Just Tell Me What I Need To Know: Reflexivity and Positionality Statements

Today, I’m back with the next part of this series: Just Tell Me What I Need To Know.

Part three is about reflexivity and writing your positionality statement.


I was having a conversation a few weeks ago about people who engage in qualitative research topics that reflect their personal experiences. Afterall, research is we-search, right?

This conversation was how people should not research some topics because they haven’t yet healed from it themselves. It comes out when you talk to them. The it being the pain, the harm, the years of deflection, and all the emotional stuff.

We-searchers already knowing what they are going to find from the data…because they experienced it. So since they have personal knowledge and experience, then, of course, the rest of the world has experienced it the same way. Right?

A. BIG. FAT. NOPE.

Today’s topic is another overlooked aspect of qualitative research, engaging in reflexivity and stating your positionality as a researcher.


Some things to remember:

  • I’m providing a starting point. This is not meant to be taken as the right way to write. It is intended to give you some guidance during a confusing process.
  • It is easier to edit an existing thing than to start from scratch. So…the goal is to write the worst draft ever! This is not about spending hours and hours making the perfect first sentence. Writing is a process. You will spend more hours editing than you think. So the goal is to have something to edit.
  • Show up with something! Always, always, always refer to the Graduate’s school guidelines, your program’s manual, and your advisor/chair. This guide is meant to give you something to show up with.

Reflexivity

Reflexivity is an attitude of attending systematically to the context of knowledge construction, especially to the effect of the researcher, at every step of the research process (Cohen & Crabtree, 2006).

Who you are and what you’ve been through influences how you see the world, your decisions, actions, etc. (i.e., paradigm).

Therefore, who you are and where you’ve been ALSO influences your research.

Now, I don’t believe in bias per se.

I do believe it is important for you to situate yourself within your research so that the reader knows about the researcher (i.e., the research instrument).

However, if you don’t know who are, how will we?

“A researcher’s background and position will affect what they choose to investigate, the angle of investigation, the methods judged most adequate for this purpose, the findings considered most appropriate, and the framing and communication of conclusions” (Malterud, 2001, p. 483-484).

I argue that coming to one’s positionality statement requires a few caveats:

  • One must continuously engage in the process of reflexivity throughout the research process.
  • Positionality is not fixed or static. We are constantly evolving in our understanding of self and the world.
  • The researcher-participant relationship is fluid, not one-sided. Each one is constantly influencing the other through their interactions.

Reflexivity is the process of examining both oneself as researcher, and the research relationship. Self-searching involves examining one’s “conceptual baggage,” one’s assumptions and preconceptions, and how these affect research decisions, particularly, the selection and wording of questions. Reflecting on the research relationship involves examining one’s relationship to the respondent, and how the relationship dynamics affect responses to questions (Hsiung, 2010).

Most are familiar with the concept of a researcher’s journal. This journal is not only to capture the researcher’s data collection process. The journal is there to capture your understandings (e.g., histories, life experiences, emotional baggage) and their connections to the research project.

I suggest that you begin your journaling even before you write your first word of your proposal. Use your journal to reflect even as you brainstorm topics and questions.


Positionality Statement

It is important to note here that a researcher’s positionality not only shapes their own research, but influences their interpretation, understanding and ultimately their belief in the ‘truthfulnesss’ of other’s research that they read or are exposed to. Open and honest disclosure and exposition of positionality should show where and how the researcher believes that they have influenced their research, the reader should then be able to make an informed judgement as to the researcher’s influence on the research process and how ‘truthful’ they feel the research is (Holmes, 2014).

In essence, the positionality statement should address who you are, how you see the world (your paradigm), and your relationship with the participant and research project.

Here are some questions to consider as you begin to write your positionality statement:

  • How do you understand the research process and knowledge? (paradigm)
  • Who are you?
  • What are your beliefs about this topic?
  • Any history or personal interaction with this topic?
  • What are your understandings of systems of oppression and their influence on your research?
  • What is your connection to your participants? Do you share any commonalities, identities, or experiences with your participants?
  • What do you think you will find in this study?
  • What are your hopes for this study?
  • Anything else that is important for the reader to know about you?

No right page limit exists for this section. However, to give some guidance, I would aim for 1-2 paragraphs in a paper and 1-5 pages for the dissertation. Again, refer to your chair.

All parts of the research proposal are interconnected. You will notice that clearly understanding your paradigm, purpose, and methodology is critical to writing your positionality statement and vice versa.


Need help writing that paper?

Join me on December 28th for the Qualitative Paper Workshop!


Cohen, D., & Crabtree, B. (2006, July). Qualitative research guidelines project. Retrieved from http://www.qualres.org/HomeRefl-3703.html

Holmes, A. (2010, March). Researcher positionality: A consideration of its influence and place in research. Retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/305906312/Researcher-Positionality-a-Consideration-of-Its-Influence-and-Place-in-Research

Hsiung, P. (2010, August). Reflexivity: A Process of Reflection. Retrieved from http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~pchsiung/LAL/reflexivity

Malterud, K. (2001). Qualitative research: Standards, challenges and guidelines. The Lancet, 358(9280) 483-488. doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(01)05627-6

 

Just Tell Me What I Need To Know: Participants, Research Sites, And Methods

Writing is more about collecting and organizing information when describing your participants, research sites, and data collection methods. Most people will skip the details of this section. This may be because of space limitation. I find that novice researchers don’t think to include these details.

Whatever the reasons, I have included some prompts below for you to consider when writing your methodology section.

Some things to remember:

  • I’m providing a starting point. This is not meant to be taken as the right way to write. It is intended to give you some guidance during a confusing process.
  • It is easier to edit an existing thing than to start from scratch. So…the goal is to write the worst draft ever! This is not about spending hours and hours making the perfect first sentence. Writing is a process. You will spend more hours editing than you think. So the goal is to have something to edit.
  • Show up with something! Always, always, always refer to the Graduate’s school guidelines, your program’s manual, and your advisor/chair. This guide is meant to give you something to show up with.

Participants

Think about who the ideal person would be to help you achieve your research purpose.  Additionally, decide how many people you will need in order to “substantiate your claims” (thank you Dr. Corey Johnson). There is no right  number for participants and it does depend on your methods.

The more in-depth your methods, the fewer the participants you may need. Especially, when you are designing your first research project (i.e., dissertation). If you are only interviewing your participants for one interview, then you may want to aim for about 6 – 12 participants. Either way, here are some things to think about when deciding on participants:

  • How many?
  • Identity considerations (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation)
  • Age?
  • Membership (e.g., organizations, degree programs)
  • Socialization (e.g., born and raised in the U.S.A.)
  • Any other?

Ex. Participants included 7 self-identified women of color activists attending a state university in the western United States. Participants defined their identities in their own words (see Table 1) and were active in campus and community activities, including a campus social justice retreat, multicultural sororities, living–learning communities, a student organization for multiracial students, and women’s studies and ethnic studies.

Ex. The present study represents a secondary analysis of data collected from an 18-month critical collaborative ethnographic study alongside nine trans* collegians at the City University (CU, a pseudonym). Specifically, the data used for the present analysis were drawn from participant observation (Wolcott, 2008) alongside, and a series of ethnographic interviews (Heyl, 2001) with, two black, non-binary participants, one of whom also identified as having multiple disabilities.


Research Sites

Where will your participants come from and where will the data collection process take place? These are the main two questions to consider when writing about your research site(s). Here are some things to consider:

  • Name (usually you will use a pseudonym)
  • Location (maybe not the exact the location, enough information to help the reader understand the context)
  • Overview of the site (how would you describe it and why did you choose it for your study)

Ex. CU is a large, urban, public four-year institution in the Midwest in the city of Stockdale (a pseudonym). Stockdale has a history of both racial and LGBTQ tension and ongoing systemic marginalization due to recent episodes of violence as well as an historic legacy of redlining, gentrification, and anti-queer legislation. Also of note for the present study, the percentage of black students at CU, at just under 10%, is vastly lower than that of the black population of Stockdale, which the 2010 Census data suggested to be 45%.


Recruitment

How did you reach out to participants and inform people about your study? The more detail you can include in this section, the clearer it will be for the reader.

  • Did you talk to anyone (gatekeepers, organizations)?
  • Did you send out an email, post on social media, have a website?
  • What happens once someone was interested in participating?
  • Did they complete consent forms before meeting you?

Ex. Recruitment for this study specifically sought self-identified women of color activists. Chris was serving as a facilitator at a campus based social justice retreat and sent an e-mail to all retreat participants and to the seven campus student diversity offices to recruit participants. We chose not to define activist, allowing those who identified as activists to self-select into the study. We selected all participants who responded.


Methods

Describing your data collection method section is about the how you will obtain the data you need to answer your research questions. Please note: Qualitative research is more than INTERVIEWS! Now that that’s out of the way, here is what to consider:

  • What is the method?
  • Describe method?
  • Why is it relevant to your study?
  • Be sure to use citations in this section. Who and what is guiding your understanding of this method?
  • Include example prompts or questions
  • Note: This may be brief depending on what type of paper you are writing.

Ex. To better understand the experiences of self-identified women of color activists, one researcher conducted 1-hour individual interviews with each participant. Participants provided a pseudonym to assist in protecting their confidentiality. A sample of the semistructured interview questions included: Please describe your campus activism. How would you say your activism has impacted your identity and how you see yourself?

Ex. The present study represents a secondary analysis of data collected from an 18-month critical collaborative ethnographic study alongside nine trans* collegians at the City University (CU, a pseudonym). Specifically, the data used for the present analysis were drawn from participant observation (Wolcott, 2008) alongside, and a series of ethnographic interviews (Heyl, 2001) with, two black, non-binary participants, one of whom also identified as having multiple disabilities.


Overview of Methods

One of the most common confusion of dissertation committee members is understanding a clear picture of the student’s research process. Try thinking about this part as the participant’s journey through your research project. Representing this journey visually can severely improve your chances of avoiding this common pitfall.

  • What is the process of your research design?
  • How would you describe the participant’s journey?
  • Display this using pictures, graphs, etc. that you can use during your defense.

Participant: Who is the participant?

Step One: How will the potential participant find out about your study?

Step Two: Now the potential participant is interested in the study, how do the signup or contact you?

Step Three: They have contacted you, what do they need to do next? (Consent forms, schedule a time, etc.)

Step Four: What will happen when you two meet at your designated time? (Consent forms, Overview of study, interview, schedule follow up)

Step Five: After initial data collection, are there other things the participant will need to do? (second interview, focus group, member checking)

Step Six: Any additional follow up, gift, raffle

Try to write out this step-by-step. No step is too small. The more details you can add, the clearer it will be for all.

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Just Tell Me What I Need To Know: Paradigm and Methodology

Today, I’m back with the next part of this series: Just Tell Me What I Need To Write.

Some things to remember:

  • I’m providing a starting point. This is not meant to be taken as the right way to write. It is intended to give you some guidance during a confusing process.
  • It is easier to edit an existing thing than to start from scratch. So…the goal is to write the worst draft ever! This is not about spending hours and hours making the perfect first sentence. Writing is a process. You will spend more hours editing than you think. So the goal is to have something to edit.
  • Show up with something! Always, always, always refer to the Graduate’s school guidelines, your program’s manual, and your advisor/chair. This guide is meant to give you something to show up with.

Part two is about how to write about your paradigm and the first paragraph for the methodology section. The next post will address methods, positionality statement, participants, and research site.


Do you usually skip the methodology section when reading articles?

Skipping will severely hinder your understanding of the importance of this section, which will lead you to not be clear when writing/defending your own methodology section.

Note: This section is small but mighty in relation to the rest of your paper. Don’t let that mislead you into thinking it does not need time and care to be written appropriately.


I will be breaking up the methodology section into multiple posts in order to demonstrate the importance of clearly defining your research design.

The two examples used for this post both use a critical/transformative paradigm and narrative inquiry methodology.

  • First, I will provide a brief overview of paradigms and methodologies.
  • Second, I will provide a guide to writing the first paragraph of the methodology section of your paper.
  • Third, I will walk you step-by-step on how to write the first paragraph of your methodology section.
  • Lastly, I will demonstrate how the guide was used in two published examples.

Overview

To start, let me give you some background information on these often missed components.

Paradigm

A paradigm is a way of looking at the world. It is composed of certain philosophical assumptions that guide and direct thinking and action (Mertens, 2010, p. 7).

Guba and Lincoln (2005) identify four basic belief systems characterized by the following questions that help define a paradigm:

  1. The axiological question asks, “What is the nature of ethics?”
  2. The ontological question asks, “What is the nature of reality?”
  3. The epistemological question asks, “What is the nature of knowledge and the relationship between the knower and the would-be known?”
  4. The methodological question asks, “How can the knower go about obtaining the desired knowledge and understandings?” (as cited in Mertens, 2010, p. 10)

I will not be going too deep into paradigms and the different types. I will say, however, these are some consideration when reflecting on your own understandings in the context of your specific research project.

Methodology

Methodology is “the study – the description, the explanation, and the justification-of methods, and not the methods themselves” (Kaplan, 1964, p. 18).

Restate the purpose of your study when beginning the methodology section in order to transition the reader. By restating the purpose will help the reader make connections between components of your research design. The plainer you can make the connections (i.e., rationale) in your study, the easier it will be to understand your study as a whole.

When writing about the methodology section, also consider the following guide:

  1. Clearly, identify which paradigm and methodology you used for your study. Note: A general qualitative research study is NOT A THING.
  2. Briefly, describe the theory (-ology) behind the methodology.
  3. Explain why this particular methodology was used for this study.
    Your paradigm helps with this rationale.


Methodology Guide

Clearly, identify which paradigm and methodology you used for your study.

The purpose of this ______ (paradigm) ___________ (methodology) was to ____________ (purpose statement).

This study was informed by ________ (paradigm and methodology).

In this ______ (methodology), I used a _______ (paradigm.

Ex. In this inquiry, we position our philosophical stance in the transformative paradigm (Linder & Rodriguez, 2012, p. 386).

Ex. The present study was informed by critical narrative inquiry (Nicolazzo, 2016, p. 1178).

Briefly, describe the theory (-ology) behind the methodology.

_______ (methodology) is the study of _________.

Ex. …which centers the lived experiences of those who have been traditionally marginalized by systemic oppression (Linder & Rodriguez, 2012, p. 386).

Ex. …critical narrative inquiry is a form of storytelling that seeks to ‘prick the consciousness of readers by inviting a reexamination of the values and interests undergirding certain discourses, practices, and institutional arrangements’ (Nicolazzo, 2016, p. 1178).

Explain why this particular methodology was used for this study (Rationale).

  • How does your paradigm connect with your methodology?
  • What are your obligations (e.g., axiology,  ontology) as a researcher underneath this particular pairing between paradigm and methodology?
  • What are some things you may need to consider?

The transformative paradigm directly addresses the politics in research by confronting social oppression at whatever levels it occurs (Oliver, 1992; Reason, 1994). Thus, transformative researchers consciously and explicitly position themselves side by side with the less powerful in a joint effort to bring about social transformation (Mertens, 2009, p. 21).

Ex. By asking female students to share their experiences related to their campus activism and intersectionality and then exploring the commonalities in those stories, we collaborated with participants to co-construct meaning from those commonalities (Creswell, 2007). As researchers, our task is to understand the common themes emerging from the data to accurately represent, in storied text, the lived experiences shared by participants (Creswell, 2007).

Ex. Thus, critical narrative inquiry seeks not only to uncover the ‘hidden ideological assumptions’ within which educational contexts are embedded (Kincheloe, 2011, p. 88), but also is committed to embodying a politics in which researcher(s) and participant(s) are ‘linked by an identity politics struggle for social action via a participatory democracy bent on viewing knowledge as a unified form of power’ (Moss, 2004, p. 371). Here, one can understand critical narrative inquiry as praxis, or as both a methodological construct as well as a way of life for those who (seek to) resist normative discourses.


Putting It All Together

You should be able to address all of these things in the first paragraph.

The purpose of this ______ (paradigm) ___________ (methodology) was to ____________ (purpose statement). _______ (methodology) is the study of _________.  _________(methodology) was used because it addresses ___________ (reason) and __________ (reason).

Example 1: (Linder & Rodriguez, 2012, p. 386)

Within the transformative paradigm, we utilized narrative inquiry to better understand the specific experiences of self-identified women of color activists. In essence, narrative inquiry is the study of lived experiences through story (Clandinin, 2007). By asking female students to share their experiences related to their campus activism and intersectionality and then exploring the commonalities in those stories, we collaborated with participants to co-construct meaning from those commonalities (Creswell, 2007). As researchers, our task is to understand the common themes emerging from the data to accurately represent, in storied text, the lived experiences shared by participants (Creswell, 2007).

Purpose statement: Within the transformative paradigm, we utilized narrative inquiry to better understand the specific experiences of self-identified women of color activists.

Definition of methodology: In essence, narrative inquiry is the study of lived experiences through story (Clandinin, 2007).

Rationale:

(Reason 1) By asking female students to share their experiences related to their campus activism and intersectionality and then exploring the commonalities in those stories, we collaborated with participants to co-construct meaning from those commonalities (Creswell, 2007).

“researchers consciously and explicitly position themselves side by side with the less powerful in a joint effort to bring about social transformation (Mertens, 2009, p. 21).”

Power dynamics also exist within the research process between the researcher and participant. By working with the activists through co-constructing meaning, the researchers of this study shifted this power dynamic.

(Reason 2) As researchers, our task is to understand the common themes emerging from the data to accurately represent, in storied text, the lived experiences shared by participants (Creswell, 2007).

“..narrative inquiry is the study of lived experiences through story (Linder & Rodriguez, 2012, p. 386).”

In line with the methodology, the researchers are representing the participants’ experiences and interpretations of those experiences through storied text.

Therefore, Linder and Rodriguez are in connection with both their paradigm and methodology.

Example 2: (Nicolazzo, 2016, p. 1178)

The present study was informed by critical narrative inquiry. An extension of narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), critical narrative inquiry is a form of storytelling that seeks to ‘prick the consciousness of readers by inviting a reexamination of the values and interests undergirding certain discourses, practices, and institutional arrangements’ (Barone, 1992, p. 143). Thus, critical narrative inquiry seeks not only to uncover the ‘hidden ideological assumptions’ within which educational contexts are embedded (Kincheloe, 2011, p. 88), but also is committed to embodying a politics in which researcher(s) and participant(s) are ‘linked by an identity politics struggle for social action via a participatory democracy bent on viewing knowledge as a unified form of power’ (Moss, 2004, p. 371). Here, one can understand critical narrative inquiry as praxis, or as both a methodological construct as well as a way of life for those who (seek to) resist normative discourses.

Identify paradigm and methodology: The present study was informed by critical narrative inquiry.

Definition of methodology: An extension of narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000), critical narrative inquiry is a form of storytelling that seeks to ‘prick the consciousness of readers by inviting a reexamination of the values and interests undergirding certain discourses, practices, and institutional arrangements’ (Barone, 1992, p. 143).

Rationale:

(Reason 1) Thus, critical narrative inquiry seeks not only to uncover the ‘hidden ideological assumptions’ within which educational contexts are embedded (Kincheloe, 2011, p. 88)…

“confronting social oppression at whatever levels it occurs (Mertens, 2009, p. 21).”

Nicolazzo explicitly states that this paradigm coupled with this methodology will help to identify and confront oppression, even those found in everyday assumptions.

(Reason 2) …but also is committed to embodying a politics in which researcher(s) and participant(s) are ‘linked by an identity politics struggle for social action via a participatory democracy bent on viewing knowledge as a unified form of power’ (Moss, 2004, p. 371). Here, one can understand critical narrative inquiry as praxis, or as both a methodological construct as well as a way of life for those who (seek to) resist normative discourses.

“…consciously and explicitly position themselves side by side with the less powerful in a joint effort to bring about social transformation (Mertens, 2009, p. 21).”

The goal of the critical paradigm is to not only highlight oppression and power dynamics, it also requires action or social change. Narrative Inquiry is also being used a tool in social change by Nicolazzo and participants working together to resist those everyday assumptions about identity (particularly the intersections between gender and race).


Conclusion

Yes, there is a lot of information in this post. Please, take the time to consider these philosophical points as these undergird your entire study by answering the question of why your study is needed and it’s intended impact.

Need help writing your paper?

Join me on December 28th for the Qualitative Paper Workshop!


Kaplan, A. (1964). The conduct of inquiry: Methodology for behavioral science. San Francisco, CA: Chandler.

Linder, C., & Rodriguez, K. L. (2012). Learning for the experiences of self-identified women of color activists. Journal of College Student Development, 53(3), 383-298.

Mertens, D. M. (2010). Research and evaluation in education and psychology: Integrating diversity with quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Nicolazzo, Z. (2016) ‘It’s a hard line to walk’: black non-binary trans* collegians’ perspectives on passing, realness, and trans*-normativity.  International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29(90), 1173-1188, doi: 10.1080/09518398.2016.1201612

Phenomenology or Narrative Inquiry Methodology?

A friend asked me to review their dissertation prospectus before their defense.

I provided feedback and told them some suggested changes. Their committee, however, did not agree with me about the methodology.

I took some time to reflect on the committee’s thoughts and to separate from my ego. After a few days, their decision bothered me.

I took personal offense. So much so that I decided to write a blog post about it.

This post is not about my friend per se. It’s about something I see so often. Everyone thinks they are completing a phenomenology research study. Phenomenology seems like the “go to” methodology for people who know NOTHING about qualitative research.


I will share excerpts for my friend’s prospectus. I have changed some things to protect the study and identity of my friend. This post is not about their writing or critiquing them. I am merely using this as an example to demonstrate a common occurrence.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to identify and describe the experiences of first generation Black undergraduate women at a small PWI. I plan to investigate the first generation Black undergraduate women’s experiences and explain how these first generation Black undergraduate women made sense of their experiences.

Rationale: This study has the potential to help increase retention rates and first generation Black undergraduate women student college enrollment. Additionally, this qualitative study will provide a body of literature undergraduates and college administrators can utilize to grasp a personal understanding of the first generation Black undergraduate women’s lived experiences.

This research is guided by the following questions:

  • What are the lived experiences of first generation Black undergraduate women at small predominately White institutions?
  • How do first generation Black undergraduate women make meaning of their identified experiences?

Theoretical Framework: Critical Race Theory and Black Feminist Thought

Paradigm: Critical Research Perspective

Methodology: Phenomenology

Methods: In-depth interviews, field notes, and observation

My initial thoughts: Your research design has inconsistencies with your paradigm and what you stated as your purpose. Discuss your identified methodology with your chair. It is incongruent with your purpose and the nature of phenomenology. Please see notes
listed throughout the paper.


IMO, the methodology should have been narrative inquiry because it is more consistent with the rest of the research design (i.e., purpose, research questions, theoretical framework). My friend’s committee disagreed. They concluded that phenomenology was absolutely the correct methodology and that the theoretical and conceptual (not included above) framework was inappropriate.

That ?? sh*t ?? don’t ?? make?? sense!

While I fully operate in feelings being my epistemology; I will make my point with proper ? citations.

All of the components of a research design is interconnected, nothing exists in isolation. Meaning, research questions, theoretical perspective, conceptual framework, methodology, and so on influences one another. There are reasoning and logic behind these things. Don’t just pick what sounds good without some thought and intentionality behind those decisions.

Phenomenology is not the appropriate methodology because it is not concurrent with the outlined purpose, questions, or theoretical framework.

First, let’s explore some definitions…


Phenomenology

Methodology is “the study – the description, the explanation, and the justification-of methods, and not the methods themselves” (Kaplan, 1964, p. 18).

The primary focus of phenomenology is the essence of a particular phenomenon or lived experience and is rooted in constructivism. For those of you who like to just focus on the lived experience part, most qualitative research focuses on the lived experience! THERE ARE SEVERAL PHILOSOPHIES OF PHENOMENOLOGY. Meaning lived experience could mean different things.

Constructivism
“Points up the unique experience of each of us”
“Tends to resist the critical spirit”
Crotty, 1998, p. 58

However, let me back up. Most education research projects use hermeneutic phenomenology (even if you don’t explicitly say it). Hermeneutics is about the researcher’s understanding of a subject’s relationship to a particular object.

Now, I’m no expert, I just know how to read. And it is my understanding that to “do” phenomenology work, is to get at explanation/understanding/essence of a specific phenomenon.

“The very nature of a phenomenon, for that which makes a some-’thing’ what it is – and without which it could not be what it is” (van Manen, 1990, p. 10).

Phenomenology is less about the participants’ experiences and how they make meaning of that phenomenon and more about the essence of the phenomenon (if we had to choose between the two). The role of the participants is to help aid in context and understanding of the phenomenon.

ALSO, to truly do phenomenology research, one much engage in constant reflexivity through epoché and bracketing. If not these activities, then at the very least explicitly laying out your thoughts, assumptions, experiences, and beliefs about the phenomena. It is an ongoing activity that the researcher engages in to separate the phenomenon out from the researcher and participant.


Narrative Inquiry

Narrative inquiry, in short, is about stories and participants’ lived experiences. Additionally, it is ALSO about the histories and contexts that surround those stories. Meaning, narrative inquiry is about how the participant tells and understands their experiences AND how society, culture, and institutions shape those experiences.

Most will get hung up on the “storytelling” conflating methodology with methods.

Narrative inquiry is about the relationship that exists between the researcher and participant. The researcher is not separate (nor can separate) themselves from the process and/or stories. Both are an active participant in the meaning-making happening through storytelling.

Similar to phenomenology, the researcher must also state their thoughts, assumptions, experiences, and beliefs about the phenomena to inform instead of separating themselves from their telling of the phenomena.

Narrative inquiry has also been thought to be rooted in a constructivist perspective.


There are some overlaps between phenomenology and narrative inquiry.

The shifts are subtle and blatant; (both/and).

Phenomenology is about engaging in formalized processes of understanding a phenomenon and the contexts that influence that phenomenon by separating that phenomena from the persons researching and experiencing.

Narrative inquiry is about the person’s story (it’s context, the person telling it, and the person researching) – there is no separation; a dance an entanglement. It is reported through the story and connection of this – it’s about the phenomena, the context, and the people.


Back to the example…

The purpose and research questions place emphasis on the meaning-making of the lived experiences of first generation Black undergraduate women.

If it was about describing a concept of a phenomenon (i.e.,  college persistence, first generation college student) then I would say this is a phenomenology methodology.

That’s not how the study was framed.

My friend also made a point to state a critical perspective for their theoretical perspective and critical theories (i.e., CRT BFT) as their theoretical framework. They also place great emphasis on the women’s experiences. Placing emphasis on the participants themselves and not solely the phenomenon.


No right or wrong exist (IMO).

I’m sharing my opinion and my perspective I have and would have had in the defense or as my friends’ chair.

Going back to my opening statements, it comes down to how YOU define your terms, your research design, and the literature used to situate the design.

#WhoIsYouChiron

It comes down to:

  • What is your paradigm? How do you see the world? Describe your epistemology, ontology, and axiology. You have to know yourself.
  • What is guiding your understanding of methodology? Which theory/lens used in your methodology? How does your methodology provide justification for the methods being used?
  • Or vice versa, how do the methods collect the data that justifies or validates your methodology and paradigm? In other words, how do you know you are using the appropriate methods that will collect the data that corresponds with your understanding of the world – collecting what you intended to collect?

Based on the information provided, which methodology would you choose? I would love to know your thoughts!

Until next time!

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Bowleg, L. (2017). Towards a critical health equity research stance: Why epistemology and methodology matter more than qualitative methods. Health Education & Behavior, 44(5), 677-684. doi: 10.1177/1090198117728760

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