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Studying caste and occupational mobility in India: questioning “positionality” in ethnographic research

Barsa Priyadarsinee Sahoo (Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India) (Alliance University, Bangalore, India)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Article publication date: 18 August 2022

Issue publication date: 4 January 2023




The purpose of this paper is to discuss the challenges the author had encountered and the counter-strategies she had adopted to overcome them while conducting ethnography for the first time during her doctoral research. In this paper, the author hopes to provide guidance for future researchers by discussing the role she played in her research, the experiences she gained as a result of it, the difficulties she faced and the strategies she employed to overcome these difficulties.


Following the social constructionist perspective, this paper analyses the experience that the author had gained during her field study. As a novice researcher, the author entered the field to study the relationship between caste and occupational mobility. The caste that she had selected was the Kansari caste to which the author belongs. Therefore, her position as a researcher while conducting ethnography became a crucial part of the methodological challenges the author faced. While insider ethnography has its advantages and disadvantages, this paper does not discuss these aspects of the methodology. Instead, it discusses how, as a novice researcher, the author had to negotiate her position as an insider and outsider.


While analysing her experience as a novice researcher, the author found that her journey of conducting insider ethnography was of rediscovering herself as a Kansari as well as a researcher. Through this research, the author found that as an insider ethnographer, certain strategies had to be adopted in the field by the researcher to be objective and unbiased throughout the research process. For example, whenever the author conducted an interview, she tried to try to say less, listen more and be as objective as possible, without allowing her preconceptions to influence the information she gathered from the field.


This is an original paper based on the primary data collected by the author.



Sahoo, B.P. (2023), "Studying caste and occupational mobility in India: questioning “positionality” in ethnographic research", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 1-12.



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