Academic ventriloquism: Tensions between inclusion, representation, and anonymity in qualitative research.

Sergio A. Silverio, Catherine Wilkinson, Samantha Wilkinson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The balance between including participants in research, representing them in academic writing, and maintaining their anonymity, can be in constant flux. Greater representation may mean compromising participants’ anonymity, whilst research that is more inclusive may lead to academic representations of data being challenged as inaccurate according to the participants whose data is presented. The situation for the academic in these scenarios becomes akin to walking a tightrope between advocating on behalf of the participants and speaking as an authority on the analysis and interpretation of participants’ data. To deconstruct these methodological and ethical issues, this chapter critically considers the genuine inclusion of research participants in published health and social sciences research, and argues how poor academic practices may lead to tokenism or distinct power imbalances where academic researchers’ voices become elevated compared to the participants’ voices. This is done by introducing the concept of ‘academic ventriloquism’, whereby researchers may ‘throw’ their voices. This is a term used in ventriloquism to explore how ventriloquists create the illusion their voice is coming elsewhere (the puppet). Noting how often readers are left unable to ‘hear’ participant’s voices through published research, or where participants’ voices compete for line-space, the three sometimes competing concepts of inclusion, representation, and anonymity are discussed. Despite advances in researching ‘with’ rather than conducting research ‘on’ participants, the writing-up of academic research remains primarily the responsibility of the researcher who must develop the ability to ‘throw’ his/her voice, so that participants appear to be heard. The chapter presents several ways in which this can be problematic and propose recommendations for facilitating the inclusion and accurate representation of participants in written academic research, to not only promote participant voices and make them audible, but also document them faithfully so they are a genuine reflection of the participant from whom they came.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of social inclusion
Subtitle of host publicationResearch and practices in health and social sciences.
EditorsPranee Liamputtong
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Jun 2021


  • Anonymity
  • Dissemination
  • Inclusion
  • Pseudo-anonymization
  • Representation
  • Research Participants


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