Researching Race and Racism

By Martin Bulmer; John Solomos | Go to book overview

13

Experiences in ethnographic interviewing about race

The inside and outside of it

Alford A. Young, Jr

A common feature of qualitative research endeavors is the quest to establish intimate or sustained interaction with research subjects in presumably 'natural' settings. In essence, the researcher steps into, and to varying degrees shares in, the social worlds of the individuals under study. Scholars who engage this form of research are forced to continuously reflect upon and account for the depth and quality of their relationships to the individuals, situations, and conditions comprising their research agenda. In fact, in the past 30 years there has been a period of rich dialogue about these matters. That dialogue is commonly referred to as the insider and outsider debate (Andersen 1993; Baca Zinn 1979; DeVault 1995; Merton 1972; Naples 1996; Stanfield 1993; Wilson 1974).

At stake in this debate is an understanding of the extent to which being socially distant or dissimilar to the kinds of people under study affects both the richness or accuracy of the data being collected and the subsequent analysis that unfolds. An initial underlying presumption in this debate was that researchers who share membership in the same social categories as their respondents (the most common being race, gender, and class) were best suited to uncover ideas, arguments, and opinions about issues and concerns related to those people or to those social categories (Merton 1972). A corollary presumption was that those researchers who do not share such membership either had to work especially hard to acquire the trust and confidence of respondents, or else accept that their scholarly analysis and interpretation may not reflect the veracity, depth, or subtlety that emerges from so-called 'insider' research. In reacting to these presumptions, qualitative field researchers strove to address whether and, if so, how greater ease, comfort, comprehension, and transparency could be established in the course of research, especially if such researchers occupied extreme outsider statuses. These efforts led field researchers to explore more critically the epistemological implications of either working to further their insider statuses or to confront the problems resulting from their outsider statuses (Andersen 1993; Baca Zinn 1979; De Andrade 2000; DeVault 1995; Ladner 1998; Naples 1996; Venkatesh 2002; Wilson 1974).

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