Toward multi-dimensional and developmental notion of researcher positionality

Hangyan Lu (Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China)
Warren A. Hodge (Department of Leadership, School Counseling and Sports Management, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, USA)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Publication date: 24 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to argue for a multi-dimensional and developmental notion of researcher positionality in conducting qualitative research, in lieu of the dichotomous notion of outsider and insider. The former emphasizes the agentive role researchers play in knowledge production, whereas the latter has been much challenged as oversimplified and insufficient in understanding the dynamic interactions in which field researchers engage.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper borrows Milner’s (2007) four-level framework of research personality to reflect on one cross-cultural narrative inquiry study.

Findings

Reflective stories revealed that researcher positionality captures threads of intersectionality as well as inter- and intra-personal dynamics, and thus better informs the research process than what concept of insider/outsider dichotomy can do.

Research limitations/implications

The paper enriches the discussion of research positionality in qualitative research by involving a cross-cultural study where the researcher moved to-and-fro two sites.

Practical implications

The paper suggests a methodological and practical way of raising researcher’s awareness and agency relative to positionality by exposing the researcher to cross-cultural settings.

Originality/value

While the multi-dimensional aspect of researcher positionality and its relatedness to research findings has been much discussed, not much acknowledgment has been given to the developmental aspect of research positionality.

Keywords

Citation

Lu, H. and Hodge, W. (2019), "Toward multi-dimensional and developmental notion of researcher positionality", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 225-235. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRJ-D-18-00029

Download as .RIS

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

In the light of recent social constructionist, deconstructionist and poststructuralist trends, the shifts in thinking and actions dealing with situated dynamic researcher-researched relationship have become increasingly visible in various forms of qualitative research. Literature in this direction has burgeoned in the last decade, exploring the role of the researcher in knowledge production relative to a wide range of issues such as gender, geopolitical locale, race, ethnicity, cultural background, educational status, linguistic competence and professional status (Finefter-Rosenbluh, 2017; Goh and Göransson, 2011; McClellan, 2012; Obasi, 2014; Paechter, 2013; Sallee and Harris, 2011; Soni-Sinha, 2008; Takeda, 2013). The concept of insider/outsider in traditional sociological and anthropological ethnography – depending on whether a person belongs to one social category or not (Merton, 1972) – is challenged for being simplistic and insufficient in understanding the multi-dimensional interactions in which field researchers engage (Lincoln and Cannella, 2009; Mullings, 1999; Subreenduths and Rhee, 2010). Instead, the concept of “positionality” (Anthias, 2002; Bettez, 2015; Milner, 2007) is put forward to emphasize that the production and understanding of knowledge in research is shaped by and also shaping the way researchers see themselves and are seen by others, and the agentive role researchers play within varied social contexts and structures.

The issue of researcher positionality is most salient when researchers encounter tensions in interaction with the researched, as tensions have the productive power to initiate researchers to “rethink, readjust and recalibrate their methodological tools” (Locke, 2015, p. 170). International and cross-cultural studies in which researchers repeatedly encounter participants with different cultural and language backgrounds have thus proven to be a fertile ground for such discussions. However, most of the past discussions were made in contexts where researchers conducted their studies at one site. This paper contributes to the ongoing discussion of researcher positionality by involving a cross-cultural narrative inquiry where the researcher moved to-and-fro two sites.

In the following section, I will introduce a framework of researcher positionality (Milner, 2007) that has guided this reflexive paper. Although the framework was developed through a critical race theory lens, the underlying tenets are applicable in all qualitative inquiries for social equity including race and gender equity. Following the framework, I will critically examine what kinds of researcher positionality were problematized and negotiated before, during and after the fieldwork. I will argue that researcher positionaltiy needs to be approached from a multi-dimensional and developmental perspective, and that a multi-site cross-cultural study offers unique opportunities for researchers to be self-reflexive and agentive.

A framework of researcher positionality

In his article entitled “Race, Culture, and Researcher Positionality,” Milner (2007) proposed a framework consisting of four interrelated guides on racial and cultural positionality for researchers to minimize danger and optimize research output in their practice of inquiry. The first guide is to research the self so as to bring to the researchers’ consciousness potential racial and cultural matters that can have a bearing on their study. The second guide is to research the self in relation to others in terms of race and culture and develop cultural knowledge that could inform negotiation of interests with the researched. The third guide is for researchers and participants to engage in reflection together and present both narratives and counter-narratives, if any, to prevent researchers’ voice from overshadowing the voice of the researched. The fourth guide is to shift the process of inquiry from self to system to develop a broader understanding of the pervasiveness of race and racism and identify ways of fulfilling the moral imperative of confronting and fighting racism.

In application of the framework, I posed the following questions and used them as guides to analyze the complexity of being a researcher in a cross-cultural narrative inquiry:

RQ1.

(Researching the self) What personal experiences of the researcher shaped the research decisions?

RQ2.

(Researching the self in relation to others) What cultural knowledge about the research informants did the researcher develop? How were interests negotiated and converged?

RQ3.

(Engaged reflection and representation) How did the researcher engage informants in reflecting and presenting both narratives and counter-narratives?

RQ4.

(Shifting from self to system) How were tensions and negotiations shaped by the discursive construction of gender and its intersecting categories in the society?

Overview of the study

This paper is based on a study of gendered identity construction in the practice of reading English as a second language among college students across China and Sweden (Lu, 2012). The study spanned four years. During the first one and a half years, the focus was on designing the study and gaining access to the research sites in China and Sweden. I then conducted fieldwork in China for half a year and in Sweden for another half a year. In the last year and a half, I concentrated on analyzing and presenting the data.

Eight students were recruited after obtaining their written informed consent, four at each site. Research techniques adopted for narrative data generation between me and the research informants included reading logs, semi-structured individual interviews and focus groups with student informants within each research site. Each interview was taped and transcribed in a naturalistic style. Informal communications (e.g. informal conversations, home visits, e-mail correspondences, etc.) were documented in my fieldwork journal, and classroom observation was documented in separate classroom observation notes. The journal also contained my reflexive thoughts.

To develop this methodological paper, I revisited all the data sources of the inquiry, including interview transcripts, fieldwork notes, classroom observation notes, and reflective journal to examine how researcher positionality shaped and was shaped by the research process. Rigor is ensured by following Milner’s (2007) four-level framework and going through the entire research process from coming up with the idea of conducting the study to constructing and finalizing a piece of academic work from the study.

Reflecting on researcher positionality throughout the research process

Positionality is not always salient. Typically, positionality becomes visible when it is questioned. In other words, I see positionality as particularly salient in experiences in which multiple interpretations were found to collide, resulting in a power struggle as to whose interpretation prevailed. These episodes of experiences were the points of departure which informed the following discussion.

Researching the self

The idea of conducting a gender-related study on students learning English as a second language came from a personal experience. I was deeply interested in becoming a modern farmer and was at the point of choosing a major at an agricultural university. However, the very idea of a “lady farmer,” especially from a female student with an excellent academic record, received puzzled attention from peers and teachers. The idea was finally put to rest by my father who admonished that “Girls should do languages; English would be the best.” The advice was accompanied by statistical evidence my father had collected that indicated consistently larger proportions of female students in English departments in China. The statistics also indicated that female students performed better academically than male students and had higher employment rates among English graduates in “more-appropriate-for-females” (in my father’s words) professions such as teachers, translators and tourist guides. The logic seemed sensible and convincing to me until I began English studies and read extensively about gender theories in Western literature. The acquired awareness of being positioned as a gendered person and the great influence it had exerted on my life motivated me to pursue my doctoral studies on how individuals construct and reconstruct their gendered identities from English reading practices.

The experience of acquiring the awareness of a gendered position during the process of learning English in China also piqued my curiosity about a different culture in which the discourse on gender awareness was evident. Sweden was thus included in the study based on consistent results from international reports about its high gender equality index (Hausmann et al., 2009; Hofstede, 1991). I anticipated that the study would facilitate the researcher to “make the exotic familiar and make the familiar exotic,” and obtain both “insider’s explanations” and “outsider’s judgment” (Tobin et al., 1989, p. 10) by inviting informants at one site to comment on narratives generated by informants at the other site.

Researching the self in relation to others

I obtained access to the research site in China through personal connections I had established while I was a lecturer there. The first time I was introduced to a class by a former colleague, I was referred to as Ma Laoshi (literally means “Ma Teacher,” Ma being an anonymous name for my surname), a common way to address a teacher on Chinese campuses. As a native Chinese who had studied and taught at various Chinese universities, I was immediately aware of a hierarchical relationship (discursively constructed with the address of Ma Laoshi) between me and my potential student informants. The unambiguous message was that teachers are to be respected and obeyed.

The higher status of a Chinese teacher in relation to students facilitated consents from students to participate in the study. Three students promised to participate even before I finished explaining the nature and procedure of the study. One male student hesitated when he was approached by a dorm mate on my behalf. But when I extended him the invitation in person, the student signed the informed consent form without expressing reluctance or misgivings.

However, expediency of access because of my powerful position can be followed with complications. For example, an asymmetrical relationship between the researcher and participants could create challenges in facilitating an open collaboration of narrative generation (Warren and Karner, 2010). To minimize the complication, I was mindful of my dress style and the way I interacted with students to mitigate the sense of hierarchy in our relationships. Also, I continually assured students that I was not there to evaluate them or reveal their information to others unless permitted.

In contrast, access to the research site in Sweden was obtained when I contacted a Swedish professor with research expertise in gender and education. The first time I was introduced to a class by a teacher, I was referred to as a visiting student from Hong Kong whose name is “Amy” (an anonymous name for my first name). I then observed that on that campus, everyone called each other by their first name. Even in the classrooms, students freely called teachers by their first names. It seemed that egalitarian relationships between individuals preceded other relationships.

The realization that egalitarian relationships were the norm at the Sweden site while the opposite was true at the China site motivated me to look for new ways to find committed research informants. In the first month of the fieldwork in Sweden, I immersed myself as much as possible with the group of potential student informants, attending classes with them, drinking coffee and eating lunch with them, and even going to the theatre with them. Two threads of common interests drew students closer to me and gradually emerged during that period of immersion and interaction. The first was my oriental/Chinese background, which was exotic to many Swedish students. The other thread was my situation of living and studying in a foreign country, which emerged as subjectivity shared by the immigrant students in a class observably featured with multi-ethnicity. Similar to what Takeda (2013, p. 292) documented in his experience of being a Japanese studying his compatriots in Australia, this shared subjectivity between me and the immigrant students also “produced a platform of closeness and trust” in the course of exchanging our feelings, sentiments, and emotions. I then decided to recruit both local and immigrant Swedish students. Informed consents were obtained from two Swedish students who enjoyed cultural exchange conversations with me and two immigrant students who shared with me their observations and emotions about living and studying in Sweden. Congenial and open collaboration ensued naturally and resulted in mutually engaged reflection and representation, an observation I will discuss in the next section.

Engaged reflection and representation

Different relational dynamics were evident during interactions between the student informants and me. For example, I observed that age difference generally was not a major concern. The relatively small age difference between the informants (in their early or mid-20s) and me (in my late 20s) contributed to the ease with which I mingled with them. However, there was one exception.

It occurred at the fieldwork in China. When I learned that Liu, a female Chinese student, was applying for a Master’s program in English education in the UK, I tried to build rapport and develop camaraderie with her. It ended abruptly when Liu said that she could not accept earning a PhD at an age as late as almost 30:

Amy: So do you also plan to pursue a PhD and become a researcher?

Liu: No, I don’t think so. I would be too old then, I would have almost reached 30 by the time I could obtain a PhD […] You know, I’m a girl.

It was embarrassing for me when I encountered such a defeatist attitude because at that point, I myself was under stress from my parents about being single as I approached 30. Concurring with Patton (2002) that a qualitative researcher should respect, if not empathize with, informants while conveying a non-judgmental attitude toward the content of informants’ utterances, I restrained myself from developing a defensive attitude tinged with feminist ideas. Instead, I changed the conversation to an invitation to participate in the study, to which Liu immediately consented.

However, my feeling of the embarrassment lingered till later that day when I wrote my reflective journal, which, as a result, provided me with an opportunity for reflexivity:

Liu’s words reminded me of my own experience two years ago when I was wondering whether I should pursue a PhD degree then or later. I was hesitant because my parents kept warning me of greater difficulties in finding a husband if I went on for a PhD program right after I obtained my Master’s degree, and suggested I postpone my doctoral studies when I received the admission letter from a doctoral program. But wait, why did Liu think that getting a PhD at almost 30 is unacceptable? Is she also under the same stress as I was? Or am I being too sensitive over the age issue, assuming that she had a similar experience? I need to follow up on that with her.

During the formal interview the next day, I initiated a discussion on the meaning of being a female doctorate approaching 30. My previous assumption was generally confirmed, although Liu’s tone was less forceful this time:

Amy: I wonder why you said yesterday that you wouldn’t think about doing a PhD right after you obtain a Master’s degree in the UK?

Liu: Yes, I said that.

Amy: It is related to your being a girl? What do you mean when you said, “you know, I’m a girl”?

Liu: Yeah, as girls, we have to take our age into consideration seriously while making plans. For boys generally, age is not a concern. They don’t need to worry about the restrictions of age upon marriage.

Toward the end of the fieldwork in China, I invited the four Chinese student informants for lunch to show my appreciation and say goodbye. After lunch, Liu insisted on seeing me off at the university gate. On the way, we talked casually. As we reached the point where we would part, Liu suddenly uttered that she was seriously planning to do what I was doing: pursue a PhD degree right after she obtains a Master’s degree. The experience was captured in my journal:

Today is the last day of my fieldwork in China. […] What’s most impressive was Liu’s sharing with me her recent change of mind, that she decided to follow my footsteps to pursue a PhD right after obtaining a Master’s degree! I don’t know how much I influenced her change of mind, but I do remember our formal interview discussions as well as casual conversations at the personal level during the past three months on the meanings of being a woman. I didn’t intend to change her perceptions, but I believe I helped her clarify what it means to be a woman.

The two examples to some extent resemble the dynamics observed by Soni-Sinha (2008) in her study on women’s invisibility despite their success and efficiency in jewelry making in a villages in India. At the beginning of her study, Soni-Sinha (2008) had to hide her identity as a feminist in order to secure access to the field. Later over the course of several meetings, she developed a rapport with female participants and gained their trust and confidence in her feminist role. This confidence, as Soni-Sinha (2008, p. 534) observed, allowed female participants to be more open and cooperative, which helped her learn that some women’s expereinces did not fit the dominant discourse that constructed women as “housewifes” and their participation as the “help.” However, there is a critical difference between Soni-Sinha’s and my positional transtion. What Soni-Sinha described was a process of a researcher transitioning from outsider to insider position in relation to her female participants’ community, in which she managed to gain her participants’ confidence and thus comprehensive sharing. During my experience, transition occurred at both interpersonal and intrapersonal level. As I transitioned toward Liu’s community for more comprehensive sharing, she also experienced a transition within herself.

The presentation of narratives is another important area that calls for special attention to researcher positionality. As Blaufuss (2007) puts it, to construct a piece of academic work, the narratives and counter-narratives have to be condensed and distilled into a single, coherent narrative thread. This poses a dilemma to the researchers who aim to deconstruct the existing meta-narratives but, at the same time, have to construct their own meta-narratives.

To engage informants in the presentation of narratives, I distributed the first draft of my analysis to the student informants. The draft began with a “girl myth” about the female superiority in reading, which was supported by a large body of literature (e.g. Chiu and McBride-Chang, 2006; Simpson, 1996) and was reflected in students’ narrative accounts. After a careful analysis of the data, I argued, from a feminist standpoint, that it is the feminization of reading and students’ subjection to patriarchal order that reinforced the girl myth. That observation was countered by Esther, one female informant in Sweden who was an excellent reader and a high achiever. Esther wrote me the following in an e-mail:

Really interesting! I had never considered the idea of “girl myth” when it comes to reading. I believe both men and women will understand the argument that “girls who wish to become mothers” will have to dedicate more time to their studies. Biology/Time. I mean, motherhood is a possibility only women have and those who choose to become mothers won’t be able to study until they’re 45 and then get pregnant. So I’d argue girls try harder because they don’t have the same flexibility/postpone-options as boys do. […] I’d say personally that motherhood is a very important aspect, actually, the central aspect in this subject.

It can be discerned from this comment that Esther was not fully satisfied with my “girl myth” interpretation. Rather, she would attribute her proficiency in reading to her sex. To be more specific, she attributed her engagement and achievement in reading to her anxiety over age in relation to the decreasing window of opportunity for child bearing. Esther’s experience mimicked and reflected Liu’s experience of anxiety about age and the pressure associated with postponing marriage to pursue an education. They were both excellent readers who wanted to further their education, and thus were confronted with the potential timing conflict either between education and marriage (Liu) or between education and motherhood (Esther). What is interesting is that when I asked both informants to reflect on their reading practice from a gender perspective, Esther highlighted her concern about age, while Liu downplayed the importance of age and replaced it with her determination to pursue a PhD.

In the later stages of analysis, Esther’s comment was integrated in a discussion of the study’s findings. The meta-narrative of female superiority as a result of the girl myth in reading was juxtaposed with Esther’s counter-narrative of female excellence shaped by the anxiety about age and its relationship to motherhood. Esther’s re-interpretation of her efficacious reading practices as a matter of biology was reinterpreted, partly due to the author’s specific positionality as a researcher who had observed different reflections over the concept of age in different research sites, and partly due to the researcher’s political and academic intentions to conduct a feminist study, which will be the focus of discussion in the next section.

Shifting from self to system

While the presentation of data is “encumbered by a specific power position” of the researcher, the researcher’s power is also “subject to the exertion of different power structures” shaped by history, social structure and culture (Blaufuss, 2007, p. 14). In this section, I direct the discussion to a broader scale of historically and socio-culturally shaped power structures that had mediated the researcher’s positionality in the present study.

As I explained, this study began when I acquired awareness of being positioned as a gendered person. The acquisition of the awareness was an ongoing journey that was influenced and supported by reading English books on gender topics, such as De Beauvoir’s (1972) The Second Sex. De Beauvoir’s (1972, p. 295) idea of “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” led me into a whole new world. This new world taught me about the socially constructed nature of gender and the existence of agency in constructing different meanings of being a woman. Starting from this researcher’s personal narrative, the study has a political agenda to empower people, especially women, with awareness and courage to liberate themselves and transform the society when necessary.

The impact this positionality as a feminist exerted on my research experiences was shaped by different gender structures in different societies. For instance, at the China site, where age carries more strict meanings for studying women, interaction between me and my informants was a struggle of adhering to or broadening the concept. At the Sweden site, where the meaning of age as it relates to female students is relatively loose, interaction between the informants and me was a struggle of adhering to or narrowing the concept. However, whatever the issues, a women-marriage-motherhood ideology was found to be functioning at both sites and created pressure on at least two female students. In contrast, no men-marriage-fatherhood ideology was as explicitly broached and regarded as a cause of struggle in either male or female students’ narratives throughout the study, which concurred with Lindsey’s (2005) sociological summary of gender roles in that the wifehood and motherhood mandate made family and parenthood more stressful for women. It was from this asymmetric gender structure that Esther’s interpretation of keen reading as a rational response to female reproductive biology was superseded by a feminist argument in the final thesis, although as an academic woman I was fully sympathetic with Esther’s feelings, which were overburdened by the biological or gender pressure.

Discussion

In the previous section, I discussed episodes of experience in a narrative inquiry that demonstrate the impact of my positionality on the research process. Three threads of intersectionality were, in my view, particularly salient.

First, an intersection of gender and culture in researcher positionality largely determined the motivation, the epistemology and the methods of research. Gender is a cultural construct, usually reflected in people’s daily discourses such as my being mocked with my aspiration to become a farmer, and my father’s suggestion for me to study English. While such culturally constructed gender roles and stereotypes in my case motivated me to embark on gender-specific research, they could also function explicitly or implicitly in the process of qualitative fieldwork and analysis. For example, it was not until Sallee and Harris (2011) compared their separately completed qualitative studies on masculinities did they observe a common pattern that participants shaped their responses in an attempt to align themselves with the researcher in accordance with traditional assumptions about gender roles and expectations.

Second, an intersection of professional status and culture in my positionality created different opportunities and challenges for me while obtaining access to and building rapport with student informants. As Goh and Göransson (2011, p. 277) argued in their joint reflection on their respective experiences of doing research on Chinese families, the position of the researcher in relation to others is “not determined unilaterally by the researcher.” Although I began contacting both research sites with the similar self-claim of being a doctoral student, I ended up being introduced and addressed as “Ma Teacher” in a culture that values teacher–student hierarchy, and “Amy, a visiting student” in a culture which deems the teacher–student relationship more egalitarian.

A third highlight focused on an intersection of gender, age and culture in the researcher positionality, which triggered a discussion on the meaning of age with female informants. McClellan (2012, p. 96), in an autoethnography, reflected on an “eerie silence.” She was questioned by her male interviewee: “Why are you getting your PhD? You don’t need that. You need to settle down, get married and raise a family.” This interaction could have become more complicated if the two dimensions of age and culture were intersected. As I discussed in this paper, my presence as a researcher, a single woman and a doctoral student in her late 20s influenced one Chinese female informant to reflect on her initial plan against pursuing a doctorate right after obtaining a Master’s degree. As a friendly and collaborative relationship between me and that informant was gradually established, discussion and negotiation of the meaning of age was comfortably staged.

In viewing this study as a relational collaboration between my informants and me, I also experience a need to attend to the dynamics of the informants while examining the impact of my positionality. Previous literature has documented or discussed the dynamics of the participants in two ways – the participants gained confidence in the researcher and shifted from reluctant to cooperative participants or sometimes the other way around (Adler and Adler, 2003; Soni-Sinha, 2008), or the participants consistently responded to different researchers in different ways (Cortazzi et al., 2011; Sallee and Harris, 2011). Both kinds of dynamics took place at an interpersonal level, which required the researcher to be reflexive and react constructively to participants. This behavior facilitated collaboration and led to a deeper understanding of the participants. In addition to identifying interpersonal dynamics, I also identified intrapersonal dynamics that resulted in informants’ transformation during the study. For example, Liu changed her mind about her aspiration and life plan. Although it was an unexpected outcome of the study, I would not completely deny the possibility that the development of the interpersonal relationship between the informants and me contributed to Liu’s change of mind.

Different dynamics involving informants offered complementary implications for me during my attempt to negotiate for interest convergence. On one hand, I share the concern raised in scholarly work about the role of researcher’s “unique mix” of social categories such as “race, class, gender, nationality, sexuality and other identifiers” (Mullings, 1999, p. 337) in knowledge production through qualitative research, and I endorse the importance of researcher positionality in accessing and collaborating with the participants. The negotiation of interest convergence in this sense rests largely on the researcher’s effort to move from the outsider end toward the insider end along the outsider/insider spectrum. On the other hand, given the finding that participants, like the reflexive and reactive researcher, may also drift between different roles or change their understandings, I would like to draw attentions to the role of researcher positionality in facilitating transformation. In this sense, negotiation of interest convergence needs to move out of the mindset of outsider/insider spectrum. The present study hints at a methodological and practical way of raising researchers’ awareness and agency relative to positionality as a means for development and transformation, that is, to expose the researcher and the participants to both narratives and counter-narratives.

As “little stories” of individuals are always reflexively related to the “big stories” of their settings (Gubrium and Holstein, 2009), the inclusion of little stories from China and Sweden and the sharing of the little stories between the sites gave me and the informants the opportunity to witness the juxtaposition of narratives and counter-narratives of gendered practices, negotiate interest convergence and experience personal transformation (clarification and change of understandings) as well as social and political transgression (change of roles). My positionality assumed developmental and transformational roles, which facilitated understanding of the limitations of linear outsider-insider conceptualization that occur in many qualitative studies.

Conclusion

My primary intention in this paper has been to enrich the discussion of researcher positionality in qualitative research by reflecting on the intersecting dimensions under which I dynamically navigated my positionality in conducting a cross-cultural narrative inquiry.

The data and discussion substantiate the argument that researcher positionality captures more nuances and dynamics and thus better informs the research process than what concept of insider/outsider dichotomy can do. To extend the argument, I discussed a multi-dimensional and developmental notion of researcher positionality. While the multi-dimensional aspect of researcher positionality and its relatedness to research findings has been much discussed, not much acknowledgment has been given to the developmental aspect of researcher positionality. It might be partly due to the residual influence from the long tradition of post-positivist research in which participants are deemed as fixed objects to be investigated. It might also be partly due to the temptation for the researcher to assume a paternalistic position in relation to participants during the research process. In any case, this paper suggests a methodological and practical way of raising researcher’s awareness and agency relative to positionality by exposing the researcher to cross-cultural settings.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the University of Hong Kong under the University Postgraduate Fellowship and by Swedish Institute under Guest Scholarship (No. 00441/2009).

Corresponding author

Hangyan Lu is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: shelley.lu@centennialcollege.hku.hk

About the authors

Hangyan Lu is currently Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics at Centennial College, an independent college established by the University of Hong Kong. She teaches coursework in qualitative research methods and academic writing, as well as coursework in general and social linguistics. Her research interests include academic writing, literacy and identity, gender issues in education and qualitative research methods. She has published articles in journals in gender, in education, and in language and literacy.

Warren A. Hodge is Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of North Florida where he teaches graduate and doctoral courses in leadership assessment and development, human resource development and management, educational law and educational research. He has written one book and numerous articles on educational leadership, law, evaluation and research. His research interests include holistic leadership and its impact on school reform, international and cross-cultural education, strategic planning as a transformative leadership process, the nexus between law, ethics and leadership behavior, and the ways public policies are formulated, adapted and implemented.