My doctoral program in higher education at The University of Alabama had two built-in minors: social foundations of education, and educational research. In the social foundations minor, I was able to take a deep dive into issues related to diversity and social justice. in the educational research minor, I was able to focus on qualitative methods. The learning experiences I had in my program, combined with my two minors, shaped my perspective on research positionality. I’ve been fortunate to author two publications about positionality. The first appeared in The Qualitative Report. The second, co-authored with Dr. Robin Throne, is a chapter in the forthcoming book Fostering Multiple Levels of Engagement in Higher Education Environments.
A twitter exchange with Dr. Matthew Pistilli got me thinking more about the role of positionality beyond qualitative research:
@mdpistill: “What are the biases we hold? How do they come out? What are the mental shortcuts we take to write a story about others in our minds based on our own biases? How do these influence our work?”
@mdpistilli: “Really big questions that we all need to examine.
#Qualitative researchers practice this routinely. We all could benefit from this reflection and personal action.”
@drbbourke: “Can you imagine if we expanded this to all forms of social science research, not just qual? It would be amazing.”
Before I go too deep into infusing positionality statements into every type of social science research project, let me say this: engaging one’s positionality is not an automatic thing for everyone who does qualitative research. That’s why the chapter that Dr. Throne and I wrote, Online Research Supervisor Engagement: Fostering Graduate Student Researcher Positionality, is important. It takes training to learn to meaningfully engage our positionality.
What positionality boils down to is acknowledging our implicit biases, being cognizant of our socially-constructed identities, and the potential influences those have on research we conduct. In my TQR article, I explored the ways in which my positionality influenced my interactions with students of color in the data collection phase of a qualitative study. I emphasized that positionality influences both the research process, and the research product. This both/and consideration for positionality is a reminder that our positionality, which is shaped by biases and identities, comes into play beyond data collection.
Positionality Takes Training
In our chapter, Dr. Throne and I touch on the importance of training graduate researchers to be mindful of their positionality throughout the research process. I was a beneficent of training as a graduate student that led to an understanding of the ways in which positionality affects research. However, it’s not something I’ve encountered in researcher preparation beyond qualitative methods.
What’s next? I’ll spend some time thinking and writing about this idea of extending positionality beyond qualitative methods in the social sciences. There might be some collaboration that hopefully leads to another publication on positionality to share.