Qual 101

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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