Letters to Those who Dare Feel: Using Reflective Letter-Writing to explore the Emotionality of Research


  • Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Mathabo Khau Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
  • Lungile Masinga University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Catherine van de Ruit University of Pennsylvania


Using reflective letter-writing as a method of generating data, a group of four researchers embarked on a collaborative autoethnographic inquiry into the emotional dimensions of researching social aspects of HIV & AIDS. In this article, we use the medium of a narrative dialogue to re-present and re-examine our reflective letter-writing method. The dialogue draws attention to key features of reflective letter-writing as a collaborative autoethnographic research method and, in so doing, highlights and explores the nature and potential significance of this method, as well as some challenges of using such a method. Our discussion points to the value of a collaborative process of reflective letter-writing as a way for researchers to access and portray emotional aspects of their research experience, to deepen their engagement with these emotional dimensions, and to gain insight into their own and others’ lived research experiences.

Author Biographies

Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Mathabo Khau, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Mathabo Khau is a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Education at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa.

Lungile Masinga, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Lungile Masinga is a doctoral student in the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Catherine van de Ruit, University of Pennsylvania

Catherine van de Ruit is a doctoral student in the Sociology Department at the University of Pennsylvania.