Insider / Outsider: Epistemological Privilege and Mothering Work

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As researchers, we cannot be outside society and thus activities such as "science," or "objectivity" are striated with procedures for minimizing or celebrating the presence of the researcher in the research product. Our recognition of the situated character of scientific knowledge is the context in which questions about the researchers‘relation to the group s/he studies have arisen. The paper begins with a review of the Insider/Outsider debate which circles around the researcher's relation to those she studies. Where the researcher enters the research site as an Insider - someone whose biography (gender, race, class, sexual orientation and so on) gives her a lived familiarity with the group being researched - that tacit knowledge informs her research producing a different knowledge than that available to the Outsider - a researcher who does not have an intimate knowledge of the group being researched prior to their entry into the group. This paper describes the research issues that arise and the various strategies researchers have used to manage them. The argument then shifts to query the social boundaries implicit in the construction of research Insiders and Outsiders. Reflecting on research that explored mothering for schooling, the article shows that researchers are rarely Insiders or Outsiders. Rather, research is constructed in a relationship with many Others. The interaction of individual biography and social location shape the research relation in complex ways which undercut the common-sense translation of historical familiarity into epistemological privilege.

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