Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

In/out/side: Positioning the Researcher in Feminist Qualitative Research

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

In/out/side: Positioning the Researcher in Feminist Qualitative Research

Article excerpt

This article considers issues of "outsiderness" and "insiderness" that arose in the context of a feminist qualitative research project on the experiences of academics, especially women, in faculties of social work, education, pharmacy and dentistry. Members of the research team had connections to the four fields, and originally believed that their insider status in that regard would facilitate access to the participants, rapport in the interviews, analysis of the data and communication of the results. The article identities some of the problems and puzzles that emerged around the determination of who is an insider or outsider and who has the greater insights in which situation. One possibility is that the insider-outsider question cannot be fully resolved, but that we can try to work creatively within its tensions.

Cet article examine des questions d'appartenance et de nonappartenance survenues dans le contexte d'un projet de recherche feministe qualitative sur les experiences d'universitaires, femmes surtout, dans les departements de travail social, d'education, de pharmacologie et de dentisterie. Les membres de l'equipe de recherche avaient des liens aux quatre champs d'etudes, et croyaient que leurs associations faciliteraient l'acces et le rapport aux participants lors des entretiens, l'analyse des donnees ella communication des resultats. L'article identifie certains des problemes et questions lies l'identification des personnes de l'<< interieur ou de l'<< exterieur et Jesquelles de ces situations etaient plus propices. Une possibilite est que a question de l'appartenance ou a non-appartenance ne peut jamais etre totalement resolue, mais que les tensions qui en sont issues peuvent ouvrir a voie des approches creatrices.

As a sociologist, I am used to that uncomfortable feeling of distancing myself from what is happening around me, whether it be a party, a meeting, or a dinner with relatives -- all potential grist to the mill of sociological analysis. As a woman, I have been in many situations where I have been acutely conscious of being the "other" in a world dominated by men. What does it mean to be an outsider or insider? Might it simply be a fleeting aspect of subjectivity, like the discomfort at the start of a social occasion? Alternatively, when does it mark all one's perceptions and actions? When is it a key to insightful analysis? When does it stand in the way of clear thinking? How do we even know when we are inside or outside or somewhere in between?

This paper is about issues of insiderness and outsiderness that arose in the context of a feminist qualitative research project on academic life. Although some quotations from the project data are used to illustrate the arguments, the results of the study itself are not featured here as the purpose is to focus on a particular issue rather than to report study findings, some of which can be accessed elsewhere (see, for example, Acker & Feuerverger, 1996; Acker, 1997, 1999a; Wyn & Acker with Richards, in press).

Questions around insider/outsider standpoints are readily found in sociological writings, especially those concerned with the methodology and epistemology of qualitative research. For example, a major concept for Max Weber (1947), a founder of sociology, was Verstehen, which is sometimes translated as "understanding." It concerns the extent to which we can imaginatively project ourselves into the position of another person, in order to try to comprehend the reasons that person has for her/his actions. Comprehending a situation and explaining it to others is at the heart of qualitative research, though it has been much troubled in recent years by an increased sensitivity to the problems inherent in such an exercise (Britzman, 1995). Several other classical sociologists (Simmel, 1908/1971; Schutz, 1944) have considered the role and special perceptions of "the stranger," and in the early 1970s, Robert Merton (1972) directly tackled the question of insider and outsider perspectives in research. …

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