Last week, I shared some ideas about extending researcher positionality beyond qualitative work and out across the entirety of social science research. In addition to the role of positionality in research, I’ve thought a lot about how we could use positionality for practitioners. Positionality isn’t simply a tool for researchers.

Positionality Beyond Research

Even though writing about positionality is found almost exclusively in the context of qualitative research, positionality is a valuable tool for helping professions, especially student affairs. Because positionality is all about encountering our biases, prejudices and subjectivities, it functions as a tool to help us think about ourselves in relation to other people.

Reflexive Positionality for Practitioners

tuning forks“We see reflexivity on one’s positionality as methodological praxis, rather than an a priori statement of researcher privilege” (Pachego-Vega & Parizeau, 2018, p. 3). Praxis reflects the idea that words and actions are one (Freire, 2008). In other words, what ones says are what one does match. Reflexivity is the on-going process of reflection and adjustment (Savin-Baden & Major, 2010). Friere’s framing of praxis is familiar to some in the field, but his work is not universally applied across graduate programs. 

Reflexive positionality, as a tool for practitioners, is all about engaging in a systematic process of interrogating what we think we know, and the influences of that knowledge (re)production. It’s not simply a fancy sounding word for reflection. Reflexivity is on-going, happening in the moment, so to speak, whereas reflection takes place after the fact.

Anticipating Outcomes

Positionality functions to bias our view of expected outcomes (Cheng & Randall-Parker, 2017). While student development theory is often used as a frame to aid aspiring and current practitioners in anticipating various outcomes of students’ experiences, there is not specific guidance on understanding one’s own identities. Practitioners need more tools to help them encounter their own psychosocial identities, and the ways in which those identities are shaped by implicit biases. Positionality is one such tool. 

Putting Positionality into Practice

Students in graduate preparation programs for student affairs and higher education need guidance on developing the toolkits they’ll use as practitioners. This perspective of situating how we approach our work with others in the context of our social identities, and in the context of our social identities with other people, isn’t foreign to student affairs literature. But, the perspective of drawing on positionality reflexively isn’t addressed head-on. Faculty in grad prep programs need to think about how we can integrate positionality into our curricula, because plopping into an intro course won’t do.