Uncloaking the Researcher: Boundaries in Qualitative Research


  • Kalyani Thurairajah MacEwan University, Canada




Reflexivity, Qualitative Research, Social Locations, Positionalities, Ethics, Insider/Outsider


Qualitative researchers are expected to engage in reflexivity, whereby they consider the impact of their own social locations and biases on the research process. Part of this practice involves the consideration of boundaries between the researcher and the participant, including the extent to which the researcher may be considered an insider or an outsider with respect to the area of study. This article explores the three different processes by which boundaries are made and deconstructed, and the ethical complexities of this boundary making/(un)making process. This paper examines the strengths and limitations of three specific scenarios: 1) when the researcher is fully cloaked and hiding their positionalities; 2) when there is strategic undressing to reveal some positionalities; 3) when there is no cloak, and all positionalities are shared or revealed. This paper argues that it is insufficient to be reflexive about boundaries through acknowledgement, and instead advocates reflexivity that directly examines the processes by which social locations are shared and hidden during the research process.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Kalyani Thurairajah, MacEwan University, Canada

Kalyani Thurairajah is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at MacEwan University. Her research is focused on questions pertaining to national identities among immigrants, and the process through which they negotiate their loyalties between their countries of origin and countries of settlement. She is also interested in how narratives of multiculturalism and racism influence the development and maintenance of national identities.


Berger, Roni. 2015. “Now I See It, Now I Don’t: Researcher’s Position and Reflexivity in Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Research 15(2):219-234.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794112468475

Bott, Esther. 2010. “Favorites and Others: Reflexivity and the Shaping of Subjectivities and Data in Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Research 10(2):159-173.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794109356736

Bridges-Rhoads, Sarah, Jessica Van Cleave, and Hilary E. Hughes. 2016. “Complicating Methodological Transparency.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 29(4):536-552.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2015.1063733

Cataldi, Silvia. 2014. “Public Sociology and Participatory Approaches. Towards a Democratization of Social Research?” Qualitative Sociology Review 10(4):152-172.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.18778/1733-8077.10.4.07

Couture, Amanda L., Arshia U. Zaidi, and Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale. 2012. “Reflexive Accounts: An Intersectional Approach to Exploring the Fluidity of Insider/Outsider Status and the Researcher’s Impact on Culturally Sensitive Post-Positivist Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Sociology Review 8(1):86-105.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.18778/1733-8077.8.1.05

Cutcliffe, John R. 2003. “Reconsidering Reflexivity: Introducing the Case for Intellectual Entrepreneurship.” Qualitative Health Research 13(1):136-148.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732302239416

Daly, Kerry. 1992. “Parenthood as Problematic: Insider Interviews with Couples Seeking to Adopt.” Pp. 103-125 in Qualitative Methods in Family Research, edited by J. F. Gilgun, K. Daly, and G. Handel. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Google Scholar

Day, Suzanne. 2012. “A Reflexive Lens: Exploring Dilemmas of Qualitative Methodology through the Concept of Reflexivity.” Qualitative Sociology Review 8(1):60-85.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.18778/1733-8077.8.1.04

Dowling, Maura. 2006. “Approaches to Reflexivity in Qualitative Research.” Nurse Researcher 13(3):7-21.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.7748/nr2006.

Drake, Pat. 2010. “Grasping at Methodological Understanding: A Cautionary Tale from Insider Research.” International Journal of Research and Method in Education 33(1):85-99.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17437271003597592

Finlay, Linda. 2002. “‘Outing’ the Researcher: The Provenance, Process, and Practice of Reflexivity.” Qualitative Health Research 12(4):531-545.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/104973202129120052

Fuller, Duncan. 1999. “Part of the Action, or ‘Going Native?’ Learning to Cope with the ‘Politics of Integration.’” Area 31(3):221-227.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4762.1999.tb00086.x

Gair, Susan. 2012. “Feeling Their Stories: Contemplating Empathy, Insider/Outsider Positionings, and Enriching Qualitative Research.” Qualitative Health Research 22(1):134-143.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732311420580

Harding, Sandra. 1993. “Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What Is ‘Strong Objectivity?’” Pp. 49-82 in Feminist Epistemologies, edited by L. Alcoff, E. Potter. New York: Routledge.
Google Scholar

Hellawell, David. 2006. “Inside-Out: Analysis of the Insider-Outsider Concept as a Heuristic Device to Develop Reflexivity in Students Doing Qualitative Research.” Teaching in Higher Education 11(4):483-494.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13562510600874292

Josselson, Ruthellen. 2007. “The Ethical Attitude in Narrative Research: Principles and Practicalities.” Pp. 537-566 in Handbook of Narrative Inquiry: Mapping a Methodology, edited by D. J. Clandinin. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781452226552.n21

Kanuha, Valli Kalei. 2000. “‘Being’ Native versus ‘Going Native’: Conducting Social Work Research as an Insider.” Social Work 45(5):439-447.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/45.5.439

Lynch, Michael. 2000. “Against Reflexivity as an Academic Virtue and Source of Privileged Knowledge.” Theory, Culture & Society 17(3):26-54.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/02632760022051202

Mauthner, Natasha S. and Andrea Doucet. 2003. “Reflexive Accounts and Accounts of Reflexivity in Qualitative Data Analysis.” Sociology 37(3):413-431.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/00380385030373002

Nencel, Lorraine. 2014. “Situating Reflexivity: Voices, Positionalities and Representations in Feminist Ethnographic Texts.” Women’s Studies International Forum 43:75-83.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wsif.2013.07.018

Obasi, Chijioke. 2014. “Negotiating the Insider/Outsider Continua: A Black Female Hearing Perspective on Research with Deaf Women and Black Women.” Qualitative Research 14(1):61-78.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794112465632

O’Reilly, Karen. 2009. Key Concepts in Ethnography. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446268308

Patai, Daphne. 1994. “When Method Becomes Power.” Pp. 61-73 in Power and Method, edited by A. Gitlen. New York: Routledge.
Google Scholar

Pillow, Wanda. 2003. “Confession, Catharsis, or Cure? Rethinking the Uses of Reflexivity as Methodological Power in Qualitative Research.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 16(2):175-196.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/0951839032000060635

Riach, Kathleen. 2009. “Exploring Participant-Centered Reflexivity in the Research Interview.” Sociology 43(2):356-370.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0038038508101170

Sultana, Farhana. 2007. “Reflexivity, Positionality and Participatory Ethics: Negotiating Fieldwork Dilemmas in International Research.” An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 6(3):374-385.
Google Scholar

Whitley, Cameron T. 2015. “Trans*-Subjectivity: Exploring Research Positionality in the Field.” Qualitative Sociology Review 11(4):66-80.
Google Scholar DOI: https://doi.org/10.18778/1733-8077.11.4.03




How to Cite

Thurairajah, K. (2019). Uncloaking the Researcher: Boundaries in Qualitative Research. Qualitative Sociology Review, 15(1), 132–147. https://doi.org/10.18778/1733-8077.15.1.06