Academic research and publishing

Care leaver research: lived experience is vital to challenge past narratives

Jacqueline Wilson at the St Patrick’s Cathedral Loud Fence, Ballarat. Photograph by Nell Butler.

This podcast is an interview with Associate Professor Jacqueline Z Wilson of Federation University, Ballarat. Jacqueline is an expert on care leavers and historical justice, and, like me, she is a care leaver. This means we both lived in the care of the state as children.

The Loud Fence pictured above is an example of of grass roots activism in Ballarat. Community members have tied colourful ribbons to the fences of churches and other institutions as a show of support for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. Cardinal George Pell, who officiated at the cathedral, has been convicted of child sexual abuse.


Nell Butler: Associate Professor Jacqueline Wilson, thank you for talking to me

Jacqueline Wilson: Thank you for asking me, Nell.

Nell Butler: I want to ask you, what academic publishing achievement are you most proud of?

Jacqueline Wilson: Probably my article in Australian Historical Studies, which was one of the first things I got published, and includes a passage about visiting my brother in Pentridge [prison], which I still talk about, it’s very dear to me. I wrote that article at a time when I was just discovering what university was about, in the first year of my PhD. I was very interesting in writing about history from below, and inserted my own narrative into that article. It’s something that I still will look at occasionally.

Nell Butler: Do you think it’s becoming more acceptable for academics to use their lived experience in their writing?

Jacqueline Wilson: No. Not really, I think it’s still a taboo thing. When I insert myself into my writing- It’s not always all about me, but I use my own experiences to reflect on what it is that I’m discussing and writing. There are not too many people in academia who were made wards of the state, whose brother was in Pentridge, and who have got a lived experience that’s challenging the professional experience, and it doesn’t always go down well. People are not always happy with it.

And I think also, historians are starting to talk about- people like Nell Musgrove who is just brilliant- she’s talking about walking along with people that she does research on: she wants to do research with. Things are starting to change but not in the traditional areas like English literature or history so much, but we are finding them in unusual disciplines, so for instance informatics, where they look at record keeping. They seem to be very open to people’s lived experiences: Aboriginal people, care leavers, women, domestic violence survivors, all sorts of things. It’s not to say that historians don’t do this, of course they do, but I think it’s been a bit of a battle, actually, to have credibility.

So now I work a lot in the area of care leavers, historical justice.

Nell Butler: What would you like to see happen with academic writing and diversity of voices of academic writers, especially those coming from a care leaver experience?

Jacqueline Wilson: Challenging academic narratives with our lived experience- it shouldn’t be a problem, it should actually be something that can enrich the knowledge base that’s out there, but there needs to be room for us. We need to be able to get the grant money, we need to be able to do the research, to sit alongside historians of social welfare, and for us to walk hand in hand, not as people who are the objects of research, which I have been all my life.

I’ve written about this, I’ve been researched by University of Melbourne academics as a ward of the state, with people with their clipboards coming around and interviewing me. I’ve been photographed and put in the Herald Sun. I’ve been asked about my experiences after my child was born, when I was 25 years old, and I had a researcher come into the hospital and talk to me.

So I’ve been the object of research for a long time, but we want to be the people who design the research now, we want to design the research, we want to challenge what’s been said before, and really that’s all anybody wants to do if they want to be a good researcher and they really truly want to say some new stuff. There should be room for us. There has to be, because we aren’t going away, and I think our voices are getting louder.

Nell Butler: Thank you so much for talking to me.

Jacqueline Wilson: Thank you Nell, and I would be pretty happy, I think, with putting all that on the bloggo.

The music in the podcast is Humoresque no. 7 in Gb Op. 101/7 (Violin and Piano arr.) by composer Antonín Dvořák, Performed by Oliver Colbentson, Creative Commons Public Domain Mark 1.0 (No copyright)

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