In this paper, I broaden definitions pertaining to vulnerable participants and elaborate on issues in conducting research with justice-involved individuals and their families. I explore how special human subjects protections may inadvertently silence participants and further marginalize them, along with the social inequality that characterizes “at risk” research populations. Finally, I discuss how vulnerability can invite researcher transformation and methodological innovation and highlight the value of researcher reflexivity, community based participatory research and mixed methods approaches.


Vulnerability, Human Subjects, Mixed Methods Research, Qualitative Research, Criminal Justice

Author Bio(s)

Joyce A. Arditti is Professor of Human Development at Virginia Tech. She received her doctorate in Family Studies from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Her research interests include family disruption, parent-child relationships in vulnerable families, and public policy. Her scholarship is recognized nationally and abroad and she has published numerous empirical and review articles in therapy, human services, family studies, and criminal justice journals. She is the author of the book “Parental Incarceration and the Family: Psychological and Social Effects of Imprisonment on Children, Parents, and Care-Givers” published by New York University Press, for which she was the 2014 recipient of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) Outstanding Book Award, an honor awarded to a member of ACJS who has authored a book representing extraordinary contribution in the field of criminal justice. Joyce also edited a textbook entitled Family Problems: Stress, Risk, and Resilience (2015) published by John Wiley & Sons. Joyce has served as the Editor in Chief of Family Relations: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies. She is a fellow of the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR), and Chair of the Research & Theory Section (NCFR). She served as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Child & Family Studies, currently serves on various editorial boards, and is actively involved in research projects dealing with families involved in the criminal justice system.


This article is a companion piece in response to Easterling and Johnson’s 2015 paper published in the same volume of The Qualitative Report: Easterling, B. A., & Johnson, E. I. (2015). Conducting qualitative research on parental incarceration: Personal reflections on challenges and contributions. The Qualitative Report, 20(10), 1550-1567. Retrieved from http://nsuworks.nova.edu/tqr/vol20/iss10/1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Theory Construction and Research Methodology Pre-Conference; National Council on Family Relations; November 19, 2014; Baltimore, MD.

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