A Researcher's Reactions to an Atypical Respondent

  • Cynthia Cannon Poindexter Faculty member at the Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA


The writer was involved in a qualitative research project of mostly female older caregivers who were caring for persons with symptomatic HIV disease. Nineteen of the respondents were mothers and grandmothers who were taking care of close relatives. The sole male interviewee ("Billy," a 51-year-old unemployed African American man) was atypical in many respects and could not easily be included in presentations of themes and patterns which emerged from the data; he was helping out with a neighbor whom he knew only casually. Nevertheless, the researcher was impressed with this man's understanding of HIV-related stigma, which was one of the primary foci of the study, and was impressed with his attitudes toward persons with HIV. The interviewer felt that Billy's powerful narrative illustrated well the power of the HIV experience in the inner city and was moved by this man's insight and courage. This article reports Billy's story and the author's reactions to it.


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