Storytelling, statistics, and the ethics of responsibility: researching a welfare reform experiment

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In this essay, I reflect on the process of conducting research into an Australian welfare reform experiment that targets Indigenous people: the trial of a cashless debit card. Selectively deployed statistical research has been key to making and contesting the political case regarding the cashless debit card’s effectiveness. However, pursuing narrative research in contradistinction to this preponderance of statistical research does not necessarily salve ongoing questions about power and research ethics, which have been reinvigorated amid renewed calls for anthropology’s decolonisation. I draw on Eve Tuck’s (2009) analysis of ‘pain narratives’ and Sujatha Fernandes’ (2017) critical account of storytelling to probe aspects of my research. When settler anthropologists elicit, listen to, collect, and then disseminate stories gifted by Indigenous interviewees, this demands we take serious ‘responsibility for the decisions we make as writers’ (Birch 2019: 26). Demystifying the particular relations and everyday processes that lie at the heart of our research practice is thus warranted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-51
Number of pages25
JournalCommoning Ethnography
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2019

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  • cashless debit card
  • narrative
  • responsibility
  • decolonisation
  • ethics


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