Researching from the inside — does it compromise
An example is Denzin and Lincoln's (2000) description of classic
ethnographic accounts where the researcher travelled to distant
lands such as America to study the ‘other’, in this
case Native Americans. In such cases, the researcher ‘observed’
as an outsider, compiled notes, and wrote up objective accounts
of the social community in question. The researcher was seen as
a ‘distanced expert’ (Edwards et al 1997) retaining
‘the power to represent the subject’s story’ (Denzin
and Lincoln quoted in Gamson 2000).
As Becker states, sociological analysis is always from someone’s
point of view, and is therefore partisan (Becker quoted in Hammersley
and Gomm 1997).
As Eisner states, ‘there is no single, legitimate way to make
sense of the world. Different ways of seeing give us different worlds.
Different ways of saying allow us to represent different worlds’
Some examples include Smith’s (1995) investigation into social
work support for parents of children with a serious illness. (Smith
at the time was a social worker, whose `clients' formed part of
her study.) Another example is Holian’s (1999) study of human
resource management/ethical decision making in her own organization.
For example in ethnographic research, the researcher may be a native
of the community they are studying (also called ‘native ethnography’
(Tedlock 2000: 466)). For example, Yang’s native ethnography
titled ‘A Chinese Village’ (quoted in Tedlock 2000).
An interesting example of such advantages is Naples’s (2004)
account of her ethnographic study of a rural Iowan community. Although
she identifies herself as an outsider to the community (because
she has only recently moved there), during interviews she discovers
that many others also feel like outsiders to the community for various
other reasons (for example, racial differences, economic and social
inequalities and so on). Naples describes how the commonality between
herself and her subject(s) — which could classify her as an
insider to their emotional perspective — became a resource
through which she gained a more in-depth understanding of subjects’
descriptions and feelings.
As Eliot states, the insider researcher should consider ‘dismantling
the value structure of privacy, territory and hierarchy, and substituting
the values of openness’ (Eliot quoted in Fraser 1997).
For example, Ramiraz and Bartunek (quoted in Coghlan 2001) describe
a situation where one insider researcher was informed that there
were rumours among staff that she was engaging in the research to
set up a position for herself.
For example, in order to build up trust, Fraser assured students
and practitioners on the wards that they would not be identifiable
in the final reports. She also told practitioners that the information
given to her would be used only for the purposes of the study and
would not be reported to their managers.
Fraser (1997) refers to her professional responsibilities as her
responsibility to see that the needs of child-bearing women are
Smith calls this ‘investigator triangulation’ and describes
how ‘investigators with differing perspectives or paradigmatic
biases may be used to check out the extent of divergence in the
data each collects’ (quoted in Cohen et al. 2000: 114).
The period when separate but equal was a controlling principle of
American society’ (Foster 1994: 133).
This is backed up by Gwaltney, (Gwaltney quoted in Foster 1994)
who describes how willing his narrators were to help with his life
history project when they realized he was a native himself.
Two thirds to be exact.
However Foster also notes that while an invitation into the subject’s
home could be viewed as an acceptance as an insider, it could also
be interpreted as tipping the power balance in favour of the subject.
She notes how the subjects scrutinized her behaviour.
This demonstrates what Naples (2004: .373) refers to as ‘the
fluidity of insiderness/outsiderness’ —that is the idea
that ‘insiderness and outsiderness are not fixed or static
positions’ but are ‘ever-shifting and permeable social
As a homosexual male, Tierney notes this tendency in his research
into the life history of ‘Robert’ who says ‘If
you weren’t gay, I don’t know if I would even bring
it up, or want to talk about it’ (1994: 102).
For an overview of further terms, refer to Ellis and Bochner 2000.
This self-serving strategy is also described by Schutz (1999) who,
in his research into the autobiographical accounts of married couples,
describes how subjects emphasized their partners’ negative
behaviour and created favourable self-presentations.