Reflexivity means explicitly acknowledging your role in research. Our projects are shaped by who we are as researchers because we bring our prior experiences, assumptions and beliefs to the research process (University of Melbourne).
Who we are influences our research questions, study design, tool development, data collection, analysis of research findings, and dissemination of knowledge (Finlay, 1998). Acknowledging this can help to establish transparency, rigour and quality in research.
Being reflexive in research means being attentive to:
- cultural, political, social and ideological origins of our own perspective and voice
- perspectives and voices of those we interview or observe
- perspectives of those to whom we report our research (University of Melbourne)
To begin the reflexive process, Austin and Sutton suggest that those involved in research should ask themselves the following questions:
- Why am I interested in this topic? To answer this question, try to identify what is driving your enthusiasm, energy and interest in researching this subject.
- What do I really think the answer is? Asking this question helps to identify any biases you may have through honest reflection on what you expect to find. You can then ‘bracket’ those assumptions to enable the participants’ voices to be heard.
- What am I getting out of this? In many cases, pressure to publish, or ‘do’ research, makes research nothing more than an employment requirement. How does this affect your interest in the question, or its outcomes? How does this affect the depth to which you are willing to go to find information?
- What do others in my professional community think of this work—and of me? As a researcher, you will not be operating in a vacuum, you will be part of a complex social and inter-personal world. These external influences will shape your views and expectations of yourself and your work. Acknowledging this influence and its potential effects on personal behaviour will facilitate greater self-scrutiny throughout the research process (Austin & Sutton, 2014, p. 437).
Who we are also shapes how our participants view us. Their perceptions of us can influence the kinds of data we are able to collect. For example, women survivors of violence may answer interview questions about mental health challenges differently depending on whether the interviewer is male or female. Similarly, young people may respond differently to questions about exam anxiety depending on whether the interviewer is a professor or an undergraduate research assistant. Your position in society and status as a researcher, therefore, shape the depth in which people answer and the examples they volunteer to share.
These dynamics are not limitations. They are a fundamental part of our research. It is, however, important that we are transparent about them so that others understand the context in which the research was conducted, interpreted and disseminated.
(Author: Hanna Kienzler)