Behind the Chair: "Doing Hair" and "Flipping the Script" in Interviews on the Sensitive Topics of Religion and Sexual Experiences


  • Ruth Flanagan Queens University of Belfast



hairdressing, Goffman, Hochschild, sensitive topics, Northern Ireland, qualitative interviews, sexual experiences, religion, emotional labor, flipping the script, creative methods


Religion and sexual experience are deemed sensitive topics to research. I aim to elucidate how I used hairdressing as an activity during qualitative interviews to aid in researching the relationship between religious-cultural upbringing and women's sexual experiences in Northern Ireland. There has been little recognition of the subjective sexual experiences of adult women in Northern Ireland; this is partly due to the dominance of Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Fundamentalism's religious practices in the country and their promotion of morally conservative ideas around women's bodies and sexual activity. This, in turn, has allowed a moral, religious perspective on sexual activity to have a high level of significance for the individual in Northern Ireland and society, making it challenging to research. I will explore how "doing hair" during qualitative interviews can help to combat issues associated with researching sensitive topics using GOFFMAN's (1956) dramaturgical analysis and HOCHSCHILD's (1983) emotional labor concept. I argue that utilizing the routine performances between the hairdresser and client and "flipping the script" on the researcher/participant vs. hairdresser/client power relations can aid in the disclosure of the socially and culturally sensitive topics of religion and sexual experiences.


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Author Biography

Ruth Flanagan, Queens University of Belfast

Ruth FLANAGAN is a doctoral researcher at the School of Social Work Education and Social Sciences, Queens University Belfast. In her research, she focuses on the sociology of sexuality. In her PhD project, she explores the relationship between religion and sexual experiences in Northern Ireland.


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How to Cite

Flanagan, R. (2023). Behind the Chair: "Doing Hair" and "Flipping the Script" in Interviews on the Sensitive Topics of Religion and Sexual Experiences. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 24(1).