Locating the Researcher in the Research: How and Why
Interpretations of Location
At some point in my life I saw a recording of an inspirational speaker addressing an audience of change-makers. His first question was written boldly on the screen behind him, "What can I do where I am?" I cannot recall anything more about the talk, but this question stays with me as a constant reminder whenever I am called to action, to assess where I am before determining what will be my course of action. This is a huge question, and it might be answered concretely, metaphorically, philosophically. It might be answered by looking at history, intentions, passions, limitations. 'Where I am' might be revealed with maps, stories, essays, journal entries, and the people in my life, near and far.
Taking all these possible answers into consideration the magnitude of the question is obvious, but why is it important? What does my location have to do with my behavior, especially if I am trained to behave in a particular way, and I'm considered to be competent in this behavior? Will I not perform in a professional, predictable manner? For example, imagine I am crossing the finish line of a marathon. This place reveals I am an accomplished athlete and gives clues to my emotional and physical state – probably elated and tired. Who is near me? A cheering crowd including my coach and family? This is evidence that I'm supported as an athlete. Even though I am accomplished and supported, in this position at the finish line, I am unlikely to take on a challenge; I am likely needing nourishment and rest. The example is somewhat extreme and the position is obviously fleeting, but it clearly illustrates the point that where we are has great impact on our actions and what we are capable of doing in any given moment.
Why Researchers Locate themselves in the Research
During the 1970's as psychological research moved toward qualitative, participatory action research where 'subjects' were participants who interpreted data according to their experiences, it came to be understood how subjectivity cannot be avoided and therefore should not be dismissed (Somekh et. al., 2011, p. 6). For sociology, importance of qualitative inquiry was evident in the 1920's and 30's (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Self-location is imperative to recognize the lens, the standpoint, the focus and the frame of perception. All of these aspects of 'location' will also influence the interpretation of that which is perceived. One friend I planned to meet in a coffee shop waited ten minutes as I was waylaid. Upon my arrival she was incensed and informed me that being late is a sign of disrespect. Another friend waited 30 minutes in a coffee shop, and upon my arrival breathed a sigh of relief. She wasn't sure if she had the time wrong of if something bad happened. The first friend was brought up with high value on following rules and this axiological position informed her perception of me and perhaps our friendship. The phenomena we observe as researches will be perceived from our standpoint. The perception is always subjective. "Rather than being something to be screened out in the pursuit of accurate measurement, subjectivity—whether of the researcher or the researched—emerges as vital to include and address in generating rigorous and relevant analyses" (Somekh et. al., 2011, p. 6).
As researchers, our location is relevant, not only to our perception influencing how we interpret and explain data, but it is also relevant to the interaction with that which is researched. Any given research always includes the researcher, and can never have the researcher extracted from it. In quantitative research we aim to separate the researcher from the data by choosing replicable methods, but because separation is impossible, we assume the impact of the researcher is negligible if we can reproduce statistically significant data results. In qualitative research, however, the inability to separate researcher from research is more obvious.
Barad (2006) discusses Niels Bohr's philosophy-physics and his "persistence that quantum physics not only revolutionized physics but shook the very foundation of Western epistemology" (p. 97). While it is easy to negate effects that are quantum, Barad (2006) points out that "Bohr's analysis of the nature of measurement interactions and the epistemological implications of his analysis are completely general (as far as we know) (p. 110). Understanding the laws of quantum physics for measuring particle location, helps us understand the task on a larger scale, i.e. locating the researcher in the research. Basically Barad (2006) explains, "there is no unambiguous way to differentiate between the 'object' and the 'agencies of observation.' No inherent/Cartesian subject-object distinction exists" (p. 114). We do our best to name, discuss and interpret the location of the researcher because that position is always present in the research.
How Researchers Locate themselves in the Research
Sheila Cote-Meek (2020) introduces herself, "so that, as a reader, you know who I am and how I am connected to this land. It also provides clues about my path and purpose in life" (p. xii). She aims to provide her position and momentum, but clues are the most we can hope for. Deterministic Newtonian physics states "given the 'initial conditions' (i.e., the position and momentum…) and the full set of forces acting on a particle, the particle's entire trajectory … is determined" but this is a false assumption, according to Bohr (Barad, 2006, p. 107). Try as we might to determine Cote-Meek's "initial conditions" or that of anyone, we will not be able to do so because "the measurement necessarily disturbs the object" (Barad, 2006, 107). Taken one more step, the research disturbs the researcher. To seek the answer to the question, "Where am I?" is to change the location of where I am.
Nevertheless, we aim for accountability by seeking to know oneself, including our position, momentum and the impact of our actions. The measuring or act of locating is an interaction with the self being located and this interaction might be insignificant, or it could instigate a profound shift in position. There are countless ways to go about the quest. Barad (2006) states, "according to Bohr, the concept of position (like all concepts) cannot be taken for granted; rather, it must be defined by the circumstances required for its measurement" (p. 111). If I am researching art education, this circumstance requires locating myself in the context of my personal art history. I could identify who influenced my artistic development, who and what inspired my direction, purpose, passion and how this is evident.
Another consideration is to employ a variety of methods for self-location. Denzin & Lincoln (2005) note that a "combination of multiple methodological practices, empirical materials, perspectives, and observers…adds rigor, breadth, complexity, richness, and depth to any inquiry" (p. 5).
Locating Self as Researcher by Mapping
In 2019-2020 I was one of a group of action researchers learning about Inclusive Leadership and how we could engage with others who completed an introductory online course on this topic. My curiosity about my fellow researchers led me to ask where they were positioned in relation to the core principles and skills of Inclusive Leadership (Hill, 1998). Several of us did a mapping exercise to self-locate within the field of Inclusive Leadership. A variety of interpretations of the exercise are shown below.
Locating as Ritual
In my personal life, I have adopted 'self-location' practices as a strategy for wellness within myself and within my relationships. Such practices are being shared widely because the benefits are universal. They can be as simple as allowing oneself a moment of stillness to be mindful of sensations, thoughts and emotions. Groups work better together if they begin with 'grounding'. This term refers to feeling physically supported by the furniture, floor or ground. It is a way of affirming one's position in any given moment. I usually include acknowledgement of the land, its history, and the Indigenous people who belong to that land. If such a practice is adopted regularly it can become ritual. There are many benefits of ritual. After practicing over time, the slightest suggestion of the ritual can trigger the physiological response that the ritual itself induces. With practice, the ritual serves to activate more and more efficiently its intended purpose. Cameron (2013) refers to the research of Ted Kaptchuk, on the mind/body connection and contributors to the placebo effect. Though Kaptchuk has not found evidence that personal beliefs translate to improved clinical outcomes, he has found ritual to have an effect.
… the environmental cues of positive placebo benefit can be activated nonconsciously, totally outside the awareness of the patient… (T)he placebo effect is the culmination of the healing ritual—the offer, acceptance, and ingestion of a pill, even an inactive one. Participation in the medical and healing process probably influences the activity of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. (Cameron, 2013, para. 10)
Of course when we repeat actions regularly, they might not become ritual. These actions might become habit, in which case the actions are at risk of losing meaning, and becoming burdensome. Rituals differ from habits in that they require full attention and conscious intention on the purpose. As noted above, the effects need not be conscious, but the intention of performing the actions needs to be authentic and conscious.
If our purpose of research is to improve conditions for living together in community or on earth, then every aspect of the research can be done with this intention, which means with our full involvement in every action. We look for and affirm positive results in our co-researchers, participants, learners, leaders. We use our position for positive impact.
Somekh et. al. (2011) advise us that
Researchers need to pick sensible research questions, design their investigations carefully, collect data honestly, analyse them imaginatively, write them up accessibly, and generalize from them cautiously, all the time engaging in ruthless self-scrutiny to avoid bias, selective blindness and negligence, and to be their own toughest critics. Few…live up to that ideal—but we should all strive to. (p. 8)
I would add that we would also locate ourselves, ritually. In this way, we aim for our highest intention and bring about the greatest good with the gifts we have in any given moment.
Barad, K. (2014). Diffracting diffraction: Cutting together-apart. Parallax, 20(3), 168–187.
Barad, K., (2006). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of
matter and meaning. Duke Press University.
Cameron, D. (2013). Beyond belief: Spiritual practice and biomedicine. Harvard Medicine
Magazine. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://hms.harvard.edu/magazine/national-portrait/beyond-belief
Cote-Meek, S. (2020). In Decolonizing and indigenizing education in Canada (pp. xi-xxiii). introduction, Canadian Scholars.
Denzin, N.K., Lincoln, Y.S. (2005) Introduction: The discipline and practice of qualitative
research. In N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative
research (pp. 1–32). Sage Publications Ltd.
Hill, L. (1998). Discovering connections: A guide to the fun of bridging disability differences.
Somekh, B., Burman, E., Delamont, S., Meyer, J., Payne, M., Thorpe, R. (2011). Research in the
social sciences. In B. Somekh & C. Lewin (Eds.), Theory and methods in social
research (pp. 2–15). Sage.
November 10, 2019: A Time for Remembering
Lately, there has been more remembering of World War I and World War II, than there has been for several years. Likely it’s because we are in a World Crisis III. While thankful that this crisis is not a war, there are islands drowning, cities on fire, and cities torn apart. True devastations abound. Rather than soldiers reacting with weapons, we have researchers documenting impending doom. Rather than inventors of weapons, we have inventors of complicated interventions that only interfere, and rather than politicians bringing forward high mindedness, and camaraderie, we have politicians pitting neighbor against neighbor. Who do we blame when our enemies are our own bad habits and materialistic values? How will remembering help us?
Memories can glorify the past. Especially when aiming for wellness, it serves us to let go of the burdens we endured. At the same time, to avoid the pitfalls of our mistakes we will remember enough to steer clear of similar situations. With Remembrance Day we hope the memories of war’s devastation will protect us, but can these memories protect us from our current global climate crisis. Not at all. World Crisis III is here and the message of youth is “survive or perish”. These are our options. But perhaps the experiences of humanity will continue in gradations of joy and anguish between life and death, as they did through the previous World Crises. Perhaps the memories can help us.
We have had a generation so far removed from the first two world crises, that they lingered in childhood far into their twenties and are
recognized as inflicted with entitlement. By and large this generation was not in touch with the art and practice of rising together for the greater good, putting their own preferences aside, and even their own needs in order to overcome adversity of the many. Meanwhile, our ecologies and economies have continued shifting from centred and balanced to eccentric and unjust. Now in their thirties, raising their children and still supported by their own parents, they are consumed with the struggle of idealizing an era gone by, while the youth of today are well aware of their misfortune.
Now it is time to remember. The youth are fraught with despair. It is time to reignite the memories because they help us cope, help us make informed decisions, help us understand that in the midst of turmoil, we can experience joy. We can offer comfort, and we can receive it from the smallest gestures. ‘Precious’ takes on new meaning when our global community is under threat. It changes from material to ethereal. We get in touch with what is most important.
Being in touch with the heart of the matter, with the highest of our values is the greatest weapon against our own harmful deeds. It is most difficult to continue bad habits when we are conscious of actions for peaceful restoration. Listening to the stories of our elders will help us all through World Crisis III.
November 3, 2019: My Dear Friend
Did you think I forgot you, or that I remembered and neglected you, or that I let you go?
This did not happen.
Only one thing about me, you need to know – I love you.
This is all that matters – only love transcends time and space.
I didn't call with my troubles or my passions. I didn't tell you about what I did this week, my current diet, my aches, my work, my projects. All transient experiences nuanced with love or fear.
Life events that crush expectations deplete us or nourish us, but this depends on whether we are living in love or living in fear.
I accept myself when a whirlwind of events lifts me off my sure-footed path, and I am loving and fearing and aiming to trust in one truth -- that love prevails -- that I am a being of light and connected to all through love.
Did you think of me while in a whirlwind of trouble? It’s because I was sending you my love.
January 8, 2019: Dare I Feel Proud?
Sitting in my studio, listening to one of my favorite radio programs, drawing with Pause the Cat on my left, and a glass of dry white wine on my right I realize in this moment I am in the perfect place. By the time my drawing has come to an intermediate resolve, the radio program has ended and my glass is empty. I sit for a moment basking in the glory of my life as a whole. I am loving – no, I am in love with every thread comprising the tapestry of Lindsay Jean Beal. I become aware of the tragedies of my past, and I feel love for each one – and I feel proud.
Now, the concept of pride is not contentious to me, but so often, I see a slight cringe from others when they hear or use the word. Sometimes there is an excuse for its use, or a declaration that “pride” might not be appropriate. Clearly “pride’s” reputation as one of the seven deadly sins is the cause of this ambivalence. So here am I, in love with and proud of my life and my self. I have to ask, “Is my pride a feeling of being puffed up, or of being pumped up? That is, am I an imposter – manually inflated with hot air or, do I feel my life force in my flesh and breath and have my accomplishments been earned with effortful actions?” If the latter is true, pride is a fine feeling.
When I think of the tragedies that have befallen me, I feel proud. Mind you, I don’t wish for any more, but I love each hardship I’ve endured. Notably, past physical pain is of no consequence now, and the emotional pains are quiescent. It’s enough to simply remember the events, remember that I struggled, that I survived, and these specific tragedies large and small, along with my joys are all threads of triumph. I have put in the effort to overcome adversity, to heal serious wounds of body and mind, and put in the effort to thrive again, and again, and so I can feel proud. I can love the complexity, the awkwardness, the relentless commitment this weaving has led me to discover, because this is my strength and source of compassion. This is the fabulous, intricate tapestry of my life.
Within twelve hours of my studio reveling, my friend sends me this:
"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." ~ Maya Angelou
Synchronicity affirms that my weaving is but a small piece of the Grand Tapestry.
November 2, 2018: I Have a Plan!
I’ve recently had the recurrence of night clenching – primarily of the masticating muscles. My dentist sent me to a physiotherapist, Michael Phillips, who has been successfully treating people with jaw problems for many years. Michael Phillips gave me an exercise, and referred me to the book, You, the Healer, by Jose Silva. The exercise as prescribed by Michael Phillips worked wonders the very first night, and for several following, by providing me a way of disengaging the muscles mid-clench. Within a week, I signed the book out of the library and began practicing “the Silva method” of self-healing. As I started learning the Silva method, each day, a different ailment from my past resurfaced for which I practiced relaxation and healing and subsequently experienced relief. At the same time the jaw clenching intensity returned and I became less capable of interfering with the muscle “spasm”. One step of the self-healing is, during a relaxed state (specifically functioning with alpha waves) ask oneself “Why do I have this problem?” then allow the mind to wander. Whatever comes to mind leads to an explanation of the root cause. Well, I could not clearly identify any cause other than feeling like I was not giving myself enough attention. Several days later an event triggered a collision of thoughts that brought greater clarity to my problem.
Yesterday my new cat, Pause, was sitting inside on the windowsill, glaring at another cat crouched outside, in my window box. While I was aware of Pause’s agitation, I did not heed the signs. Smoothly, lovingly I picked him up and he grabbed my forearm between his teeth and bit down hard. Regretfully, I smacked him on the nose, he let go, and I put him down. I thought of a better reaction in case it ever happens again, which alleviated my guilt, but the bruise was there, and I felt compelled to tell the story a few times. This morning, after a night of particularly intense clenching I told the story yet again to my husband. I described how Pause bit down hard and really sunk his teeth into my arm (and no he didn’t break the skin, but there were two indentations for quite a while). And then I began daydreaming in a relaxed state, and several thoughts came together. One was a gentle, barely perceptible thought that was like a soft air current that followed me around the house for several days, “I need to pay attention to myself”. Another was a profoundly noticeable thought as I cut through my art studio two days earlier, “I need a project that I can work on over the coming month, something really engaging”. Another thought was about my over active innervation of my masticating muscles, “I have an excess of energy and need to utilize it so I can truly rest at night.” And another thought came at me hard. The bite from Pause was an example of what I’m attempting to do in my sleep, “I need to sink my teeth into something”. These thoughts were not exactly sequential, nevertheless they led to an “Ah Ha!” I decided right there that I am going to sink my teeth into developing the course curriculum for integrating the arts and art education as a health practice.