned, and numerous other thoughts and doubts after leaving the research site. The goal of the research was to provide a voice for the family members of the incarcerated inmates.

Meaningfulness of Problem Statement

 This study did not provide a clear problem statement. Rossiter, Power, Fowler, Elliott, and Dawson (2018) noted that there are a large number of parents who are separated from their children as a result of incarceration. As a result of the increased amount of parents who are incarcerated, this study did help to interpret how the researchers and families experienced the correctional facility for the ten weeks of this study.

The theory used for this article was grounded theory, which appeared to be appropriate as it allowed the researchers an opportunity to conduct their research through a systematic approach, which is vital as the researchers were monitoring their emotions, the families, and the correctional staff.

Grounded theory has some strengths and limitations. Some of the strengths of the grounded theory include it is the ability to provide an instinctive perspective, helps with creativity, can conceptualize,  and data analysis is conducted through a systematic approach (Hussein, Hirst, Salyers, O’suji, 2014).

Some of the limitations of grounded theory consist of possible methodological errors, the researchers are reviewing the literature without developing assumptions, and while there are multiple approaches to grounded theory, there is limited generalizability (Hussein, et al., 2014). It can be challenging for researchers to implement extensive evaluations in the correctional facility.  Arditti, et al. (2010) noted that due to the rules and policies of the correctional facility, they had to use field notes and write in long/shorthand everything as video/audio recordings or any computer-assisted equipment was allowed while researching the correctional facility. According to the National Institute of Justice (2012), researchers in correctional facilities may at times have to rely on a weaker quasi-experimental design that has comparison groups; however, it may not be proficient at totally ruling out competing hypotheses to explain the differences and outcomes of the data.

Even though the researchers used the systematic approach, they failed to highlight any of the positive aspects that these family visits had on the inmate’s emotions. Boudin, Stutz, and Littman (2013) stated that family visits in prisons had had a positive impact on the inmate’s behavior and safety.

Review of Literature

 Many factors can impact the family members of an incarcerated inmate, such as economic hardships, emotional stressors, and breakdown in the family dynamics (Lee, Porter, and Comfort, 2015). Some of the emotional stressors could be related to the stigma that is associated with having a family member incarcerated (Arditti, et al., 2010). Some additional stressors could be related to loosing one source of the household income which could lead to financial hardship for the parent who is still caring for the family (Lee, et al., 2015).

While this study does highlight that the research is being conducted in a local jail, it does not specify the crimes of the individuals committed. While they were all in a local jail does not mean that after their court date, some of them may be transferred to prison. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2017), individuals who spend time in jail for 1-year sentences or less or it is before or after their adjudication hearing.

Many things could impact the family visit with an inmate. Connor and Tewlcsbury (2015) study stated that educated white females who were married during the time of there study was allowed to receive more visitation from a specific type of visitor in comparison to inmates who were not incarcerated for drugs, violence, and sex offenses. Some minority individuals may feel that “white women” act superior to them or would not understand what they are dealing with, and as a result, they were less likely to open up. While completing my internship, I remember cases were assigned based on the level of expertise and bet fit for the client and clinician. While they were not assigned based on race unless the client specifically spoke another language then they would be assigned to someone on staff who also spoke that language if possible but I have had clients assigned to me because I am not the same age as their children (yes, I’m older than their adult children), or because the client requested someone who had experience working with the lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, and transgender population (LBGT), and some clients have specifically requested a female therapist and I was assigned. Overall, there is a multitude of reasons why diversity should be offered to families.

Importance of Study is Demonstrated

 The purpose of this study was to provide a voice for the family members of the incarcerated personnel. The authors felt this was important because it was a step towards promoting social justice and assisting with implementing change for these families who were negatively impacted as a result of their family members being incarcerated. The importance of this study was demonstrated, as the authors addressed what they considered to be a lack of privacy, verbal abuse, long lines, dirty facilities, and loud and crowded rooms in terms of being a form of harsh treatment (Arditti, et al., 2010). The authors appeared to be attempting to bring these issues to the forefront to get better treatment for the family members of incarcerated inmates.

Sensitivity to Cultural Issues

 The gender of all four researchers was females who were providing research in a male correctional facility. As stated previously stated, I think the research could have benefited from having at least one male researcher in addition to another researcher from a minority background (this could have included a minority male). This study had 1 African American female and 3 Caucasian female researchers. I would question if the researchers represented the population in which they were researching. This study also neglected to provide insight into the culture in which they were studying (the breakdown of race, socioeconomic status, and values). The researchers appeared to be respectful to the participants who agreed to participate in the study, however, since there are so many statistics out there on the makeup of incarcerated inmates, it would have been helpful to gain insight on what the culture looked like for this population.

 The researchers did use a systematic approach. When addressing their emotions as researchers, they looked at the big picture of how people were being treated to include the inmates and family members (Arditti, et al., 2010). I do not think that this study addressed feeling any remorse or sorrow for the corrections officers who were doing their job.

Internal Validity

 Arditti, et al. (2010) noted that the emotions that the researchers experienced during this study were their internal self-feelings in response to what they were witnessing and hearing in the correctional facility.

Identify independent, dependent, and other variables of possible relevance

The dependent variable is the family member visiting the correctional facility to see an incarcerated inmate and the rules enforced by the correctional facility staff members. The independent variable is the emotions of the families, children, and researchers in the institutional setting while visiting incarcerated inmates. Some of the possible variables to the independent variable include the feelings of being powerless, extreme discomfort by the researcher, angry, and frustrated with the process that the family members have to endure, and emotions regarding the participant’s life outside of the jail, and the research setting.

Treatment Intervention

 The treatment intervention was to allow the family members to trust the researchers and openly share their experiences of the correctional facility. Also, to share their experiences, they shared experiences regarding life outside of the jail with a family member incarcerated, the stigma, and a lack of support (Arditti, et al., 2010). These researchers allowed the family and children to develop a support system and see the friendly face of someone who was genuinely invested in understanding how they were coping with their feelings and emotions. It appeared that having someone to talk to really helped the families, as the researchers said the families use to look forward to seeing them and began to speak to them as if they were friends, not researchers (Arditti, et al., 2010). It is also apparent that the researchers were genuinely invested in this research as they found their departure difficult and were concerned about the families after they left the research setting.

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 The critical areas of intervention discussed by these researchers are as followed:  alleviating intrapsychic distress, assisting the family members in processing their unresolved loss, empowering offenders and their families, providing parental support and skills to the families to provide some form of relief (Arditti, et al., 2010). The researchers also referred the family members to additional resources within the community to further assist them.

While this intervention provided relief for some, it could also cause individuals to feel guilty. Some recommendations were made such as institutional practices that permitted family bonding and rehabilitation versus the feeling of incapacitation, and sweeping policy reform that highlights the alleviation of swelling disadvantages and attempts to reduce their overreliance on incarceration (Arditti, et al., 2010).

External Validity

 The conclusion of this study revealed that the researchers were able to examine their relational content through conceptual mapping in order to help them gain an understanding of how the correlation between their emotional lives and the interview setting could intensify the data interpretation, reporting, and minimize on the participant experiences (Arditti, et al., 2010). Ultimately, when researchers become interweaved in the research, they can take on emotional burdens and personal feelings as it relates to the participants and treatment endured. In this type of research, I could foresee how this could happen to another set of researchers in this type of environment as well.

Includes measures of non-target family members not just (IP)

 This article did address the emotions of the researchers and the behaviors of the correctional staff. The behaviors of the correctional staff appear to have a significant correlation to the feelings and emotions that the researchers endured while in the research setting.

Allows for both positive and negative change

 The researchers were seeking to obtain positive change that included better treatment of the families who were visiting inmates in a correctional facility. As this article did not specify if the positive change occurred, each of the researchers questioned how the families were being treated after they left.

Level of measurement is precise (categorical, ordinal, interval, ratio)

 While this journal did not clearly state that the level of measurement was an interval, I would assume that it is as the researchers appear to be attempting to obtain information to fill in a gap and better help the families (Rossetti, 2018).

Statistical Conclusion is Valid

 There were no stats included in this article.

Limitations to the Conclusion

1. The researchers noted that they felt powerless, angry at the criminal justice system, and their despair (Arditti, et al., 2010). Their feeling of being powerless in this situation could be a factor in their conclusion.

2. The researcher’s perspective appeared to be unilateral as they only discussed their emotions as it related to how the families of the inmates were treated. Their viewpoints did not address any rules or regulations as it relates to the correctional facility and the possibility that some of these rules were established to keep everyone safe. Boudin, Stutz, and Littman (2013), conducted a study with Yale University which revealed that restrictions in prisons may be placed on certain things as it pertains to the visit to include the hours, duration, privacy, and other aspects as a means to ensure the safety and security of everyone, the extraordinary numbers of personnel, and the needs to keep the correctional facilities in order. As correctional facilities can be restrictive at times and have unpredictable environments, however, it functions as a secure environment where each staff member has a well defined and discrete role in helping ensure the safety of everyone within the facility (Apa, Bai, Mukhenejee, Herzig, Koenigsmann, Lowy, and Larson, 2012).  I view the guard’s roles as ensuring the safety of the families and inmates during the visits and the protocols enforced are a measure used to do this.

Consideration of clinical significance, not just statistical significance

 Some of the clinical signs that this article highlighted included the notion that the participants of the study experienced economic hardships, emotional stressors, breakdown in family dynamics, and various losses (Arditti, et al., 2010). As a result of the stigma associated with having a family member incarcerated, the participants felt ashamed and even invisible. The referrals appeared to help as the families continued to want to speak with the researchers. They felt there was little to no community support that helped with family distress (Arditti, et al., 2010). These family visits can also bring up repressed memories of trauma, uncomfortable feelings, and subject both the offender and family members to a dangerous situation filled with tension, complicated feelings and emotions, and possible painful memories.  (Arditti, et al., 2010). This study also revealed that the families were resilient and followed the rules even when there was no contact allowed with the inmates.

 The article also discussed how they benefited from using the conceptual map to examine the relational content, the researcher’s assumptions (that I feel are biased), and the findings (Arditti et al., 2010). The researchers noted that they gained more insight into how their emotional life and the interview with the participants could provide more depth to the data interpretation, reporting, and remove the participant experiences (Arditti, 2010). The fleshing out of the participant experiences made me question if these researchers were trying to give the family members a voice or were they trying to identify how working in these facilities can have an impact on the psyche of individuals that come into the institutional settings. Overall, I’m stumped on how this self-study that seeks to “flesh out” the experiences of the participants could provide them with a voice in social justice.

Relates to literature, the original problem

 The findings in this article do relate to the original problem. The findings specifically highlight how the participants are feeling in regards to the trust stigmas, resilience, and assisting families with multiple problems (Arditti, et al., 2010).

Contains implications for future research, clinical practice, and theory

 As this journal article was written in 2010, and the researchers were concerned were still concerned about the families even after they left the research setting. The researchers highlighted the fact that they were trying to make a change in the correctional facilities to help empower family dynamics and rehabilitation and less on incapacitation. Rossiter, et al. (2018) study explored the researchers perspective on parenthood to incarcerated parents and it revealed that there is still a gap in research as it relates to parenting while incarcerated and how even fewer researchers have self-examined how their perspectives impact the data collection and interpretation of the data specifically regarding parenting while incarcerated.

Strengths of this Journal Article

  1. The data collection was clearly outlined.
  2. The researcher team was transparent regarding their emotions associated with being in this correctional facility and seeing the way the staff treated the families and inmates.
  3. The research team had ways to process their emotions after they left the research setting, which included debriefing, talking, and poetry.
  4. The researchers were able to make some referrals for the families while in the research setting to better assist them after the research project was completed.
  5. The researchers appeared genuinely invested in this research as they were concerned not being able to make changes even after they left the research setting and that things would still be the same (Arditti, et al., 2010). The researchers also continued to think about some of the clients who they only met once and wondered how they were doing even after the research was completed.
  6. The researchers used both qualitative and quantitative research methods to collect the data (correctly the quantitative scales). This is beneficial to the research as it captures this specific disadvantaged community and helps capture the intricacy of family life, parenting, employment, and balancing life with an incarcerated family member that is often overlooked in conventional data collection (Western, Braga, and Kohl, 2014).

Limitations of this Journal Article

  1. The researcher’s feelings of being powerless and angry could have been projected onto the participants during this study, which could ultimately impact the data.
  2. No information was provided in regards to the data collection, such as how many people were studies, their race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, etc.
  3. Due to the specific closed-ended questions that the researcher asked not being included in this study would make it challenging to re-test this study.
  4. Limited diversity in the research team could have impacted the participants in this study as they did not see anyone on the research team that looked like them, especially for minorities.
  5. There were no males on the research team in a male correctional facility, which could have impacted the feedback that was received or interpreted from the inmates and families.
  6. The researchers could have obtained more detailed information if they used open-ended questions instead of close-ended questions.
  7. I think some of the assumptions in the journal article and researchers’ perspectives were biased against the correctional facility before investigating, which could have impacted the data and data interpretation based on their assumptions. The assumptions that I feel are biased are as followed, “jails are scary places full of people different from us,” “family members are victims of the system,” “people can overcome” (Arditti, et al., 2010). Being that the study used closed-ended questions, and these are the assumptions, I feel that families could have been persuaded to feel the way the researchers felt, especially since it appeared that the researchers were against the system before conducting the study (feelings of anger).

Research Proposal


The abstract flowed well and was easy to understand in Arditti, et al. (2010) journal article. I would not make any changes to it.


 In recent years there has been a rise in the number of parents who are separated from their children as a result of incarceration throughout the world (Rossiter, et al., 2018). While there has been extensive research conducted on the psychosocial impact on inmates and their families, there is a gap in research regarding how the researcher’s perspectives impact the data collection and interpretation regarding parenting in correctional facilities (Rossiter, et al., 2018). This qualitative study will provide insight into the emotions of researchers in a correctional setting. Due to the intense emotions that were aroused from being in the jail setting and the social interactions that occurred, the researchers felt that their feelings were an essential source of information especially in regards to obtaining social justice for the families (et al., 2010). The jail setting evoked a feeling of powerless, anger, lack of privacy, or respect with the researchers and families.

Problem Statement

Rossiter, Power, Fowler, Elliott, and Dawson (2018) noted that there are a large number of parents who are separated from their children as a result of incarceration.  In order to provide a voice for the families visiting an incarcerated inmate,  researchers have sought to understand the emotions associated with their time spent at the correctional facility.


 The methodology in Arditti, et al., (2010) article was not clearly stated. The article stated that it was a local jail. I would specify my research setting more to include the city and state that this local jail was in to help my audience better understand the surrounding community and population. While the researchers were all from school in different parts of the United States (2 from Virginia, one from New York, and one from Georgia), there is nothing in this research paper that signifies where this study was conducted.

Data Collection

The data collection was clear and easy to understand in this journal article.


The results of this study revealed there is a stigma associated with having a family member incarcerated, which resulted in the participants feeling ashamed and even invisible. The families felt there was little to no community support that helped address their family distress (Arditti, et al., 2010). These family visits also tended to bring up repressed memories of trauma, uncomfortable feelings, and subject both the offender and family members to a dangerous situation filled with tension, complicated feelings and emotions, and possible painful memories.  (Arditti, et al., 2010). This study also revealed that the families were resilient and followed the rules even when there was no contact allowed with the inmates.

While these results did provide some insight into the viewpoints of the families visiting inmates in the local jail, I think some additional information would have made it easier to comprehend, specifically descriptive statistics. Ali and Bhaskar (2016) noted that statistics could help a researcher with their analysis, data collection, designing, planning, interpretation of data, and reporting the findings of the research. The statistical data provides meaning to the numbers used in the study if the correct statistical tests are utilized (Ali and Bhaskar, 2016). Descriptive statistics would have helped the researchers gain insight into the relationship between the variables within the sample being studied (Ali and Bhaskar, 2016).



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  • Gramlich, J. (2019). The number between the blacks and whites in prison is shrinking. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/30/shrinking-gap-between-number-of-blacks-and-whites-in-prison/
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