Jane  F.  Gilgun,  Ph.D.

,  LICSW   Professor,  School  of  Social  Work   Statement  for  the  Excellence  in  Research     College  of  Education  and  Human  Development   February  2013       The  Sweet  Burn  of  Youth   The  sweet  burn  of  youth  usually  fades  to  a  mellow  glow  as  life  events  burnish  and   reshape  ideals  and  dreams.  This  has  not  happened  in  my  case.  Now  in  late  career,  I   continue  to  burn  with  a  desire  to  understand  what  violence  means  to  perpetrators,  the   development  of  violent  behaviors,  and  how  persons  overcome  adversities.    In  short,  I  want   to  know  why  some  people  do  terrible  things  to  others  and  why  other  people  promote  the   well-­‐being  of  self  and  others.       This  desire  probably  began  with  early  experiences  of  fairness  and  love,  coupled  with   discussions  of  the  principles  behind  fairness  and  love.  I  had  a  multitude  of  happy   experiences  and  role  models  in  my  family  and  in  the  small  New  England  town  in  which  I   grew  up.  Maybe  the  belief  in  fairness  and  love  is  innate  and  then  nurtured  by  personal   experiences.  I  had  the  good  fortune  to  grow  up  in  a  family  and  town  with  people  who  lived   these  ideals.  There  were  some  difficult  times  in  those  years.  Each  time  my  family  had  the   resources  to  cope.  For  instance,  when  my  father  lost  his  job,  our  extended  families  stepped   in.    When  my  beloved  great  aunt  died,  my  family  allowed  me  to  grieve  in  my  own  way  and   in  my  own  time.     Thus  I  was  shocked  to  my  bones  when  in  my  mid-­‐twenties  I  met  a  14  year-­‐old   African  American  girl  who  had  a  six  month-­‐old  baby  boy.  I  had  never  heard  of  such  young   people  having  babies.  Elvera  was  a  patient  at  one  of  six  family  planning  clinics  that  I  had   established  in  the  inner  city  of  Providence,  Rhode  Island,  through  Office  of  Economic   Opportunity  funding.  Elvera  was  big,  broad  shouldered,  and  hunched  over.  She  had  hooded   eyes  that  exuded  mistrust.  She  spoke  softly  and  seemed  to  have  mental  retardation,   although  I  was  unsure.       Eighteen  months  later,  I  was  a  caseworker  at  Rhode  Island  Child  Welfare  Services.   Elvera  was  one  of  my  first  clients.  I  read  in  her  case  history  that  she  had  been  sexually   abused  multiple  times  starting  in  infancy  by  men  who  visited  her  family  to  buy  drugs  and   to  party.  Parental  rights  were  terminated  when  she  was  five  years  old.    She  had  had  14   foster  placements  by  the  time  I  met  her.  No  one  wanted  to  adopt  her.     Knowing  Elvera  has  shaped  my  career.  I  went  back  to  school  for  my  PhD  in  order  to   do  research  that  would  help  children  and  families  like  Elvera.  I  wanted  to  contribute  to  the   education  of  social  service  providers  and  to  influence  polices  and  programs  that  would   promote  family  and  child  well-­‐being  and  contribute  to  prevention.  Thirty-­‐five  years  ago,  we   knew  practically  nothing  about  children  in  care.  I  had  studied  Bowlby  and  other  early   developmentalists  while  a  student  in  family  studies  and  sexuality  at  the  Catholic  University   of  Louvain  (Leuven)  in  Belgium  in  the  mid  1960s.    I  was  ahead  of  most  of  my  social  work  

colleagues  in  terms  of  knowledge.  This  training  helped  me  understand  much  about  the   children  and  families  in  my  caseload,  but  I  knew  there  was  much  more  to  understand  that   we  did  not,  that  I  did  not.     Syracuse  University  was  a  great  place  for  me  because  the  program  was  relatively   flexible.  The  required  courses  were  relevant  to  my  interests,  and  opportunities  to  learn   about  children  and  families  and  about  research  methods  were  abundant.  I  was  a  statistics   tutor  for  two  years,  studied  with  Donald  T.  Campbell,  and  attended  lectures  of  Robert   Bogdan,  a  qualitative  researcher  in  the  tradition  of  the  Chicago  School  of  Sociology,  which   became  my  tradition.  When  I  attended  a  PhD  student’s  proposal  presentation  where  she   planned  to  interview  20  couples,  it  was  like  a  door  opened  and  the  sun  streamed  in.  You   mean  you  can  do  research  by  talking  to  people?    I  was  hooked  on  qualitative  research  from   that  time  forward.  It  was  wonderful  to  study  with  Campbell  because  his  brilliance   entranced  me  and  showed  me  the  logic  behind  qualitative  studies.     I  had  been  primarily  a  qualitative  researcher  since  then.    I  am  also  a  methodologist,   having  written  a  great  deal  about  qualitative  methods  based  on  Chicago  School  traditions.  I   have  turned  down  many  requests  to  write  books  on  qualitative  research  because  I  want  to   spend  my  time  doing  research.  From  the  beginning  of  my  career,  I  have  had  invitations  to   write  articles  about  qualitative  research.  I  accept  those  invitations.      I  wish  I  could  say  that  funders  pursued  me  as  ardently  as  book  publishers  and  book   editors,  but  they  have  not.  I  have  had  funding  from  foundations,  such  at  the  Saint  Paul   Foundation,  the  Allina  Foundation,  the  Silberman  Foundation,  the  Center  for  Advanced   Studies  in  Child  Welfare,  and  the  Minnesota  Agricultural  Station.  Proposals  I  have  written   or  co-­‐written  have  been  funded  through  the  McKnight  Foundation  and  the  Ms.  Foundation.     Federal  program  officers  were  uninterested  in  my  qualitative  research  with  perpetrators  of   interpersonal  violence.  The  program  officer  at  the  national  center  on  rape  told  me,  “Do  not   submit  a  proposal.”  I  had  talked  to  him  about  in-­‐depth  case  studies  of  male  rapists  using   feminist  perspectives.  Another  program  officer  asked  the  principal  investigator  of  a  multi-­‐ million  dollar  project  on  the  development  of  criminal  behaviors  to  take  me  on  as  a  co-­‐ investigator.  He  said  no.  He  did  not  want  a  qualitative  component  to  the  research.     Elvera’s  face  and  her  story  and  the  faces  and  stories  of  many  other  children  and   families  have  been  my  beacon  and  have  driven  me  all  of  these  years.  Every  research  project   I  have  undertaken  was  a  response  to  these  children  and  families.  I  now  know  a  great  deal   about  my  topics  of  interest  and  research  methodologies  from  doing  in-­‐depth  interviews   and  observations  for  many  years.  I  have  written  many  articles  for  scholarly  journals,  books,   and  the  general  public.  For  instance,  I  have  682,000  reads  on  scribd.com,  a  social  media   website.  I  hope  to  influence  public  opinion  that  could  influence  the  development  and   implementation  of  more  humane  policies  and  programs  than  we  now  have.  Some  of  my   journal  articles  are  among  the  most  cited  and  downloaded.  I  have  much  more  to  write  up,   and  I  continue  to  learn.  From  the  stories  of  people’s  lives  come  deep  understandings.    

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