How does who you are influence how you explore the world? (s03e03)

🔈This is the transcript of the Open Update. Find the original audio on

[00:00:00] Chris Hartgerink: Welcome to the Open Update season three. I'm one of your hosts, Chris Hartgerink

[00:00:11] Sarahanne Field: And I'm your other host, Sarahanne Field.

[00:00:13] Chris Hartgerink: Throughout season three, we are bringing conversations about power imbalances in research and society to you. So thank you for choosing to spend your time with us here on the podcast.

By discussing power imbalances from all kinds of angles we want to stimulate you, but also ourselves, to look at the world around us in terms of power. Because how can we improve the world we live in by taking this lens? How can it change how we see things and the problems we see, the problems we even want to try and solve to begin with. That's what we'll do today as well.

We will discuss the following question

Does your personal context influence how you explore the world?

Sarahanne, can you kick us off with this question? Because I think this is one of your pieces of expertise that you bring to the Open Update in season three.

[00:01:13] Sarahanne Field: So when we're conducting research, as you say, when we're exploring the world around us in terms of answering questions and solving problems, we bring with us into this endeavor, a lot of ourselves. What we think is important is very much influenced by what we've experienced.

In this episode, when we talk about positionality, we're basically talking about the idea of a disclosure of how someone's, for example, background, their gender, how they influence, their exploration of the world and, and solving problems.

Often in research we kind of convert this information into a statement: a positionality statement. So that's what we're referring to when we talk about this topic, when we talk about this issue.

[00:02:05] Chris Hartgerink: I'm trying to reflect this back on myself. Would positionality be something along the lines of I come from a working class family, I'm a first generation student, so I was the first person in my family to go to university, I'm white from a western country?

Are those all things that would be included or would there be deeper things that could also be a part of your positionality or personal context statement?

[00:02:33] Sarahanne Field: Not just your roots, but also what you've been through between being born and being here today. Both can influence how you judge other experiences that you come across, how you interpret what other, what other people say, how you interpret information.

[00:02:49] Chris Hartgerink: Maybe we have listeners who might be super informed about this already and listeners who are even just starting to explore this idea or hear it for the first time.

Could you in rapid fire, give us a few of these contexts that people might think about, as applying to themselves in terms of what shapes, how they view the world?

[00:03:12] Sarahanne Field: So for example, whiteness, that's a big one. For me, for example, I was brought up in a wealthy country, in Australia. I was born into a middle class family. I had no trouble being fed and and going to a good school.

I'm now in an institute in a wealthy white nation. Just the color of my skin and the whiteness of my experience growing up and becoming an academic, that really influences how I perceive things and what I prioritize, say with my own research. It's easy to forget that whiteness when I'm exploring the world and when I'm identifying problems and that the approach I take to solving them.

My gender, for example. Being a woman in academia comes with its own challenges. That's another thing that people forget about, I think, because, for some people, especially cisgender people, we are born into a particular, context in that sense. we're used to that.

We're used to being identified by others with that context in mind. And so it's also easy to forget that as well.

[00:04:23] Chris Hartgerink: When you say cis, it's the gender you're identified with other people matches your own.

[00:04:28] Sarahanne Field: Indeed.

[00:04:30] Chris Hartgerink: I also did a very quick Google on some of these aspects to give people some more (see the Academic wheel of privilege for example). I think you mentioned a few very important ones. some other aspects that might also be included is, you talked about gender, sexuality. Gender and sexuality are very different

We also talked about the formal education. Your career stage can matter. The amount of resources or funding you have, very applicable in research.

Caring duties, whether you're housed or not. Language, religion. Body size, mental health, and whether you're disabled or non-disabled.

We can keep going, but just to give you something to skip back a few times in case you, you wanna, think about these things more specifically.

That's a great introduction to this personal context. While we were preparing for this podcast, you mentioned there has been discussion around this, right? Not everyone agrees that this is something that people should, necessarily talk about or reflect on. Could you talk a bit more about the discussion that has been going around on, around this, whether personal context matters and whether we should disclose

[00:05:43] Sarahanne Field: There are diverging opinions about how useful or indeed, even how valid positionality actually is. So some people are of the opinion that the backstory, someone's backstory, someone's context, has absolutely no bearing on the research that they do.

That includes, you know, why they're doing that research, the topics they've chosen, how they conduct the research, how they disseminate the findings. On the other hand you have say people who have a constructivist approach in research. They tend to disagree and say well, there's value in trying to understand how someone's background and experiences influence how they do research, how they, again, coming back to that idea of exploring the world.

[00:06:36] Chris Hartgerink: You mentioned constructivism. Many people, myself included, have a lot of problem understanding a lot of isms, because they represent so much more than the word alone. Just to make sure I understand, and our listeners understand, what do you mean by that?

[00:06:53] Sarahanne Field: Basically constructivism, considers the way that we process information. It's not just passively taking in information. Our brains don't just absorb information, but we actually construct knowledge. As we experience the world, we process these experiences, we build a representation of what the world is.

As you might imagine, the idea that all of these experiences that, that bring us to our understanding of the world, the idea that a constructivist might like the idea of positionality makes a little bit more sense when you think about, about that.

[00:07:30] Chris Hartgerink: That makes a lot of sense. And apparently I indeed did not understand the word completely!

We said this season was gonna be about power imbalances. Personal context, power imbalances quickly leads me to also think about privilege, which for a lot of people, if you have a rough life, then it can quickly feel like I don't have privilege.

This idea of personal context, relating to power imbalances and how does that view how we see the power in the world around us. And also recognizing our own story in that how power has influenced and privilege has influenced where we have gotten, is a very, very critical one for the discussions that we want to have.

I wonder whether when we talk about positionality, but in terms of research, when we think about privilege and power imbalances, how that affects your work --- where does the story you tell about yourself come in? I think this would be something that you would call also reflexivity?

[00:08:54] Sarahanne Field: In a nutshell, cause there's an entire huge body of literature on reflexivity, but in a little cute nutshell, reflexivity is basically, it refers to an active process of reflecting on yourself and in this particular context of reflecting on yourself. as a researcher that is part of the research process.

So we're humans that are conducting research typically, at least in the social sciences on other human beings. And so doing that kind of research without any sort of thought process into our position as the researcher in that process, cuz we're, we're interpreting this information right. Setting out these questions or these, these hypotheses. Then we're choosing methods to explore these questions. And then we are collecting these data and interpreting these data with the lens of our own humanity right there in the form. So the idea of reflexivity is to sort of say, okay, where do I sit in that process and how does, how do I, as the researcher in the middle of that?

How do I do this? This role of the researcher?

[00:10:13] Chris Hartgerink: As you talk about this, I keep thinking about the Many Analyst Project. If perspective, personal context, or how you explore the world, doesn't matter, then it should be a logical next step that whoever does the analysis of the same question shouldn't matter either.

But from this Many Analyst study, the conclusion came that it varied a bunch. We can ask this question, why does it vary? That's a very interesting one, and I think that, you bringing up this point of reflexivity, reflecting on how our personal context might influence the choices that we make. It is a very interesting one, marrying this idea of power imbalances with the variability in results in a super practical setting. Taking this as a way to look at these problems, this lens of looking at the world and how to change it, it immediately changes the question of why is there variability to begin with, to where did it come from? That's a very interesting lens also to not just tackle questions of how do people relate within research or in the world more broadly, but also in terms of the reproducibility issues even.

I hadn't thought of that before we had this conversation.

To start wrapping up slowly, are there points, because you're very well-versed in this. You gave us a very good short recap of reflexivity and positionality, this personal context and how it influences the story that you tell. But also of what interests you. Are there any things top of mind that you'd like to leave with the listeners?

[00:12:14] Sarahanne Field: There are a lot of things that I'd really like to say. One thing I've noticed in this discourse is the question of, okay, so I'm in a quantitative research discipline. You know, these kinds of people tend to question the value of using reflexivity and using positionality.

Now just to link those two very quickly together, uh, reflexivity is in a way a precursor to positionality. You use the reflections that you develop about yourself to sort of, Make concrete some of these ideas about how your context influences your research and you make them concrete through a positionality statement.

Do you kind of operationalize or deploy reflexivity in a positionality statement? And a lot of people in the quantitative research areas say "well, how can I really do that? This isn't something we really do." One sort of thinking point for listeners that I'd like to sort of leave them with is, Okay, so maybe positionality in terms of the concrete positionality statement. I am this person. I have these characteristics and these influence my research in this paper in such a way, for example, That might not work for you.

My question would be, okay. How would you, in your particular research context, um, operationalize reflexivity in a way that works for you?

Would you just engage in thinking about how you influence the research process or would be, would there be a way to make that concrete or to reify it at all? Because I think often at the heart of these things, at the heart of these pushes to do this in the research process, oh, you should do this, you should make a positionality statement. Cause we're seeing this a little bit. In grant proposals, in papers for some journals, we're seeing, you know, requests for positionality statements.

But it's difficult to, to make that meaningful if you don't really know how you can do it yourself.

So just, yeah, just thinking about how you would do reflexivity, in a way that made sense to you for your particular discipline. That's something that I'd, I'd sort of like to prompt listeners with.

[00:14:28] Chris Hartgerink: As you said this, I was also reflecting on how I explore the problems in the world differently now than say, five years ago. Trying to articulate that change, my own progress, also helps me to understand what influences my personal context in that sense.

With that, we will close out this conversation around personal context and how we explore the world. And then of course, specifically we are researchers within a research context. But that can also happen outside of research, of course.

We want to leave you with a bit of an exercise. You know, it's not homework, we're not gonna check you on it, it's in two weeks. We did say we want to stimulate ourselves, but also you to think about these things. So what are some of the potential pieces of personal context that influence how you explore the world around yourself?

It isn't an easy topic, when we talk about whiteness or our gender or our sexuality, especially when you deviate from the default. it also means that the people in the default very often don't have to talk about these things. So if you, if you feel like it, it isn't easy, please do put in a bit of effort, even just for yourselves. You don't need to. Because it's interesting to keep the discussion going. We cannot expect ourselves to be good at something if we never really train it.

Thank you again for choosing to spend your time with us. We don't take that for granted. We will be back in two weeks if you choose to spend your time with us again with another episode of the open update. Until then!

[00:16:25] Sarahanne Field: Take care!

How does who you are influence how you explore the world? (s03e03)
Liberate Science GmbH March 13, 2023
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