As researchers, we have an ethical responsibility to recognise the potential impact our background and beliefs have on the decisions we make when conducting research. As early career researchers (ECRs) and postgraduate researchers (PGRs), we feel that reflexivity and awareness of positionality in our research are vital to research integrity. In this blog post, we consider the importance of reflexivity and positionality in research and aim to provide some useful advice for ECRs.
Reflexivity can be defined as the ongoing examination of how the researcher’s identity potentially impacts research design, methods, analysis, ontology and epistemology (Basit, 2013). The goal of reflexivity is to improve the quality and validity of the research while recognising the limitations of the knowledge produced. Employing reflexivity throughout the research process involves the researcher being aware of how their perspective and identity might influence all aspects of the process and assessing the impact on the research (Hamdan, 2009). Being reflexive allows a researcher to build awareness of ethical issues and issues related to knowledge creation (Berger, 2013).
‘Reflexivity is essential for understanding and navigating potential unintentional bias we hold that may impact our research (Braun & Clarke, 2013).’
It is impossible though to fully separate researcher influence and perspective from research design, approach, and data collection. Reflexivity is essential for understanding and navigating potential unintentional bias we hold that may impact our research (Braun & Clarke, 2013). All researchers are people with their own backgrounds, perspectives and values; this means that whether intentional or unintentional, we all have reactions that will influence the decisions we make when we conduct research (Finlay & Gough, 2008).
Due to the individual identities of researchers, we need to acknowledge our identities (for example, age, background, ethnicity, and so on) and biases at every stage of investigation, during design, when gathering and analysing data, and during the dissemination of our findings (Basit, 2013). As Mosselson (2010) contends, being reflexive will not only enhance the integrity of the study but will also improve the research data generation process, analysis, and interpretation of the data. Spending time reflecting allows our positionality to become explicit and gives a greater understanding for the context and ‘trustworthiness’ of our research (Finlay & Gough, 2008). The risk of a lack of reflexivity is that we fail to acknowledge the role we play in the process, obscuring potential bias. Braun and Clarke (2013) highlight that for researchers who have a particular aspect of our background or identity that is relevant to the topic, being reflexive is vital.
Tips on positionality and reflexivity
- It is essential to identify your positionality before starting the research (during your planning) and in an ongoing way when conducting research (Holmes, 2020).
- Consider using a reflexivity journal to help you capture and reflect on what arises while analysing your results (Braun & Clarke, 2013).
- Positionality is not static and can change during your project, so engage in ongoing reflection on your relationship to your research, context and participants (Holmes, 2020).
- Writing a positionality statement:
- Make sure you devote sufficient time to writing a positionality statement (Holmes, 2020).
- An effective positionality statement will consider your personal and theoretical beliefs, as well as your identity (for example, age, background, ethnicity, and so on).
- Braun & Clarke (2013) encourage PGRs to weave their positionality and reflexivity throughout their thesis chapters, rather than having one positionality statement at the beginning.
- Think about how your participants will perceive you, as this could affect their behaviour and responses (Holmes, 2020).
Basit, T. N. (2013). Ethics, reflexivity, and access in educational research: Issues in intergenerational investigation. Research Papers in Education, 28(4), 506–517.
Berger, R. (2013). Now I see it, now I don’t: Researcher’s position and reflexivity in qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 15(2), 219–234.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. SAGE.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2017). Research methods in education (8th ed.). Routledge.
Finlay, L., & Gough, B. (2008). Reflexivity (1st ed.). Wiley.
Hamdan, A. K. (2009). Reflexivity of discomfort in insider-outsider educational research. McGill Journal of Education, 44(3), 377–404.
Holmes, A. G. (2020). Researcher positionality – A consideration of its influence and place in qualitative research – A new researcher guide. Shanlax International Journal of Education, 8(4), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.34293/education.v8i4.3232
Mosselson, J. (2010). Subjectivity and reflexivity: Locating the self in research on dislocation. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(4), 479–494.