Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Practicing Reflexivity in the Study of Italian Migrants in London

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Practicing Reflexivity in the Study of Italian Migrants in London

Article excerpt


Various frameworks for considering reflexivity have been elaborated by different researchers. For example, Hardy, Phillips, and Clegg (2001) argue that reflexivity involves reflecting on the way in which research is carried out and understanding how the process of doing research shapes its outcomes. Reflexivity also concerns researcher's assumptions about what they can know and how they claim to know it (i.e., ontology and epistemology). Epistemological reflexivity may entail reflecting on why being interested in some particular research questions, what disciplinary-based interpretive frameworks inform our accounts, and what aspects of our disciplinary background lead us to dwell on certain aspects of the research context and not others. Finaly (2002b) points out that a unifying theme is the project of examining how the researcher and inter-subjective elements impact and transform research. This paper discusses the importance of reflexivity with respect to one aspect of research-practice: methodology. The focus is on the importance for the researcher to continually question presuppositions and preconceptions in order to promote rich insight and enable public scrutiny of the integrity of the research (Finlay, 2002a).

In developing the discussion I draw from examples from my research, which aim was to provide an in-depth understanding of the social and cultural role of the online community hosted on the Website. This was created in 2003 to encourage communication among Italians living in London.

Being Italian, as the respondents, provided advantages in adopting an emic, internal perspective and in grasping what the informants experienced. When the respondents referred to Italian stereotypes, I already acknowledged the body of symbolic references through which Italians represent themselves and I was able to understand references to regional differences, stereotypical images and particular Italian attitudes to kinetics and proxemics. I also had the advantage of comprehending differences between ordinary daily life in Italy and London since, as I explain in the next section, I had experienced both. On the other hand, in interpreting actions of the respondents, by assuming a detached perspective I attempted not to enter into the analysis with any preconceptions. However, I must admit that despite the fact that this was my intention, my background biased the development of the research hypothesis and sampling strategies. In this article, I explain how I managed to overcome this limitation resorting to reflexivity. As Patton (1990) argues, admitting biases and feelings--not trying to hide them as sometimes occurs in quantitative methods--adds validity. While in quantitative methodology, as Jensen (2002) says, interpretative agency tends to be exercised in sequential and delegated forms--segregating the phases of operationalization and analysis from interpretation and discussion, and delegating certain moments of a study to collaborators as well as machines (Jensen, p. 236) - in qualitative research, the researcher is irreplaceable. Jensen clarifies that the method requires the researcher to be responsive to environmental cues, to be able to interact with the situation, to have the ability to collect information at multiple levels simultaneously, to perceive situations holistically, and explore atypical or unexpected responses. This paper documents the unexpected outcomes that I obtained during my fieldwork, and it explains how reflexivity opened up new insights into the new trend of Italian migration. I conclude by discussing the results from the research in the light of Finaly's maps (2002b, Discussion Section). Finaly outlines various ways of approaching reflexivity, which enable researcher "to choose their preferred route through the swamp" (Finaly, 2002b, p. 209), and I believe this could be of help especially for novice qualitative researchers.

A study about the role of an online community in the lives of Italians living in London

As mentioned in the introduction, my research analysed the social and cultural role of Italianialondra. …

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