Panel 1: "Research and education: race and disability"

Flipped webinar (9/Jul/21): 'Intersectional Approaches to Disability and Race' (here)

Exploring the intersections of disability and race as an insider: Methodological choices, challenges, and reflections 

Tasnim Hassan

PhD student in Sociology, Durham University

This blog post introduces the ways in which insider positionality has consciously informed methodological choices when undertaking research centred on collective intersectional identities and experiences. Insider status posits many advantages, yet researchers are faced with the difficult task in navigating multiple complex identity-related dilemmas on both a personal and shared level. The following will be briefly explored, along with outlining some strategies taken to minimise the impact of this position on the overall research design and process: (a) mitigating insider-researcher bias, (b) navigating the matter of representation, and (c) ensuring rigor and transparency in the methods of data collection.



Embracing co-production


The present study intends to be an exploration on the intersection of youth, disability, and race. This examines disabled people of colour’s lived experiences and how they make sense of their intersectional identities in their transition to adulthood. This research enquiry emerged from the researcher’s own personal experiences and engagement with this specific community in the capacity as an activist and representative. This is further combined with deep concern that there persist notable gaps in literature pertaining to their experiences.


Insider status therefore plays a vital role in the identification and creation of much-needed research, which is further strengthened by the researcher being more accepted by the community and being familiar with the multifaceted contexts in question. This proximity however calls into question the overall validity and objectivity as the study risks being guided by the researcher’s personal experiences and perspective. This is further problematised by the researcher’s privileged position of power and status to – unconsciously or intentionally – determine the research agenda.


This provides a strong rationale to incorporate co-production approaches which embraces collaborative ways of working between the researcher and participants. Such research practices come in many forms, such as co-creation and co-analysis, and can occur to varying degrees and stages. This shared oversight and responsibility embeds a range of diverse perspectives at decision-making stages, enabling every individual to have greater influence on the research agenda which helps to offset researcher biases.


These blurred lines of collaborative responsibilities have so far proven to be challenging to navigate in terms of assessing what is realistic within the allocated timeframe and what level of control the researcher should exercise throughout the research process. Another important complexity to note is how this insider identity may influence interactions between the researcher and the researched community. There is the need to reflect on the researcher’s own identity as a disabled person of colour, and how this should be continuously negotiated when interacting with other disabled people of colour. Such interactions between different element of one’s identity may lead to tensions between privileged and oppressed identities, and therefore this must be approached with care and sensitivity. This lays the foundation to adopt intersectionality as a reflexive tool and framework to analyse researcher-participants power dynamics. Continued learning and introspection over the researcher’s identity is critical as this recognises the need to examine discourse around issues of diversity, the role of identity and unpacking systems of privilege and power.


This dual role as a conscious insider-researcher enriches this study in the way it can be approached from both a lived experience perspective and informed academic lens. When combined with the collaborative efforts and multiple perspectives, this can help create a better balance of knowledge and power.



Navigating representation


As this current study is concerned with disabled people of colour as a collective, the next step is how to determine whose voice is and is not included. This is particularly challenging to navigate given that there exists significant variability within this cohort with respect to their disability, racial-ethnic and intersectional identities. This is further intertwined with the complexities which emerge from the various ways language is appropriated within identity construction. These facets inherently pose methodological challenges when identifying and approaching the researched community eligible for this study.


Developing the inclusion/exclusion criteria requires critical reflections over the population of interest, the feasibility of achieving a diverse sample, and the integrity of the data generated. Insider status could lead to sampling and selection bias where some members are more likely to be selected if their background aligned more with the insider’s experiences and background. The current study adopted a twofold approach to maximise diversity within the sample. The first stage involved utilising terminologies that are perceivably more mainstream and wide-ranging, in an effort to cast a wider net. This was then followed by using more specific identity indicators and targeted channels to address any key demographic gaps. Due consideration must be given to the language used at key stages as It is critical to assess the implications surrounding such terms with respect to its scope, context, shortcomings, and potential tensions which may emerge.



Ensuring rigour


To put briefly, the present study utilises a sequential mixed-method approach where qualitative data (interviews and working groups) will be informing the design of the quantitative stage (survey). Co-productive practices are embedded in two ways: first, in the co-design of the survey instrument and second, the co-analysis of the results which will emerge from this survey.


This need for methodological rigour is critical, especially as insider status can substantially impede the validity and objectivity of the overall study, which can be exemplified in the following ways. Combined with unstructured techniques, members of the researched community have greater influence in determining the key domains of this survey, thereby the study is guided by their experiences and perspectives. Participants can also collectively critique the survey instrument (for example, the wording of survey items and the response options provided) which refrains the researcher from imposing their personal stances. The use of the survey in the first place allows emerging hypotheses from this qualitative phase to be tested which will help reaffirm the credibility of this research design. Lastly, being able to draw on multiple interpretations of the data gathered will provide a more informed understanding of the situation at hand. Acknowledging and minimising the potential for implicit coercion arising from insider positionality has therefore considerably contributed to the development of this research design.