When building the foundations of a research project, it’s important to consider how personal characteristics may influence observations. Can my own personal attributes bend the lens through which I observe the world? Absolutely. In order to understand my own biases, a self-identity audit can be a helpful tool.
From a basic demographic perspective, I observe the world around me as a Caucasian female in her mid-thirties, who is married to a male. How might each demographic marker impact my perspective? As an individual, I may be more likely to assume that another female who looks like me would also have similar characteristics. As a qualitative researcher, I must not make any assumptions. If it’s pertinent to the research it should be a question that I ask of the subject directly.
From a social perspective, I’m a DINC (Dual Income No Children), agnostic, well-educated and fit. I have an average build. My personality is friendly and enthusiastic. Friends describe me as tenacious and driven. How might these attributes impact my perspective as a researcher? If I were to place myself in the example used in Researcher’s Notepad 4.3, Nouveau Jail, I would be wise to leave any ego or individual traits about myself checked at the door. Too much enthusiasm may be off-putting to employees of the jail. It would be wise to observe body language and word selection of the individuals I encounter throughout the visit.
A majority of prison employees are male. Because of my social and physical attributes, I would need to accept that the research subjects may not want to readily open up and share info with a young, female graduate student. Liminality is a tactic a researcher may use to observe from a healthy distance. Acting as a gentle observer who is just outside the thick of it could create an opportunity to gain insights and context. I may observe a situation or sequence of events and apply my own interpretation. It would be wise to ask the subjects to speak of the events from their own perspective before asking my own questions.
In Notepad 4.3, Visit 5, the author emotes on feeling the officers do not trust her yet, and as a result, they prevent her from observing the booking area. The researcher expresses anger and embarrassment, feeling dismissed and disrespected as an outsider. These are emotions anyone may feel in a professional setting as well. Is there something about her presence that may have been perceived as a threat to the officers? It’s likely the fact that she is an educated female created a bias in how the officers viewed her. As a researcher, she must persist and learn when her own emotional response may influence her research.