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Wadholm

Identity of the researcher: Situatedness on the move


Bob Wadholm, Missouri University, 2013 How does my identity influence me as a qualitative researcher? One might argue that this question should be broadened: how does my identity influence me as a researcher (regardless of methods used)? Does it matter what my gender, race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, different abilities, religion, or political ideologies are? Will these have an effect on my research? A profound impact? Will the fact that I am poor lead me to privilege the underprivileged? Will my beliefs about Buddha, or Muhammad, or Christ or Moses skew or in some way clarify my outlook on the nature of research, knowledge, and reality? Will my identity as a man put me in a position where I am unable to critique hegemony in its myriad forms? As both a Native American and a Norwegian American will I be able to address social injustice? Do all of these things, which help to make up parts of what may be called my worldview, tint (read distort) my reality so that I fail to see the world as it is, and thus am caught in the circumstances in which I began, unable to climb up over the baggage I bring with me to this occasion of research? Should this baggage be overcome? If so, how? Have you overcome your baggage? Do you see more clearly than me? Are you no longer situated? Have you transcended this mere mortal plane and achieved the eternal sainthood of the objective researcher? Im guessing not. If you understand any of my words, you are situated alongside myself linguistically. You read and understand English. Which means you learned English somewhere. And you learned it well enough that my uncommon (and sometimes overly academic) speech patterns have not thrown you off the task of trying to understand what I am saying, meaning you likely have a good grasp of early 21st

Wadholm century American academic English usage. Your knowledge of this essay is therefore dependent upon your identity and your situatedness. You could not have

read (or analyzed, or one might say researched into) my words here were you not situated as you are linguistically and scholastically. You are also likely reading (or have printed) a digitized version of this essay, meaning you have access to a computer (and possibly a printer). This is a privileged minority social world you and I dwell in. Our situatedness is entrenched and incriminating. It shows us for what we are: mere mortals influenced by our identities. Profoundly a part of the world in which we travel, at home even as we search. Or research. But should this situated identity overpower us in our attempts to understand our world? Should we, as Marxists, only ever dare view our world through Marxist lenses? Should we, as Democrats, only ever see value in freedom guaranteed by representative governance? Rather, while we are situated, we should not be seen as static. Else there would be no Marxists (Marx would have thought the same as that given him by his situation, and would not have created or synthesized what is now Marxism). There would be no Christians (Christ would have found only identity with his contemporaries, and would have done and said none of what is attributed to him). If there is plurality in the world (which there is), there is also an ability to move about though still situated. What I mean is this: our situatedness is the not the sole determinant of our research, our search for knowledge about our world. But our identity is always an ingredient in the way we see that world, and may allow us (or disallow us) from taking part in that world (or of seeing what else exists out there). We cannot ever hope for true detachment in order to study. We could not study if we were truly detached (read dead).

Wadholm Research is not mere analysis of ones identity (or through ones identity),

nor can it be pure analysis of the given (data) of our world: research can rather be seen as identity searching for meaning in the data, and transformed situatedness through creative and synthesizing acts. We are changed, our identity is changed, our situatedness is changed as we seek to understand (if we seek to understand). While it is possible for us to be held prisoners to our identities in our research, we must not let our identities define who we are becomingas we are changed by our research we must open our selves to the possibility of transidentities, situatedness on the move. What about research that entails social interaction, or that requires new or different relationships with study participants and/or organizations? Can we become Jewish to study Judaism? Is that what is meant by situatedness on the move? We believe in order to understand. We cannot fully understand what it means to be Jewish unless we are Jewish or are converts to Judaism. But we also understand in order to believe (or not believe). We must learn something about what Judaism means before we take a step of belief or unbelief. We must understand something in order to believe it. What is needed is not blind rejection of previous situatedness (as a human and as a researcher), but rather willingness to try on understanding and belief structures in order to understand and to come to bases for action. We will not truly understand until we are fully situated as the participant, but we may seek to translocate our situatedness and become in a sense as the participant. We do this when we are caught up into the story of another, or when we are empathetically angry on behalf of a friend, when we fight for the cause of the outcast as a choice not as a necessity, and when we interview a participant and find ourselves falling in with their mode of thought. Our writing up of research should

Wadholm seek to capture some of this for the reader as well. To allow them to enter into the drama of the social study, or the life experiences of the participants. Instead of studying the other from outside, or becoming wholly the other from inside, our identities are transformed (if but momentarily and incompletely) to that of the other. Better yet, the other is given a voice within the research that makes him or her not the other. In my own qualitative research and writing I am seeking to be transparent to readers and to participants, to explicate where I am, to voice what I see and how I

see it, and to enter in with participants into the process of research as a participant in research. I try to be explicit with participants about what is being researched and their roles as cocreators of the research, as well as to explore identities of all involved in order to build from that (my background and theirs, and how it might affect the research). I also try to incorporate this reflectiveness in the final writing, because readers can only enter into the identities that they are given knowledge of. If the situatedness is not explicated in some real way, the reader is left to their own devices if they are to, for a moment, live in the voice that is given. Unless the voice is clear, it will not be understood. Unless it is understood, it will not be believed. Unless it is believed, it will not transform, and that is the real goal of research (if not transformation of action, at least of knowledge). Like Wendy Hastings (2010) in her research among site-based teacher educators, I may find myself in circumstances which force me to reevaluate my stance, my positionality with regard to the research and/or the participants. But I find it ethically wrong to disallow, once begun, the back-and-forth of discursive momentum engendered by all humans involved in the research having (and continuing to have) voices that are heard. If other humans enter with you on a

Wadholm journey of discovery, and the journey is to continue, it must be continuously reified by all parties (or left unfinished by some or all). Because our situatedness is on the

move and not static, this dialogue among members of research must continue if the search is to continue, lest the data become not what we set out to analyze, and we become not who we set out to become. My identity, and the identities of participants, profoundly impacts the goals, framework, theoretical underpinnings, methods, accessibility of data, and analysis of the research. But my identity, and those of participants and readers, does not bar the way for transformation. Because our identities are not static. They are not mere baggage or lenses through which we view our world. They are also what allow us to come to know the world in the first place. If I grow up in the Dominican Republic, and am never able to attend a school throughout my life, and spend my days collecting garbage scraps to exchange for pennies at a nearby dump because of my extreme poverty, I will be more limited in my abilities to research. But I will still have a voice (an important one) and an identity that allows me to become through searching. My knowledge of the world in that case may not include academia, but it may include textures of reality not possible in American academic settings. In my own research, this is the voice that matters most to me: the voice of the human (as a human, an identity becoming).

Wadholm

References
Hastings, Wendy. (2010, July). Research and the ambiguity of reflexivity and ethical practice. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 31:3, pp. 307-318.