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Digital Friday Recap: Researcher Positionality: Insider and Outsider

Digital Friday Recap: Researcher Positionality: Insider and Outsider

I had the opportunity to discuss positionality for qualitative researchers, in terms of insider and outsider. The idea of this webinar emerged from my own experience, and my interactions with other graduate students engaged or thinking about conducting qualitative research. A lot has been written about positionality in qualitative research, outsider and insider, yet positionality still needs more translation for researchers today, and particularly emerging researchers.

I started my webinar by asking participants to introduce themselves, and their research topics. These introductions were a good segue to discussing and defining these main concepts: positionality, insider, and outsider. Building on previous literature, I defined positionality as a place or position where one stands in relation to the other. The insider refers to a researcher who belongs to the group to which their participants belong, while the outsider is the researcher who is not a member of participants’ group. Both positions present advantages and disadvantages. As discussed during the webinar, being an insider can facilitate access to the research site or community, and give him/her a deeper understanding of the subtle intricacies an outsider will not capture. Yet, being an outsider can also allow a researcher to have questions answered with greater details because of participants understanding of his/her ignorance. Hence, the outsider can feel and be free to ask clarifying questions, a luxury that an insider may not have because of his/her assumed knowledge/understanding.  In other words, participants may not see the need to provide much details because they assume that the insider understands what is happening. In the same vein, I also discussed the idea of partial outsider/insider, which means that a researcher is not simply an insider or an outsider, but can juggle both positions, and be in between.  As researchers, we have multiple identities, and it is important to be aware of our different identities when it comes to collecting and interpreting our data. Therefore, it is important for qualitative researchers to not only acknowledge their positionality, but to also discuss their positionality to address the question of trustworthiness and quality of the study.

                Talking about trustworthiness was important because participants were concerned about validity and reliability. These terms are used to assess research quality in quantitative research, yet they were critical to help participants understand the idea of rigor and trustworthiness of qualitative studies. For this reason, understanding and explaining one’s positionality is a demonstration of the study rigor. I further discussed the importance to discuss one’s positionality/positionalities in the writing of qualitative studies, when one of the participants asked whether such discussion will not negatively affect our findings.  To me, qualitative research is an emotional, physical, and mental endeavor that changes you because it involves your mind, soul, and body. For this reason, we need more qualitative researchers to gain insights into the world inhabited by humans.

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