This article is about context, power located within institutions, and complexities of interpretation tightly twisted in a participatory action research project with women in prison. This narrative speaks to the encounter between us and the women, the unfamiliarity each of us had with the other's language, and the joint challenge to ‘decode’ transcripts of incarcerated women's voices. As action researchers we were determined, indeed even smugly pleased, to be undertaking this venture of tutelage, of introducing the women as co-researchers to methods of data analysis. However, we watched a shifting of power (empowerment), as the women became the true researchers through their proximity to and conversations with the transcripts as raw realities, narratives that acknowledged their lives, which we knew only as data. In the end, we came away unsettled, with deeper awareness for the complexity of interpreting ‘data,’ which constitutes local knowing, the unsaid, and the unspeakable.
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