Abstract: Ethical Care and Justice in Research with Communities Experiencing Surveillance and Hyper-Incarceration (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Ethical Care and Justice in Research with Communities Experiencing Surveillance and Hyper-Incarceration

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Alana Gunn, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Hyper-incarceration and surveillance have affected the physical and mental health of under-resourced Black and Latinx communities of color. In particular, chronic exposure to neighborhood stress, including constant fear of unwanted police encounters and potential arrests, contributes to mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety. In addition, heightened surveillance and policing also shape community well-being, as it disrupts familial network ties and support systems that provide a basis for neighborhood social capital. Unfortunately, hyper-surveillance and incarceration have become a collective experience for many impoverished, communities of color navigating systems of disadvantage. With experiences of surveillance and oppression impacting one’s well-being, it is critical to explore how we as community-engaged scholars create research spaces to explore these critical and timely issues in ways to promote responsive and reflexive knowledge production as well as social and political advocacy. Emerging research efforts are framing research engagement as an opportunity for individuals to tell their narratives on their own terms and elucidate their challenges to others. For anti-oppressive scholars there is an opportunity for marginalized communities to shape the way one’s own in-group is represented. At the mezzo, community level, research participation has been framed as a political strategy for combatting and disrupting biased knowledge production, allowing populations to tell their collective stories in ways rarely communicated. At the micro level, the research endeavor can become empowering, even therapeutic for people navigating intersectional life experiences of harm and violence. This presentation will explore the ways in which communities of color experiencing surveillance and hyper-incarceration view the community based participatory research process as they explore both historical and contemporary experiences of surveillance.

Methods: This project is currently implementing a mixed qualitative research strategy, which utilizes a photovoice method followed by semi-structured interviews to explore the lived experiences of individuals with previous criminal involvement living in Chicago. With a sample of 20 justice- involved individuals our RWJF team is exploring how participants view their community, their familial relationships, interactions with police and how this shapes their mental and physical health.

Results: Preliminary findings reveal that communities navigating hyper surveillance perceive the research process as a context for telling their stories and empowerment. In particular, participants view methods of photovoice voice as critical ways to reflect on how their experiences such as of policing and violence are shaping their health. Participants also discussed the community engaged process of researchers’ telling of their own stories as critical to building relational trust. While participants reported risks of emotional distress particularly as they engage in photovoice, promoting knowledge through group sessions and community exhibits about the ways in which policing and surveillance shape well-being was seen as an advocacy opportunity as well as a way of reflectively healing.

Conclusions and Implications: The implications underscore the need for greater considerations of how experiences of multi-system oppression shape the research process and how scholars can further promote compassionate research and interviewing strategies embedded in a critical ethics of care and justice.