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Meeting at the crossroads: re-conceptualising difference in research teams

Louisa Allen (Faculty of Education, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand)
Kathleen Quinlivan (University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand)
Clive Aspin (University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Fida Sanjakdar (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Annette Brömdal (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
Mary Lou Rasmussen (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Article publication date: 8 July 2014

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to attempt to theorise difference as encountered by a team of six diverse researchers interested in addressing cultural and religious diversity in sexuality education. Drawing Todd's (2003, 2011a, b) concepts of “the crossroads”, “becoming present” and “relationality” in conversation with Barad's (2003, 2007, 2012) ideas around relationality and intra-activity, the paper explores how “difference” in team research might be re-conceptualised. The aim is to theorise difference, differently from Other methodological literature around collaborative research. Typically, this work highlights markers of difference based on researcher identity (such as gender and ethnicity) as the source of difference in research teams, and examines how these differences are worked through. The aim of this paper is not to resolve difference, but understand it as occurring in the relational process of researchers becoming present to each other. Difference that is not understood as the product of the individual (Barad, 2012), may engender an orientation to ethical relationality, whereby research teams might hold in tension a conversation between the individual and the collective.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper is philosophical and methodological. It draws on conceptual understandings from feminist educational philosophy and new materialisms. Findings are based on empirical experiences of a team of researchers exploring cultural and religious difference in sexuality education. Its aim is to re-think the ontology of “difference” as conventionally understood in qualitative methodological literature around team research.

Findings

The contribution to conceptualising difference in research teams is to apply Todd's (2011a) theoretical work around “becoming”, “relationality” and the “crossroads” and further delineate it with Barad's (2012) concept of intra-activity. Combining these theorist's ideas the paper offers a conceptualisation of difference that is not the product of individual researcher identities that manifests at the point of collision with (an)other identity. Rather, difference becomes intra-actively in meeting at the crossroads where the “who” is formed. The author argues it is a configuration that cannot be known in advance, and that blurs individuals (and contingent identities) in its uniqueness.

Practical implications

Although conceptual in nature, this paper can be seen as having implications for working with difference in research teams. Drawing on Todd (2003, 2011a) what becomes important in attending to difference in research teams is being openly receptive to the Other. For instance, that the differences of perspective in relation to a research project are not melted into consensus, but that the singularities are always held in relation to each-other.

Originality/value

This paper takes new and emerging ideas in educational philosophy and new materialisms around relationality and applies them to a re-thinking of “difference” in qualitative methodological literature. The result is to offer a new ontology of “difference” as experienced by members of a qualitative research team. It also brings the work of Barad and Todd into conversation for the first time, in order to think ethically about how researchers might work with difference.

Keywords

Citation

Allen, L., Quinlivan, K., Aspin, C., Sanjakdar, F., Brömdal, A. and Lou Rasmussen, M. (2014), "Meeting at the crossroads: re-conceptualising difference in research teams", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 119-133. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRJ-08-2013-0047

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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