Methodological challenges of conducting research with protected populations using qualitative methods are abundant. Inmates and children are two vulnerable populations, requiring rigorous processes and permissions to gain access to individuals in these populations. Qualitative research requires intimate interactions and discussions of sensitive topics, posing challenges related to extracting information and creating emotional responses from researcher and participant. Drawing on interviews with incarcerated mothers and children with incarcerated parents, we discuss challenges and benefits of qualitative methodology for research on parental incarceration and offer suggestions for overcoming barriers to access, data collection, and publication.


Qualitative Methodology, Phenomenology, Parental Incarceration

Author Bio(s)

Beth A. Easterling is an Assistant Professor of and Co-Director of the Criminal Justice Program at Mary Baldwin College. Her research interests include the impact of incarceration on the family, gender and crime, and qualitative methodology. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Beth A. Easterling at, beasterling@mbc.edu.

Elizabeth I. Johnson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Child and Family Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her research is focused on socioemotional well-being among adolescents and young adults, particularly in the context of parental incarceration and in relation to daily stress processes.


An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Theory Construction and Research Methodology Workshop at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the National Council on Family Relations in Baltimore, MD. We would like to thank Drs. Joyce Arditti and Renée Dennison for participating in this process with us and for providing helpful and insightful comments that have significantly enhanced our manuscript. Please see Arditti’s 2015 companion paper in response to this article in this volume of The Qualitative Report: Arditti, J. A. (2015). Situating vulnerability in research: Implications for researcher transformation and methodological innovation. The Qualitative Report, 20(10), 1568-1575. Retrieved from http://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol20/iss10/2

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