9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS09 Research Methods in Ethnic and Migration Studies

Interrogating the Insider Outsider Binary in Qualitative Research: Insider, Outsider or Both?

This presentation examines the issues relating to insiderness and outsiderness within the qualitative research process. It draws on the researchers' experience of researching older minority ethnic women's accounts of ageing in the UK. Considerable attention has been paid to this topic as researchers have sought to reflect upon the impact of their biographical background on the practicalities of doing and producing research. In the presentation it will be argued that commonalities of experience are always mediated through difference and therefore cannot be conceptualised as fixed and knowable. Additionally, that the researcher is neither an insider nor an outsider but instead often occupies both positions simultaneously to varying degrees, throughout the research. A central contention of the presentation is that the development of empathetic understanding between researcher and participant is not solely based on similarity of background and experience, or being an 'insider'. Instead it is suggested that this may be less important than the identification, scrutinisation, and destabilisation of those power relations that inadvertently reconstruct insiderness and outsiderness as binary oppositions and lead to essentialist notions of difference. For researchers, this means defining and examining the processes that re-inscribe prevailing representations of otherness as they emerge within the research setting. This is important because it contributes towards the development of a culturally sensitive approach to research methodologies that are able to move beyond the binaries of outsider/insider and the false ethnocentric categories these inevitably (re) affirm and (re) create.