The subjectivity of qualitative researchers can be a contribution to qualitative research which at the same time requires commitment to on-going critical reflexivity regarding one’s positionality. More specifically, we address how to navigate the possibility that researcher subjectivity can culminate in role-confusion when the researcher is highly familiar with the research setting or research participants, when positioned as an “insider.” We do this by adopting a critical paradigm approach that investigates the efficacy of “unlearning” as a strategy for challenging one’s assumptions as a researcher, particularly those assumptions that challenge the co-construction of knowledge that extends from research presuppositions. Drawing upon theoretical and methodological literature, we argue that intersubjective reflection is crucial to the process of unlearning. By critically reflecting on subjectivity, it becomes possible to deconstruct our research approach and its underlying assumptions, as well as our research findings. In turn, this creates space to unpack our role in how these approaches, assumptions, and findings are formulated, as well as space to challenge and reformulate these based on dialogue with participants. Through critical reflexivity addressing subjectivity and positionality in the context of research relations, researchers are challenged to consider how their insider knowledge, based on their individual experiences and personal meanings, can impinge on the research process.


reflexivity, subjectivity, unlearning, insider position, outsider position

Author Bio(s)

Elizabeth C. Mohler is a Ph.D. student in the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (Occupational Science) program at Western University. Her research explores the impact that access to direct funding has on the occupational performance and engagement of people with disabilities (PWDs) who receive funding from the Ontario Direct Funding (ODF) program to ‘self-manage’ their attendant services. To address this central aim, this project will focus on three objectives including: (i) to identify how direct funding promotes occupational engagement and performance for PWDs, (ii) to critically examine the enabling and potentially disabling effects of direct funding (DF) models when they are put into practice, and (iii) to inform changes to existing policy, specific to funding for attendant care across Canada that is relevant, effective and accessible. Please direct correspondence to cmohler@uwo.ca.

Debbie Laliberte Rudman, PhD, OT Reg. (Ont.), is a Professor in the School of Occupational Therapy and the Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Graduate Program in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Western University. She completed her PhD in the Public Health Sciences program at the University of Toronto in 2003, a Master’s in Occupational Therapy at Western, and a Bachelor’s in Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto. Her primary research interests relate to the socio-political shaping of the occupational lives and subjectivities of aging adults; that is, to understanding discursive and other contextual influences on what people do as they age and the implications of occupation for identity, community participation, health, and well-being.

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