Researchers as dirty workers: cautionary tales on insider-outsider dynamics

Erica Southgate (School of Education, The University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia)
Kerri Shying (Independent Researcher, Newcastle, Australia)

Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management

ISSN: 1746-5648

Publication date: 8 September 2014



The purpose of this paper is to explore the relatively hidden phenomenon of researchers who not only study dirty work but who also occupy the position of dirty workers. Drawing on the sociological debate on insider-outsider categories in research, this paper describes how these types of “dirty work/er researchers” understand and negotiate their occupational subjectivity and the methodological and epistemological resources they bring to their research practice.


Two biographical narratives from different types of “dirty work/er researchers” are analysed using a feminist epistemology of corporeality, social difference and power.


Ambivalence is an underlying dynamic of the narratives which indicate that the stigma attached to certain types of dirty work histories act to both facilitate and constrain research practice. Ambivalence disrupts strict binary categories often relied on in research such as insiders and outsiders, empowered and powerless and researcher and Other.

Research limitations/implications

The experiences of “dirty work/er researchers” indicate a need to reconsider ethical, methodological, epistemological issues within social research.

Practical implications

Participatory research frameworks such as peer research should pay closer attention to issues of professional status, power and risk. Further research is required on what happens after peer researchers leave the field.


This paper contributes to the knowledge of the relatively hidden world of the “dirty work/er researcher”, their occupational experiences and the methodological and epistemological resources they bring to their job.



Southgate, E. and Shying, K. (2014), "Researchers as dirty workers: cautionary tales on insider-outsider dynamics", Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 223-240.

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