Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Into the Depths of Reflexivity and Back Again-When Research Mirrors Personal Experience: A Personal Journey into the Spaces of Liminality

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Into the Depths of Reflexivity and Back Again-When Research Mirrors Personal Experience: A Personal Journey into the Spaces of Liminality

Article excerpt

Behind every qualitative thesis there is a story--an impetus for engaging in the research. It may be an interest in a particular topic but most likely involves a passion for what is to be researched. Writing a thesis is not for the faint of heart. For the developing researcher, a thesis takes all one has and then some more. In the moments of discouragement or even despair when we as researchers, cannot find the words or the ideas elude, it is the passion that sustains us. Such was the case for my Master's Thesis entitled, "And Then There Were None: The Lived Experience of Recovering Mothers Who Lose Custody of Their Children" (Janzen, 2010). The thesis explored four crack cocaine addicted women's experiences of losing custody of their children.

The purpose of this paper is to reflexively explore my experiences leading up to commencing work on my thesis. A reflexive journal was written over a period of 10 months immediately preceding my first thesis course. A background related to my reasons of pursuing a thesis of this nature is presented. A literature review examines reflexivity, sensitive topic research, and bracketing. Methods are delineated. Three themes: liminality, the wrestle, and the third space are explored. The conclusion of the paper involves a discussion of the three themes and closing remarks.

Background: The Story Behind the Research

In 2001-2002, I spent three months in the psychiatric unit of a hospital suffering from major depression. At the end of the first month of hospitalization, I lost custody of my five children to my estranged husband. The moment of losing custody was both traumatic and painful.

After being discharged from the hospital, I lived in a long term residential treatment centre whose mandate was to assist women who had suffered from abuse, mental health issues, and/or addictions. While I had no addiction, I lived with women who on a daily basis struggled with the chains of addiction--most of who had lost custody of their children (some of them permanently). In the three years I lived in the treatment center I was the only woman to regain custody of her children. Seeing and hearing firsthand the distress and suffering of the women who did not regain custody, I determined in my heart that if I were to ever return to university to get my Master's degree, the lived experience of addicted mothers who lost child custody would be the focus of my research.

In 2010 I completed my Master's thesis and subsequently fulfilled my promise: my thesis supervisor and I published the results of my research in a special issue of the journal Janus Head (Janzen & Melrose, 2013). Where a societal posture of disenfranchised grief had silenced the four recovering, addicted mothers I interviewed (and many mothers before them), these mothers were at last given a voice. These women stood and still stand as a testament to the resiliency of the human soul.

Literature Review


The processes of reflexivity could be considered as old as recorded history as great thinkers pondered upon and wrote about their experiences in and of the world. While the origins of reflexivity in the "sociological canon" are attributed to Alvin Gouldner in 1970 (Armstrong, 2009, p. 3), epistemic and ontological reflexivity are traced to the writings of Kant in 1781 (Johnson & Duberly, 2003). Reflexivity in qualitative research has been explored since the 1970's (Findlay, 2002). Reflexivity is a mainstay of qualitative research in that it strengthens the validity of the research (Green, 2015) and is considered to be a "major strategy for quality control" (Berger, 2013, p. 1).

Reflexivity, although defined in various ways, can be viewed as a combination of the processes of decision making and the critical thought and emotive processes that accompany it (Munkejord, 2009). Four types of reflexivity are identified in the literature: personal reflexivity (critical consciousness of the researcher throughout the research process), emotional reflexivity (emotional engagement with research), methodological reflexivity (concerned with research design and method) and analytic reflexivity (processes of choice related to how data is collected and analyzed) (Jackson, Brackett-Millburn, & Newall, 2013; Probst & Berenson, 2014). …

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