Colley, Helen (2001) Understanding experiences of engagement mentoring for ‘disaffected’ young people and their student mentors: problems of data analysis in qualitative research. In: BERA Annual Conference 2001, 13-15th September 2001, University of Leeds. (Unpublished)

This paper presents a reflexive account of recently completed qualitative research into mentoring relationships between 'disaffected' 16-19 year olds and university students. Despite the current popularity of mentoring for socially excluded youth, research has been dominated by quantitative psychological studies and evaluation projects, with little attempt to explore the meanings that participants bring to the processes of mentoring. It has also tended to disembed mentoring from its social, economic and political contexts. Addressing these gaps created challenges for the researcher, particularly in analysing the data and representing the findings. Interviewing teenagers with emotional and learning difficulties generated sometimes limited data. The more articulate and constructed views of the mentors often threatened to marginalise the mentees' experiences as the data was transformed. These experiences are considered in relation to issues of cultural capital. Using unconventional data analysis techniques led to a new theoretical understanding of mentoring as a process of producing specific forms of cultural capital (‘employability’) in both mentors and mentees. It also reveals how researchers need to be conscious of their own power to construct or reject respondents’ cultural resources as cultural capital. The paper concludes that the use of inappropriate research methods reinforces this power and limits the quality of research.

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