Insider and outsider

Self portrait, peninsular, Dunedin

Delving back into a literature review but being side-tracked by the methods employed in this research project is food for another (slightly rambling) blog post…

The tension between insider (emic) and outsider (etic) positioning characterises much socially-driven research given the frequent nature of face to face interaction. In my case, the knowledge of, and integration into the culture of community group environmental restoration through a long association with groups and their projects presents an interesting situation. I hover between being insider and outsider, subjective and objective though I’d argue that far from being a problem it’s actually a good thing. Aside from playing around with language in blog posts, it means a continual re-evaluating of the research process and my place within it. It also has important implications for how any results are analysed and understood. A loooong Methodology section is brewing for the final thesis due in a couple of years’ time.

For this research project, a priori knowledge is used as the foundation for more in depth exploration of the subject area. Insider status is used to gain access to the sample population. In practice, this means it’s easier to say yes to someone you know, or know of. It’s tempting but wrong to assume that subjectivity and objectivity are fixed at opposite ends of the spectrum, just as it is with being an insider and an outsider.

In reality, the researcher’s position fluctuates depending on the context and a whole range of other variables, subtle or otherwise. Who else is in the room. The nature of what’s being talked about and so on. More so perhaps than questions surrounding the emic, etic or other status of the researcher, is the importance of integrity. Keeping a moral lens on communications with research participants serves as a guide through the tricky technical terrain of researcher positioning.

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