In the most recent episode of Collaboratory, “Navigating Positionality and Power”, our guests Kaira Zoe Cañete, Emma Blomkamp, Shona Coyne and Jilda Andrews shared their thoughts on the topic of positionality and discussed how our identities, knowledge, values and biases can influence the way we work.
During the episode, Kaira explains how her position as a researcher gave her implicit power in the research process. We invited Kaira to write a blog post to share more about this topic.
Speaking of/for/as women has been a crucial subject for feminist research in the last few decades. Because feminism is a critique of power and authority which have resulted in the historical effacement of women’s experiences and knowledges from traditional (academic) knowledge production, feminist research is especially sensitive to issues of interpretive and representational authority in the research process. Even with the employment of ‘participatory methods’, the researcher as author exercises considerable power in what eventually gets recorded and how it is to be interpreted. These reflections have compelled feminist researchers to problematise not only who has the agency to speak in the research encounter, but also – and perhaps more importantly – who wields the authority to do so and ultimately interpret what takes place in such encounters. Therefore, critical reflection on one’s positionality is extremely important as a starting point for undertaking feminist and co-creative research.
Here, I unpack my distinct positionality as a Filipino woman who had studied at an Australian institution and conducted research which attempted to understand ‘other’ women’s lives in the aftermath of the typhoon Yolanda disaster in Tacloban, Philippines. I characterise my positionality as one of distanced familiarity. On one hand, my positionality allowed me certain degrees of access to my research setting and subjects – being someone who identifies as Filipino, who speaks the language, who has also lived through Yolanda, and has consequently been involved and emotionally invested in the disaster response. This provided me with an extent of familiarity with my subject of inquiry, and the tools and knowledge to navigate the social, cultural, and political landscape of post-Yolanda reconstruction through an appropriation of shared national (Filipino) and ethnic (Bisaya) identity, history, and experience. On the other hand, my being a PhD student at that time in Australia also created for me physical and social distance in relation to my study participants. With access to privilege and resources, my shared identity with research participants as a Filipino woman and my relationship with them were affected by the position of power I am granted by virtue of being a middle-class educated woman. Being based in Australia had also dis-placed me from familiar settings upon which much of my work in previous years had been grounded. Distance in terms of time, space, and social location affected the degrees of engagement I could have with my study participants. At the same time, such distance allowed me to see ‘the strange’ in the already ‘familiar’, providing me with a fresh lens with which to view the subject of inquiry.
This multiplicity of identities that I held within and beyond the research encounters with study participants brought to light how my positionality and power as researcher are continuously negotiated at different sites and levels of engagement with different research ‘stakeholders’. The data constructed with women was also contingent on who I was (Filipino, woman, mother, wife, in my mid-30s, middle class, Australia-based doctoral researcher) as each one of these identities shaped my entry and performance in the research setting and how people responded to me as a researcher. While I exercised power to define the breadth and scope of my research and interpret the data and narratives constructed, I also realised in the process of navigating bureaucracies and striving to gain access to displaced communities that others also hold power over defining who I am, what I do, and what access is given to me – which varied from site to site. On one hand, I was met with openness from women in research areas selected for this study, but on the other hand, I found myself in a hostile environment as I was subjected to harassment in the streets of Tacloban (being at that time an ‘unaccompanied Filipino woman’ and not at all as a researcher). I found myself constantly shifting from insider/outsider, distant and familiar; positions which were at times an asset and at other times a hindrance. The recognition of my distanced familiarity became vital in practicing and operationalising reflexivity in my own research especially in striving to foster co-construction of women’s narratives of disaster recovery.
To hear more from Kaira Zoe Cañete, and other featured collaborative practitioners, on how our positionality influences how we work, be sure to check out the episode of Collaboratory, “Navigating Positionality and Power”. We also had an in-depth conversation with Kaira about her research in an episode of Collaboratory Conversations, which you can find here.