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“But our worlds are different!”: reflexivity as a tool to negotiate insider–outsider dilemmas

Deepika Sharma (Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (Indian School of Mines) Dhanbad, Dhanbad, India)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Article publication date: 28 March 2024




In ethnographic research, negotiating insider–outsider perspectives is essential in order to get closer to the participants’ lives. By highlighting the importance of empathy and reflexivity, the paper attempts to trace my reflexive navigation as a novice researcher as I enter the field as an outsider. The process of co-creation between the researcher and the participant is mediated by the nuances of the researcher’s identity, thereby shaping the researcher–participant relationship.


The current study elaborates my journey as a Ph.D. scholar in an ethnographic study of persons with spinal cord injury or amputation. The different themes organised around my personal reflections discuss the various challenges I faced and how I navigated through them.


The paper reflects on how different aspects of my identity, such as being non-disabled, a female and differences in socioeconomic status shaped the researcher–participant relationship. Additionally, it highlights how I traverse through the blurred worlds of insider–outsider and explore the role of reflexivity and empathy in creating a horizontal researcher–participant relationship.


This reflexive journey offers potential insights into budding researchers who often face dilemmas whether or not it is necessary for qualitative researchers to be members of the population they are studying. The paper also contributes to an understanding around practising reflexivity while working with a sensitive population. It argues researchers to look beyond the insider–outsider debate and utilise reflexivity as a tool for a nonhierarchical researcher–participant relationship.



The author would like to acknowledge her Ph.D. supervisor, Dr Kumar Ravi Priya, Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur, India, who helped her in shaping the manuscript through meaningful discussion and important insights.


Sharma, D. (2024), "“But our worlds are different!”: reflexivity as a tool to negotiate insider–outsider dilemmas", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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