23 June 2008

Reporting on the Homeless

Over on his blog, Scott Neigh brings our attention to this story in today's Toronto Star. It reports on a study which targetted the perilous aspects for women living homeless in Toronto.

Neigh questions The Star's style of reporting about this study.

There is something about the Toronto Star-liberal approach to writing stories about poverty that I don't like -- a sort of revelling in the stories of people living in poverty that is voyeuristic, that is about giving people whose lives are comfortable a chance to go "Oh! How awful!" with absolutely no danger of having to confront that fact that our comfort is directly built on that suffering (dramatized at a safely impersonal distance by the journalist) which therefore makes us complicit in producing that suffering.

I have to agree with Neigh, but would take it further.

It's not just about how the media reports on people who are homeless or living in poverty; it's also about how a large number of academics continue to conduct their research and subsequently report on it. Taking objectivity as the necessary measure of the validity of their research, these academics end up de-humanizing the subjects of their studies.

At a recent networking event - having sat through two days of study presentations -, I accused certain academics of doing just that and warned the room generally (which included students, or future academics) of adding to, rather than helping to alleviate, the marginalization of the women in their studies. My comments, which I'd been too outraged to hold back, received loud acclaim.

Another participant at the event used the word "voyeurism" to sum up how she felt sitting in that audience and hearing the women's stories being piecemealed.

I also pointed out that the most qualified to study and report on the lives of marginalized women are the women themselves.* That conducting such research is not only empowering for these women but also far more enlightening to anyone concerned with really wanting to learn the truth of our lives.

* For an example of such research, see Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the front.

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