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Researching from the inside — does it compromise validity?
A discussion

Author - Pauline Rooney

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1. 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).

2. As Becker states, sociological analysis is always from someone’s point of view, and is therefore partisan (Becker quoted in Hammersley and Gomm 1997).

3. 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’ (1993: 54).

4. 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.

5. 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).

6. 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.

7. 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).

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Fraser (1997) refers to her professional responsibilities as her responsibility to see that the needs of child-bearing women are met.

11. 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).

12. The period when separate but equal was a controlling principle of American society’ (Foster 1994: 133).

13. 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.

14. Two thirds to be exact.

15. 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.

16. 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 locations.’

17. 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).

18. For an overview of further terms, refer to Ellis and Bochner 2000.

19. 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.


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