Sista Circle Methodology

I wanted my dissertation to be an experience. An experience that would give more to my participants than I would be taking away from them. 

Coming to my dissertation topic was quite a journey (click to read here). I just was not completely sure how to put this intention into words while writing my prospectus.

One day, the homie, Dr. Joan Collier, called me up to tell me about this new methodology that she found. It sounded so awesome. 
We were worried that our chairs or committees would not be a fan of it. 
I decided that I was going to just write it up, attach the dissertation it came from, and send it off to my chair. 
The worst she could say was no and tell me to take it out of my prospectus. 

Sista Circle Methodology

Sista Circle Methodology (SCM) was created by Dr. Latoya Johnson, who defined SCM as, “a qualitative research methodology and support group for examining the lived experiences of Black women” (Johnson, 2015, p. 43).

There are three distinguishing features of SCM:

  1. Communication dynamics: Communication is more than the verbal. There's a spiritual energy, connection of sorts that can be felt through a head nod, a hmm, a side eye, or a simple “ok”. Black women in spirit and community are continuously communicating with their whole being. SCM honors this connection and allows for the connection to flourish and build by stripping away the constraints of traditional (read: oppressive) research methodologies and methods. 
  2. Centrality of empowerment: Our lived experiences are knowledge; it is how we come to know what we know. Having opportunities to connect and share with other Black women further helps Black women to make meaning of those experiences, or knowledge. SCM encourages the dialogue, the sharing in that all may learn from other ways of knowing or existing. The more you share, the more you understand, the more you become confident about yourself.
  3. Researcher as participant: The power dynamic that usually exists between researcher and participant is absent as all are sharing, giving, and taking from the research process. In dialogues, anyone can shift or steer the discussion. The researcher also shares with participants of her life experiences. It is true reciprocity in research.

Data collection is primarily in the form of sista circles. Sista circles take place in a safe and comfortable environment, like in someone’s home. The goal is to encourage folks to feel comfortable and to feel as if they are amongst friends and family. There have also been sista circles done online by some researchers. 



Sista circles have been alive and well for decades and definitely are not a new concept. 
However, sista circles in research are a new concept. 
They challenge what is considered legitimate and rigorous. 
Sista circles are also not just another word for focus groups. The goal of the researcher is to recognize and remove power dynamics as much as possible.

Those who have participated in sista circles have described it to be affirming, reflective, and intellectually stimulating. 

For me, it's been very therapeutic um, I mentioned a couple times I's really nice to be able to get with a diverse group of black women, and be able to have these conversations that normally we wouldn't be able to talk about. Or, if we talk about it, we're usually talking about it with people who have- who share the same exact views. So it's not really too much like learning, it's kind of just like, oh yeah girl. Mm-hmm (affirmative). I feel the same way. All right! You know? (laughs) And so I feel like I've learned something from each and every one of you...women. I do really appreciate like, this space and like time to even have these discussions that...I don't get a chance to talk about very often. - Saphronia 

Sista circle methodology was created by and for research between Black women researchers and Black women participants. Researchers who are not Black women and who desire to learn more about this diverse demographics are encouraged to learn more about Black feminisms, to act in power-conscious ways, and to center Black women's experiences in their research; however, they are strongly discouraged from co-opting the term sista/sister circle in their research. (Lacy & Collier, 2018)

5 Questions to Ask Yourself

There are 5 things you should consider when deciding to use Sista Circle Methodology:

  1. What are your research questions and does this methodology align with what you want to know?
  2. What is your paradigm and does it allow for the participant’s experience being a legitimate form of knowledge (see: epistemology). 
  3. What is your theoretical framework and how does that align with your paradigm and research question(s)?
  4. What methods will you utilize to collect data? How will you be power conscious in the ways that you collect data?
  5. How will you explain this to your committee? 

Bottom Line: You research design has to be in alignment and you have to do your work in ensuring that there is alignment.

Want to learn more? 

Collier, J. (2017). Using sista circles to examine sense of belonging of black women in doctoral
programs at a historically white institution.
(Unpublished doctoral dissertation).
University of Georgia, Athens, GA.

Johnson, L. S. (2015). Using sista circles to examine the professional experience of
contemporary Black women teachers in schools: A collective story about school culture
and support
(Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Georgia, Athens, GA.

Hennink, M. (2014). Focus Group Discussions: Understanding Qualitative Research. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lacy, M. (2017). Black graduate women’s self-defining process using media. (Unpublished
doctoral dissertation). University of Georgia, Athens, GA.

Do you think you will try Sista Circle Methodology? Let me know in the comments!