Researching schools: being simultaneously and insider and an outsider

Date: 01.08.2013
Educational research concerns ways in which researcher identity can influence findings and practice. Very often writings which instruct Doctoral students on the positioning and reflexivity of the researcher, tend to present identity as singular and static. In this paper I discuss my experience as a Doctoral researcher whose identity is represented using the notion of inside/outside researcher, but in reality is far more complex. My Doctoral Project centres on a student-led action research project at an independent secondary school in the south-east of England. Twenty-five students aged between 14 and 19 collaborate with a consortium of teachers and administrators to develop policy statements on teaching and learning with ICT, which they recommend to the school’s senior management team. I study this group over 33 months and collect data through participant interviews, analysis of school documents and unstructured observations. In my research I am simultaneously an insider—by virtue of being an employee at the school—and an outsider because I was acting as a researcher within the school. The former role was necessary in organizing and facilitating the student-led project. I show how I had to take on multiple identities, and how these multiplied and shifted throughout the project in ways that have become more visible in hindsight. I mobilize Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of ‘fluid identities’ and use the work of Thomson and Gunter (2011) to argue that the inside-outside binary, although helpful as political categories in which researchers may be classified, actually limit understandings of the ‘messy research practice’ within schools.

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