Researcher Positionality in Cross-Cultural and Sensitive Research

  • Narendar Manohar
  • Pranee Liamputtong
  • Sameer Bhole
  • Amit AroraEmail author
Reference work entry


The status of the insider and outsider is an important concept for cross-cultural and sensitive research. In recent years, the concept of placement of the researcher has received much attention. Until a few generations ago, researchers who shared the same cultural, social, and linguistic background with those of the research participants mainly conducted research. However, over the last two decades, we have started to witness researchers who have different characteristics to that of the research participants conduct research in health and social sciences. In current times, this has led to the debates of insider versus outsider status of the researchers, as the way research participants “place” the researchers, and vice versa, is vital for the success of any research. In this chapter, we shall introduce the concept of researcher positionality. We will look at the debates on researcher positionality in cross-cultural and sensitive research and discuss “placing” issues such as gender, age, culture and ethnicity, social class, and shared experiences.


Sensitive research Insider Outsider Placing issues Positionality 


  1. Al-Makhamreh SS, Lewando-Hundt G. Researching at home as an insider/outsider: gender and culture in an ethnographic study of social work practice in an Arab society. Qual Soc Work. 2008;7(1):9–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Al-Natour RJ. The impact of the researcher on the researched. J Media Culture. 2011;14(6). Retrieved from
  3. Arora A, McNab MA, Lewis MW, Hilton G, Blinkhorn AS, Schwarz E. ‘I can’t relate it to teeth’: a qualitative approach to evaluate oral health education materials for preschool children in New South Wales, Australia. Int J Paediatr Dent. 2012a;22(4):302–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arora A, Liu MN, Chan R, Schwarz E. ‘English leaflets are not meant for me’: a qualitative approach to explore oral health literacy in Chinese mothers in Southwestern Sydney, Australia. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2012b;40(6):532–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arora A, Nguyen D, Do QV, Nguyen B, Hilton G, Do LG, Bhole S. ‘What do these words mean?’: a qualitative approach to explore oral health literacy in Vietnamese immigrant mothers in Australia. Health Educ J. 2014;73(3):303–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Banks JA. The lives and values of researchers: implications for educating citizens in a multicultural society. Educ Res. 1998;27(7):4–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berger R. Now I see it, now I don’t: researcher’s position and reflexivity in qualitative research. Qual Res. 2015;15(2):219–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bishop R. Freeing ourselves from neocolonial domination in research: a Maori approach to creating knowledge. In: Denzin Y, Lincoln Y, editors. The landscape of qualitative research. 3rd ed. Thousands Oaks: Sage; 2008. p. 145–83.Google Scholar
  9. Bourke B. Positionality: reflecting on the research process. Qual Rep. 2014;19(33):1–9.Google Scholar
  10. Bousetta H. Personal experience and research experience: a reflexive account. MERGER – Newsletter of the Migration and Ethnic Relations Group. 1997. Retrieved from
  11. Brandes S. The things we carry. Men Masculinities. 2008;11(2):145–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Breen LJ. The researcher ‘in the middle’: negotiating the insider/outsider dichotomy. Aust Community Psychol. 2007;19(1):163–74.Google Scholar
  13. Chawla D. Subjectivity and the “native” ethnographer: researcher eligibility in an ethnographic study of urban Indian women in Hindu arranged marriages. Int J Qual Methods. 2006;5(4):13–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cohen L, Manion L, Morrison K. Research methods in education. 7th ed. Abingdon: Routledge; 2011.Google Scholar
  15. Cresswell JW, Poth CN. Qualitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five approaches. 4th ed. London: Sage; 2017.Google Scholar
  16. Edmonds-Cady C. A view from the bridge: insider/outsider perspective in a study of the welfare rights movement. Qual Soc Work. 2012;11(2):174–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Egharevba I. Researching an-‘other’ minority ethnic community: reflections of a black female researcher on the intersections of race, gender and other power positions on the research process. Int J Soc Res Methodol. 2001;4(3):225–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. England KV. Getting personal: reflexivity, positionality, and feminist research. Prof Geogr. 1994;46(1):80–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Enguix B. Negotiating the field: rethinking ethnographic authority, experience and the frontiers of research. Qual Res. 2012;14(1):79–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ergun A, Erdemir A. Negotiating insider and outsider identities in the field: “Insider” in a foreign land; “outsider” in one’s own land. Field Methods. 2010;22(1):16–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Finch J. Its great to have someone to talk to: the ethics and politics of interviewing women. In: Hammersley M, editor. Social research, philosophy, politics and practice. London: Sage; 1993. p. 166–80.Google Scholar
  22. Fletcher T. ‘Does he look like a Paki?’: an exploration of ‘whiteness’, positionality and reflexivity in inter-racial sports research. Qual Res Sport Exerc Health. 2014;6(2):244–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Galam RG. Gender, reflexivity, and positionality in male research in one’s own community with Filipino seafarers’ wives. Forum Qual Soz Forsch Forum Qual Soc Res. 2015;16(3):26–51.Google Scholar
  24. Ganga D, Scott S. Cultural “insiders” and the issue of positionality in qualitative migration research: moving “across” and moving “along” researcher-participant divides. Forum Qual Soz Forsch Forum Qual Soc Res. 2006;7(3):9–20.Google Scholar
  25. Gill F, Maclean C. Knowing your place: gender and reflexivity in two ethnographies. In: Atkinson P, Delamont S, editors. Sage qualitative research methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage; 2011. p. 2–18.Google Scholar
  26. Hayfield N, Huxley C. Insider and outsider perspectives: reflections on researcher identities in research with lesbian and bisexual women. Qual Res Psychol. 2015;12(2):91–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hoskins K. Researching female professors: the difficulties of representation, positionality and power in feminist research. Gend Educ. 2015;27(4):393–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Järviluoma H, Moisala P, Vilkko A. Gender and qualitative methods. London: Sage; 2004.Google Scholar
  29. Kezar A. Reconstructing static images of leadership: an application of positionality theory. J Leadersh Org Stud. 2002;8(3):94–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kusek WA, Smiley SL. Navigating the city: gender and positionality in cultural geography research. J Cult Geogr. 2014;31(2):152–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kusow AM. Beyond indigenous authenticity: reflections on the insider/outsider debate in immigration research. Symb Interact. 2003;26(4):591–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Liamputtong P. Researching the vulnerable: a guide to sensitive research methods. London: Sage; 2007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Liamputtong P. Performing qualitative cross-cultural research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Liamputtong P. Qualitative research methods. 4th ed. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press; 2013.Google Scholar
  35. Manohar NN. ‘Yes you’re Tamil! But are you Tamil enough?’ An Indian researcher interrogates ‘shared social location’ in feminist immigration research. Int J Mult Res Approaches. 2013;7(2):189–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Maylor U. Is it because I’m black? A black female research experience. Race Ethn Educ. 2009;12(1):53–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mellor J, Ingram N, Abrahams J, Beedell P. Class matters in the interview setting? Positionality, situatedness and class. Br Educ Res J. 2014;40(1):135–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Merriam SB, Johnson-Bailey J, Lee M-Y, Kee Y, Ntseane G, Muhamad M. Power and positionality: negotiating insider/outsider status within and across cultures. Int J Lifelong Educ. 2001;20(5):405–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pante MBLP. Female researchers in a masculine space: managing discomforts and negotiating positionalities. Philipp Sociol Rev. 2014;62:65–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pasquini MW, Olaniyan O. The researcher and the field assistant: a cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural viewing of positionality. Interdiscip Sci Rev. 2004;29(1):24–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pingol A. Remaking masculinities: identity, power, and gender dynamics in families with migrant wives and househusbands. Quezon City: University Center for Women’s Studies/University of Philippines; 2001.Google Scholar
  42. Ramji H. Exploring commonality and difference in in-depth interviewing: a case-study of researching British Asian women. Br J Sociol. 2008;59(1):99–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rashid SF. Accessing married adolescent women: the realities of ethnographic research in an urban slum environment in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Field Methods. 2007;19(4):369–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Riessman CK. Narrative approaches to trauma. In: Riessman CK, editor. Qualitative studies in social work research. London: Sage; 1994. p. 67–71.Google Scholar
  45. Savin-Baden M, Major CH. Qualitative research: the essential guide to theory and practice. Abingdon: Routledge; 2013.Google Scholar
  46. Shariff F. Establishing field relations through shared ideology: insider self-positioning as a precarious/productive foundation in multisited studies. Field Methods. 2014;26(1):3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sikes P. Methodology, procedures and ethical concerns. In: Clive O, editor. Doing educational research: a guide to first-time researchers. London: Sage; 2004. p. 15–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stiedenroth KS. Female, young, unmarried: the role of positionality while conducting fieldwork in Pakistan. Orient Anthropol. 2014;14(1):81–95.Google Scholar
  49. Suwankhong D, Liamputtong P. Cultural insiders and research fieldwork: case examples from cross-cultural research with Thai people. Int J Qual Methods. 2015;14(5). Scholar
  50. Takeda A. Reflexivity: unmarried Japanese male interviewing married Japanese women about international marriage. Qual Res. 2012;13(3):285–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tillman LC. Culturally sensitive research approaches: an African-American perspective. Educ Res. 2002;31(9):3–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Underwood M, Satterthwait LD, Bartlett HP. Reflexivity and minimization of the impact of age-cohort differences between researcher and research participants. Qual Health Res. 2010;20(11):1585–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wegener C. ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’ Using the researcher’s insider and outsider positions as a sensitising concept. Ethnogr Educ. 2014;9(2):153–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Yakushko O, Badiee M, Mallory A, Wang S. Insider outsider: reflections on working with one’s own communities. Women Ther. 2011;34(3):279–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Narendar Manohar
    • 1
  • Pranee Liamputtong
    • 6
  • Sameer Bhole
    • 2
    • 5
  • Amit Arora
    • 1
    • 3
    • 7
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Science and HealthWestern Sydney UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Sydney Dental School, Faculty of Medicine and HealthThe University of SydneySurry HillsAustralia
  3. 3.Discipline of Paediatrics and Child HealthSydney Medical SchoolSydneyAustralia
  4. 4.COHORTE Research GroupIngham Institute of Applied Medical ResearchLiverpoolAustralia
  5. 5.Oral Health ServicesSydney Local Health District and Sydney Dental Hospital, NSW HealthSurry HillsAustralia
  6. 6.School of Science and HealthWestern Sydney UniversityPenrithAustralia
  7. 7.Oral Health ServicesSydney Local Health District and Sydney Dental Hospital, NSW HealthSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations