Listening to difficult stories: Listening as a research methodology

Charishma Ratnam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reflects on the emotional geographies of listening to difficult stories from Sri Lankan refugees and asylum seekers. I have framed this discussion within a methodological rubric of listening: the way I listened to difficult stories during interviews, and how I reflected on the process of listening afterwards. Conducted in their homes, the interviews involved participants (re)telling stories of fleeing war-torn Sri Lanka, often replete with harrowing experiences. These stories were emotional and oftentimes traumatic for participants to (re)tell. The interviews were also emotional and sometimes distressing for the interpreter employed and myself as the researcher in this sensitive setting. In this paper, I unpack how participants’ stories were told, how I listened to them, and I foreground how the presence or absence of emotions formed part of these stories. Then, I discuss my own fieldwork experiences that provided an analytic lens as I repetitively listened to, transcribed and analysed the content of the interviews. I reflect on strategies developed from my experiences and outline lessons learned from this fieldwork to facilitate pathways for researchers conducting sensitive research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-25
Number of pages8
JournalEmotion, Space and Society
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Listening
  • Reflexivity
  • Refugees
  • Sensitive research
  • Stories

Cite this