Reflexivity in the research process

‘All knowledge is partial, situated and subjective’. This really resonates with me and aligns to the case study article ‘Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research‘ (Flyvbjerg, 2006). I think we can overcome or at least address partial knowledge, which is inevitable as we can never know something completely, by investigating and exploring the case at hand using everything we know,  looking at details by themselves and in comparison to other details. Situated because what we know always exists within context, in relation to other things and ourselves, we are part of the context and influence it with our actions. Subjective, because there is no real objectivity. Reality is our personal perception of how things are, what looks one way to me will look very differently to another person.

‘Reflexivity examines the impact of the researcher’s position, perspective and presence’.  I think the question is: ‘where do I fit into my research and in relation to the participants?’ In my intended project, I will be interviewing women who are similar and different from me. Similar in age, different in class, nationality and ethnicity. I know that people see race as important, and it certainly is, but having grown up in a different country means that I have a different cultural history, make other assumptions about how things are or should be – we are all products of our environment and I have been socialised in a different country with different values, practices and behaviours. So, just because I will be a woman interviewing another woman does not automatically mean we are the same and that I will be regarded as an insider.

I regard myself as a feminist, so my aim will be to illuminate women’s experiences and perspectives in an ethical manner so that existing knowledge on women’s lives also includes older women working in low paid jobs. However, this does not mean that my research participants will share my attitudes and beliefs, on the contrary they might even object to them. It is possible that the need to put food on the table and a roof over their family’s head always presented a greater obstacle than the constraints of gender. I believe that it is not up to the researcher to lecture or infantilise our participants, women get enough of that treatment from men. While I have my perspective on women’s lives, I do not believe I am entitled to impose this perspective on others.

Presence – I think this refers to the reflection of the researcher within the research. After all, I decide what I research, the methodology and method, and the interpretation. So I need to explain my decision making process in such a manner that it affords validity to the research process and findings. 

Flyvbjerg, B. (2006) ‘Five Misunderstandings About Case-Study Research‘, Qualitative Inquiry, 12 (2): 219-245.

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