Twice-Told Tales: Reviews and Analyses of English Novels and Biographies, 1995 - 2011
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This very act of structural "contamination" can pose significant challenges for insider-outsider knowledge and stress the importance of maintaining dialogue for the insider-outsider researchers with their roots. The interplay between individual and structural positioning has specific issues for the working class scholars on personal, professional and political levels: the guise of the researcher identifying with the group but with the group still "othering" the researcher based on the latter's positionality; the researcher having a shared biography, which helps with access and data collection but creates problems with present status and professional expectations; and the researcher having a shared interest in future social change but the group having more of an urgency for this type of political outcome from research.
This link between the personal and professional issues in PAR for working class researchers and the political and social change elements of PAR have consequence for transforming knowledge into action.
In this article, I will illustrate how this is interconnected with the structural contradictions between identity and positioning, when it comes to working class minority scholars; no matter how much I identify with class inequality, I am structurally removed from the adverse impacts, on an individual level, through class mobility. Minority scholars can challenge the power of traditional academic knowledge by illuminating the multiple forms of knowledge outside of academic institutions especially when it comes to philosophical or social scientific knowledge.
They can do this because of their own exposure and internalisation of these alternative ways of knowing the world and their access to the communities or groups they belong. This explorative research study was concerned with understanding how inequality is lived and challenged by working class women. My own life journey was the genesis for this study and informed research question; I wanted to use the research to talk to other working class women about the role of affective relations and affective inequalities in their experiences of social class inequality.
Having a rich autoethnographic case study, I wanted to cross-reference this experiential data with other women's experience of living with inequality by conducting interviews with 10 working class women, five of whom also identified as community activists. The interviews were also informal, and questions were generated spontaneously during the interview.
I used the interviews to share ideas, more so than just stories, with other women who lived in poverty. This led to the development of two learning circles as a third method for data collection. These circles were about engaging the women in theory building by discussing the ideas and findings from the autoethnographic material and the interviews.
The circles were about shared learning between the researcher and the participants. Two circles were organised, each circle involved three women who were recruited through the community centres in their area three of whom also participated in the interviews. The circles met on three separate occasions, so there were six learning circle meetings. Each circle lasted from one to two hours, where ideas generated from my autoethnography rather than their personal experiences were discussed; 13 women were involved in the study.
Because I was self-disclosing as part of the research process, ethically, it was important to ensure that there was a level of trust between the participants and me, as the researcher. This dictated how the sample was selected and the size of the sample. The women were recruited using snowball sampling through contacts with community centres that I was familiar with from my community work. The centres were provided with information about the research and women were invited to volunteer for a conversation with the researcher if they were interested in talking about inequality based on their own experiences and opinions.
Having a working class background was an important selection criterion given that I was interested in sharing and exploring experiences of class inequality.
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In addition, given the gendered structure of the affective system and my interest in how class and care intersect, the gender and relational identity of participants was also important. For this reason, all participants were women, and all identified as mothers or grandmothers. Five of the women also identified themselves as community activists and they were purposely selected to participate, again recruited through contacts in the community development sector. Having activists was significant for understanding how women live with and how they challenge inequality. The research also generated other ethical issues related to the fact that the women disclosed very intimate experiences of structural inequality at a deeply personal level.
They talked about depression, suicide and other personal, micro-level impacts of structural inequality.
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Based on my own experiences of childhood traumas that I was only addressing at a personal level, at the time of the research study, I was acutely aware these interviews could bring up issues for the women. It was for this reason I had recruited volunteers through local community centres. This way, at least a support system was in place through the centre if the interview brought up buried memories and feelings of anger or sadness.
I was also aware that once the research was conducted, the women would still be living the inequalities they shared with me during the research process. This poses an ethical issue interconnected with the epistemological and methodological issues presented in this study; new knowledge from a participatory approach to research may create new ways of understanding social class inequality. But how is this transformed into action to change the lives of the women who shared painful stories of how social class inequality had an impact on their affective relations?
Is it ethical to be aware of such injustices and not act on them? Should all researchers take a normative or moral position on research findings, or is objectivity still the desired role of the researcher SAYER, , ? These ethical issues are part of the conclusion, as I discuss the implications of the study for other researchers. My memory of walking into the community centre to conduct my first set of interviews still makes me uncomfortable, as I recall that sense of being "with my own people" and yet being perceived by them as someone "important" and possibly not "one of them".
To me, I was still one of them but to them, I knew I was "someone of status", especially because I was there to do something that is usually done by people in positions of power. I was there to interview women about their lives, something women living in poverty are very familiar with. Regardless of whether I was once one of those women or whether I still lived with a low income or still identified as working class, nothing changed the present fact that I was engaging them at this particular point as a person in a position of power.
I recall the urge to immediately identify with them, to draw on something of my past or present that could let them see that I was not powerful or arrogant. But despite my efforts at co-identifying, my accent, my words, along with my digital recorder and notepad in hand, somehow still distanced me from the women. Standing in the reception area, I could read this in their body language and the way in which they shared inside jokes, avoiding eye contact with me, as I waited for the first woman to join me and start an interview in a small nearby room. After my first interview, after I allowed about 10 minutes to pass so that the first interviewee could share her experience with others and possibly alleviate fears, I returned to the reception area, this time to encounter a different type of engagement.
Now, the women were friendlier, eye contact was made and I was suddenly included in jokes about who was next. At this point, I was offered a cup of tea.
The interesting point for reflection here is that upon entering the building, the women were aware that I was coming and that I was originally from a working class estate in the area. Yet, this past biography was not enough for them in terms of accepting me as "one of their own". It was at the point of accepting the cup of tea and preparing for my next interview that one of the women said she did not know I was "Marie's daughter". This had evidently been disclosed by my first interviewee during the minute gap in which she had returned to the group.
My mother's working class status managed to gain me acceptance in a way that my claim to working class status had not. But maybe it was more than that, maybe the other women had seen how the first interviewee left the interview feeling uplifted or "better about her life", as she told me herself at the end of the interview.
Reflecting and sharing life stories can be a powerful tool in an interview process because it breaks down power differences and empowers the research participants who no longer feel like the "other" or the subject of study.
The interviews that followed with the other women were to me a valuable lesson in qualitative research: who you are matters and influences the research in terms of your past, present and future self. On a personal level, as an agent of knowledge BROWN, , I drew on lived class, care and gender experiences to anchor specific ideas and claims. The women being interviewed started to mirror this skill, as they possibly fed off my confidence and belief in the significance of their life journey.
When one interviewee told me "we should be writing books together", I realised they were gaining from the interview as much as they were giving. They were finding a source of empowerment in that research interview, as they shared stories with a working class woman, who still identified as working class, using her newfound status to challenge how others interpret working class experiences. The fact that I was drawing significant focus on their role as mothers and carers also illuminated a hidden value they held, which I, the researcher, found to remain at a private or personal level.
By elevating this personal status as mother or carer to a politically important role, I was giving status to a role that the women knew others took for granted. Here, suddenly, my different accent, language and educational status were useful to the women, as they became a way of reflecting on their roles and relations in the social world that spoke to them and others.
The learning circles, in particular, were my avenues as a researcher to further facilitate the women in thinking about inequality from a class, care and gender perspective. By providing them affirmation for their everyday work and by utilising academic ideas to illuminate their work in new ways, the women were enabled to discuss their experiences of inequality objectively. Rather than telling personal stories, the women in the learning circles were putting forward ideas and theories on social class and inequality, and how that intersect with love and care in people's lives.
By being an outsider as well as an insider within my own social class group of origin I was able to bring a status, power and legitimacy to their life experiences, which, in turn, gave them permission to do the same. They could speak objectively about private and personal troubles because I was facilitating them to do so using my professional knowledge and status. The personal dilemma for me as the researcher, therefore, went beyond relating to the women through my past and present self, as I knew they also looked at me as a professional and as someone who could do something other than just talk about these issues.
My future self, as they perceived it, was someone who could use this knowledge to do something. They asked about how I was going to use this research and how I could get "things changed" for them.
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When I put it back to them that they were part of the solution and that it was about working together, they were less courageous about talking publically about the love and care issues that had dominated most of our conversations about poverty. Turning the knowledge to action, for the women, was reliant on someone with access to power and it was at this point that I recognized the professional and political issues of the insider-outsider status as a minority scholar.
On a personal level, my insider status had allowed me access, trust and rapport with the women who facilitated conversations and ideas on social class inequality that shifted traditional ways of understanding how class is formed and lived. Yet, as an outsider, now an educated woman with access to words and language that gave new meaning and status to their life experiences, the women looked to my professional status for action.
But can the urgency with which they want change, as they live with the here and now of poverty and social welfare and housing problems, rest with a working class woman less directly connected to those same problems? The collaborative production of knowledge, a priority for the researcher in PAR on a personal and professional level, needs to be transformed into collaborative action if the intention is to maintain legitimacy in the eyes of the researcher's original community or social group. But collaborative action is a much harder achievement given the confines of the research process and the positionality of the researcher beyond identifying with their community or group of origin.
Giving power away helped me on a personal and professional level during the research. But it also posed problems in terms of the personal, professional and political continuum. It posed problems personally in terms of the emotional management of each research situation and the self-disclosing that took place to gain trust and acceptance. Professionally, as the women assumed I was "one of them", it was difficult at times to probe into specific stories where the women preferred to just say, "You know what I mean".
They may have been more comfortable telling an outsider certain stories, and an outsider may have been more comfortable asking them more personal questions.
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At times, the interviews were so much like conversations that the table-tuned and the researched became the researcher, asking me questions and quizzing me about my plans when the research was finished. On a professional level, I still had to prove to the women that there was a reason I was the one "in charge" or "doing the research". I had to show that I was not "just one of them", as they demanded this of me. To respect their time and effort, they needed to know a purpose to my skills and a reason to be involved that went beyond simply liking the researcher.
One woman, during the learning circle, in which I was trying to get the women to talk about ideas and their theories around inequality, said unapologetically, "Come on, we are here to learn from you, you're the educated one, you tell us, you can't keep asking us or there is no point in you being here". Roderick G. GALAM has also drawn attention to the ethical obligation a researcher conducting a study in one's own community bears.
This obligation, for me, was complicated by insider-outsider status, as my urgency to act on the findings was less than that of the women's who were living what I was researching. My skills as a researcher and an intellectual GRAMSCI, were my tools to critically analyse my own and the women's stories of lived experiences of social class inequality. With my sociological insight and knowledge, I was able to discuss these personal issues, lived at a micro level, as political and structural issues with the women.
My professional status meant that my analysis gave legitimacy, at a political and sociological level, to what they narrated as personal issues. But the findings also presented a dilemma, as what we discussed at a personal level does not have a legitimate discourse at a political and sociological level without pathologising the women's lived experiences. The women were reluctant to be public about social class inequalities lived at an intimate level through affective relations and affective inequalities CREAN, This contradiction between how social class is lived at a personal level and how it is discussed at a macro-economic level had implications for action.