Eljee's developing researcher narrative: where am I?

I enter into the discussion melee rather late in the game.  I’m not a great blogger and end up lurking online bouncing between posts and forums.  But I would like to (finally) add my thoughts on the discussion on reflective/reflexive area.  Since I’m late in the conversation I won’t address the plethora of what’s been discussed in the previous 30 or so odd posts (!!!), but rather touch on the subject of researcher narratives.

“Where am I?”  or perhaps, “Where am I in the research process?” or even “Where am I in the research data?”

These are questions I think researchers, in any discipline, will (or ought to) ask themselves.  It is not to say that there is either an objective or subjective stance to how the researcher positions themselves in the study, as there is a range of both that exists.  The range is due to many factors, for example, scientific studies (i.e. biology) have traditionally an objective slant to the study and thus, the researcher (i.e. Richard’s biologist brother) is inclined to design and viewtheir study in this way.  The researcher brings into the study their background, education and experience which influence how they choose to design their study.  This, I think, is the reflexive aspect to research, the degree to which the researcher accounts for what they bring into the study which, in turn, can influence where they position themselves within their research.

I’d like to offer some of my thinking to illustrate what I mean.  For example, my research involves looking at how VEM-NESTs (visible ethnic minority, native English speaking teachers) create their professional identities using narrative based approaches.  This involves looking at complicated areas of race and native speakerism (as well all the power of the English language, which is a separate discussion).  During my MA I encountered the issue of being the researcher as well as the subject of the research and wondered where on earth was I suppose to position myself in all this.

Back then, I wanted to distance myself from the study by deliberately choosing NOT to include my narrative as part of the data set that was analysed.  At the time I believed that by doing so, I’d create space for myself in order to become more objective would therefore be able to analyse the data more effectively.  I was also very cautious of being too subjective , such as seeing what I wanted to see and as a result, chose a highly structured analytical tool to approach the narratives of other VEM-NESTs.  I believed that having a very systematic approach would also help me gain a deeper understanding of the data as long as I kept myself out of the picture so as not to “taint” my findings with my views.  The big irony here was that I wanted to make sense of my own narrative though analysing the narratives of others, but not my own!

However in practice this was awkward as I found it impossible to completely distance myself from the study.  I am a VEM-NEST researching about other VEM-NESTs with similar backgrounds.  It wasn’t that I could completely dissociate my racial and linguistic background from my identity as a researcher.  Rather it was suggested that I account for it.

So I did, by first acknowledging (at least to myself) that my background is actually part of the research process and that I am not a neutral player but rather being aware that I will bring in my particular views and interpretations to the study.  Getting to this point took some time as my background in hermeneutics (particularly studies into religious texts) have roots in positivist paradigms.  But I also found the prospect of analysing my own narrative particularly uncomfortable.  Backward, yes, as I’m willing to analyse the narrative of others but less willing to look at my own.

So here I am, nearly 3 years later and still asking “Where am I?” in the research process.  I recognise that I am, and always have been, part of the research data.  How I’ve come to try to address my uncertainty is looking at what I term the range of positionality that is available.

This is one of the slides I used during my conference presentation at Narrative Matters, the full version can be found here. I chose this slide to illustrate where I am in terms of my researcher narrative.  In an nutshell, the slide illustrates the range in which the researcher can choose to place themselves in relation to their participants.  How much of yourself, your views/position/subjectivity(?) you share with your participants is a valid question to ask.

Attempting to be reflexive in an autobiographical narrative study gets me in circles, where I find myself trying to account for everything.  One approach I thought of as a way to move forward is to view my relationship with my participants as multi-directional rather than one-way.  In my previous MA study it was a one-way direction, where I asked my participants to give me their narratives of being a VEM-NEST in an EFL context.  They didn’t ask for my narrative and I didn’t offer it.  Now, I’m considering offering my narrative as a fellow VEM-NEST as a way to position myself within the data.  Here is my story, can you tell me yours?  I expect that the narratives that I gather when doing could be different to the previous ones.  I’ll provide an update in due time.

There are more thoughts on this, but I’ll leave it for now!


  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    It would be interesting indeed, although I am left wondering whether the change (if any) can be related to the change of positionality per se, or your shared background (a similarity which, of course, would have remained obscured had you not shifted to a more ‘open’ position. OK, maybe that’s just splitting hairs.

    I am nevertheless intrigued by the shift in positionality you are contemplating, possibly because I find myself much more comfortable at the left extremeties of that continuum, and would need compelling arguments to ‘open up’. Who knows, I might just find such inspiring arguements in your work.


  • Eljee Javier

    I’m glad I could contribute in some way!:-)

    From my own experience I’ve kept my researcher identity more towards the left, slightly hidden and very little revealed about myself other than “Hello, my name’s Eljee and I’m studying at the University of Manchester” to “This study is about…” to “I would like to invite you to participate…”

    It’s a distance that I’ve set throughout my experiences as a researcher and it feels sort of natural. However as I embark on a new phase of my studies I face the challenge of moving more “right” (so to speak). Given the nature of my research area I thought it would be interesting to share my narrative and see how the positions of the participants change (if they do). I don’t actually get to meet any of my participants face to face so this should be interesting to see their responses.

  • Magdalena De Stefani

    Hi Eljee

    Thanks for this. Very interesting! It has given me a new angle from which to look at my own work. I really liked the slide and also your idea of offering to tell your story and then asking teachers for theirs. Would love to hear more!

  • Richard Fay

    I agree with Achilleas about this ‘range of positionality’ concept. I remember well when you were working / talking your way towards it in Canada before the conference. The final fine-tuning of talks can have some very good outcomes (such as this concept) and I am also reminded how conference paper-giving can have a very direct and valuable influence on the ongoing doctoral research. I am looking forward to seeing you take the concept taken further in your doctoral studies and elsewhere. Keep us posted please 🙂

  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    That was very interesting to read, Eljee (and I really liked the slide; not sure if I said so in response to the presentation). I think that ‘range of positionality’ is a very useful concept when contemplating reflexivity, and your discussion has left me wondering about the possible implications of each position when reporting research.