Researching from the inside — does it compromise
Concepts of validity in any research are complex and are dependent
on various ontological and epistemological assumptions about the
nature of reality and truth. The validity of insider research, particularly
in qualitative studies, is subjected to endless debate and scrutiny
and it presents numerous unanswered questions.
With the case studies presented here, positivists may argue against
their validity because, from their perspective, the researcher's
subjectivities have inevitably distorted their findings (Kvale
1995). Their research cannot be taken as `fact' or truth' because
it does not correspond to an objective reality. Their results are
not reliable or generalisable. Triangulation will not present the
same results. Neopositivists and antipositivists may argue that
because complete objectivity is impossible, it is the insider researcher's
biases and assumptions that threaten validity or `trustworthiness'.
Does the researcher's relationships with subjects have a negative
impact on the subject's behaviour such that they behave in a way
that they would not normally? The case studies presented here demonstrate
that this is possible. Because she was a senior staff member, Fraser's
students may have told her what she wanted to hear, and colleagues
may have feared that she would use information for other purposes.
On the other hand, because they were familiar with her they may
have felt more comfortable and freer to talk openly and honestly.
Foster's insider status as a black woman may have made participants
feel more comfortable talking about `black' issues and thus may
have enhanced the validity of her study.
Did the researcher's prior, tacit knowledge distort results by
leading to misinterpretations or false assumptions? Possibly. Did
Fraser fail to probe important issues on the wards? Did Foster falsely
assume the existence of commonalities between herself and her subjects
because of their similar ethnic and professional backgrounds? On
the other hand, insider knowledge may have enabled the researcher
to probe pertinent and relevant issues.
Did hidden politics, loyalties and other agendas lead the researcher
to misrepresent or disregard important data? Fraser defends editing
data if it `avoid(s) any adverse consequences' (Fraser 1997: 165).
But what is an adverse consequence? Did Foster have a subconscious
anti-racist/feminist agenda which influenced her direction of the
interviews? Convery acknowledges that he `created' an attractive
moral identity for himself through his narrative. Does this mean
that it is invalid? Such questions, while important to ask, are
extremely difficult, if not impossible, to resolve.
While these issues are important to consider with insider research,
it is argued that they should be considered in all research regardless
of the researcher's position. As May states, `the knower (researcher)
is now implicated in the construction of the known' (2002:
2). If, as Hammersley
(2000) argues, our research is inevitably coloured (consciously
and unconsciously) by our subjectivities and our social, historical
and cultural backgrounds, what constitutes validity? If, as postmodernists
argue, our research is just one representation of a multiplicity
of realities, how can we guarantee that it is valid and trustworthy?
This paper has attempted to illustrate that there are no definitive
answers to these inherently difficult questions. However, many researchers
will agree that it is important to be aware of them and to realise
our own limitations — and potentials — as researchers
(Hammersley 2000). Taking
these issues into account, can we only aspire to an ever-elusive
concept of validity in qualitative research? For the moment, Deem
and Brehony's suggestion seems a useful guideline for this difficult
period: `Perhaps then, validity is best regarded as something which
is to be worked towards rather than fully achieved' (1994: