The unfolding path of the relationships becomes the path of the project.Lisa M.Tillman, ‘Friendship as Method’
When I first decided to explore the concept of success, I thought one of the obstacles I would encounter would be finding “successful” people to interview. In my mind, this meant people in the limelight, well-known and doing “big things”. It was not until I came across a research method called ‘Friendship as Method’, that I realised I had everything I needed to begin this project. I was amazed that such a method existed as it makes room for emotions and vulnerability to exist in an academic space. A revolutionary act. Not intrinsically but simply because it defies the norm.
To begin this project, I chose to interview 6 university friends. The depth of my friendship with each participant differed but it was beautiful to see how even my most recently formed relationships still allowed for intimate conversations. Through this project, I have found that close relationships can be built in a short period of time through intentional acts and vulnerability. For example, I met Jeff only two weeks before the formal interview. Prior to this, we had only engaged with each other through online lectures. However, through intentional meet-ups and meaningful conversations, we have built and maintained a trusting friendship. As academia can often be a cold-hearted arena, (in terms of its dissociation from human emotions), it was refreshing to have ‘the path of the project’ dependent on personal relationships. It was a refreshing process because it did not require exertion of self – I could just be. That is not to say that I did not have to prepare before the interviews, but it meant that I could enjoy the process of collecting my research as I was simply having a meaningful conversation with friends.
With that said, there was a common feeling of nervousness amongst participants as they were aware that the interviews would form part of an academic assessment. For example, there was a general concern about saying “the wrong thing”, which I reassured participants was not possible in this context as I was asking them about their reality. Some participants were overly aware that the conversation we were having would be heard by others, which I noticed was preventing them from being their full selves. This self-consciousness amongst participants was something that I (perhaps naively), thought would be overcome by not using video interviews. I thought that using a podcast format would create a more freeing environment; but it appears that it is making our voices heard rather than our aesthetic being judged, that causes us greater anxiety.
Audre Lorde’s words, ‘Your silence will not protect you’, would not have been necessary if there was no fear in using one’s voice… it is interesting to observe how the very thing that has the power to effect change is what we fear using the most. But as Kanye West says in his recent jeen-yuhs documentary: “I use my voice and I won’t not use my voice…because my voice is actually more powerful than even my finances”.
Your voice matters.
‘Friendship as Method’ is evidence that academic research does not need to be disassociated from human emotions for it to be successful. It was warming to find out that the participants were impacted through our conversations – which has allowed this project to be mutually beneficial.
Conducting this project has emphasised the power of conversation whilst supporting my growing realisation that change is not an individual endeavour. In fact, I have found that some of the greatest ideas are birthed through conversation. It was through a conversation that the whole universe, including you and I were created. (Genesis 1).
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