Insider Vs. Outsider

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The article on power and positionality with regards to ethnographic field research was very interesting. I especially really liked the article’s layout and the use of four different case studies to help show how the initial assumptions about access, power relationships and commonality experience can be challenged.

The most obvious advantages of being an insider include better access especially with regards to the phase of research and the establishment f rapport but also the immediate trust and assumed “pre-knoweldge” in terms of language, cues, facial expressions. Yet sometimes as an insider it’s hard to step out of your established role within the society whether it be in terms of your job or gender.  As for the disadvantages, these include the limited topics of research as you are assumed to have prior knowledge about the culture but more importantly, taboo topics are a lot easier to bring up when you’re a naïve outsider.

It is interesting to see that the factors that distinguish an insider from an outsider include things like race, gender, level of education, social class, ethnicity and much more. Yet, when it comes to which factor is more important, I feel like its very context dependent especially on the society or community being studied. In my opinion this strongly links in to what the society or community values most. Moreover, I feel like in most cases, it is automatically assumed that the more the researcher is like the participants in terms of culture, gender, race, socio-economic class… the more access granted, meanings shared and credibility to the findings. This is clearly not always the case and being an insider is not always without problems due to interlocking aspects such as culture, gender and power.

One thing that really struck me in the article was the following quote: “During fieldwork the researcher’s power is negotiated not given”. It doesn’t necessarily mean that because you are the researcher, you are entitled to access all knowledge and are dominant over the participants.

In the end, it seems like both the insider’s perspective and outsider’s perspective are considered as valid and should be. Not only will the researcher experience moments of being both insider and outsider, but that these positions are depend heavily on the cultural values and norms of both researcher and participants.

1 thought on “Insider Vs. Outsider

  1. Thank you for reminding us of this important point, Souki – “During fieldwork the researcher’s power is negotiated not given.”

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