In praise of awkwardness in the field: increasing our understanding of relational concepts by reflecting on researchers’ emotion work

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In this article, we develop a new avenue for understanding the informative value of researchers’ emotions for qualitative research by deepening our understanding of awkwardness in the field. With this, we aim to develop Arlie Hochschild's notion of ‘emotion work’ further as a methodological tool. Awkwardness concerns discrepancies in researchers’ emotions that require and reveal emotion work. The argument is that reflecting on emotion work performed by the researcher in awkward situations is a way to gain insight into what we call ‘relational concepts’: concepts designating phenomena that reside and/or emerge in relationships between at least two persons. We show what this looks like in practice by presenting cases of awkwardness from three qualitative research projects revolving around such relational concepts, namely, recognition, dependency and dignity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Research
Early online date2023
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2023


  • Awkwardness
  • emotion work
  • participant observation
  • qualitative fieldwork
  • qualitative research
  • reflexivity
  • researchers’ emotions
  • sociology of emotions

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