Researching reproduction with men: philosophical and methodological challenges

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2016-09-15

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Peer reviewed

Abstract

Social science research into reproduction is a vibrant and growing field of scholarly activity. However, the majority of research is conducted with women and focusses on women’s lives. This reinforces the notion that reproduction is located primarily in the female domain and overemphasis female responsibility, leaving men’s behaviours relatively neglected. Several scholars have argued for an expansion of reproduction research to include a focus on men and men’s experiences (Culley et al., 2013; Lohan, 2015). However, despite a growing interest in men’s experiences in recent years, the majority of reproduction research involving men has been concerned with fatherhood itself, leaving numerous other aspects of the reproduction process overlooked including pre-conception desires for parenthood and planning (Morison, 2013; Lohan, 2015). Furthermore, methodological literature on researching reproduction with men remains sparse.

This paper presents early reflections from a PhD study into childless men’s perceptions and intentions regarding reproductive timings. It considers methodological aspects in the context of the first phase of recruitment and data collection, and will explore two main issues.

Firstly, recruiting men for reproduction research can present challenges. As reproduction is traditionally considered a female domain, men may be disinclined to take part in such research and may not identify it as relevant to their lives. Furthermore, studying the pre-conception stages of reproductive planning with men who are presumed fertile necessitates the recruitment of individuals who are not a unified group and who cannot be recruited via a specific organisation or network. This paper explores these challenges, as well as strategies evoked to address them, and discusses resulting dilemmas, opportunities and concerns, particularly regarding recruitment through personal networks.

Secondly, the paper addresses the issue of gender in the research process. Participants and researchers are gendered individuals and the research interview a gendered encounter, which has consequences for the collection, analysis and interpretation of data. Past literature suggests that female researcher-male participant interviews may be perceived as opportunities and/or threats, may provoke anxieties and defensiveness and may result in heterosexual displays of behaviour (Hearn, 2013). The paper reflects upon the first phase of data collection and on the performance of gender within interviews. It considers the implications of this for the study specifically and for reproduction research more generally, particularly in relation to feminist methodology.

Extending reproduction research to better include a focus on men and men’s lives requires a reflection of the methodological challenges inherent in such research and discussion regarding how these can be addressed. This paper aims to contribute to discussions regarding the complexities regarding undertaking reproduction research with men, and to offer a detailed consideration of some of the associated challenges, opportunities and dilemmas.

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Law, C. (2016) Researching reproduction with men: philosophical and methodological challenges, paper presented to the Social Studies of Reproduction: Techniques, Methods and Reflexive Movements stream of the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Logic and Methodology (RC33) 9th International Conference on Social Science Methodology, University of Leicester, UK, 11-16 September 2016.

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Centre for Reproduction Research (CRR)