Personal thoughts on self prior to conducting qualitative research

While I have ruminated on the subjective nature of qualitative research, I have not actively sought out to examine my subjectivities. Peshkin (1988)[1]’s article on subjectivity reminded me that being aware of one’s subjectivity can help guard researchers from writing an “autobiographical” piece in reflection to a phenomenon under study. In essence, then, a systematic examination of my subjectivity is a way to systematically monitor it. As I reflected on Peshkin’s article, I thought about my own subjectivities that I bring along to my research on English as a Second Language (ESL) students at community colleges. I identified five subjectivities that I deemed particularly relevant to studying ESL students, and they are: the do-it-yourself I, the dormant-teacher I, the justice-seeking I, and the big-picture I. Below I discuss these four “I”s in depth.

The do-it-yourself-I stems from how I was raised. I was raised to be independent and to do things on my own. The way I internalized this philosophy is that if something does not go well, the fault lies in myself and I have no one else to blame. Prior to subscribing into the field of education, I neglected the broader context in which outcomes occur: the historical, societal and cultural influences that also impact outcome. While I have tempered the do-it-yourself-I as I have thought about the role of context, I still believe in agency and choice. I also believe that the do-it-yourself-I stemmed from my ethnic origin as a Korean-immigrant. Not unlike my Korean immigrant peers, I grew up under the same expectations that education is a priority and excelling should be the norm. In my study, the perils of not keeping my do-it-yourself-I in check may be that I subconsciously judge certain students and overly laud others who have a similar orientation as my do-it-yourself-I.

The dormant-teacher-I is what Peskin refers to as the “pedagogical-melorist-I.” While I observed the ESL and the developmental English class last Summer, I found myself making notes of what I deemed as ineffective teaching practices. Though I have not formally taught, I have extensive private tutoring experience, and I found that I felt negatively during some portion of class and positively in another. While the motivation and affinity to get involved in the setting may be a positive endeavor, I need to remind myself that I am not on the site to directly improve behaviors and practices[2], and that improvements can be achieved more organically upon (perhaps optimistically speaking) the completion of my research.

The dormant-teacher-I is a part of my broader justice-seeking-I. This is also what Peskin has noted in his article. The justice-seeking-I inherently wants to see fair practices conducted and equal opportunities for all students. On the one hand, the justice-seeking-I motivates me to critically question practices as well as remain involved and informed in my research topic. On the other hand, it may undermine my ability to maintain a level of distance in my writing and in my field notes. As I collect data, I must learn to balance conducting research with my potential desire to be more involved in the setting and with the research participants.

Finally, the big-picture-I is the way I map out what I need to do and it shapes how I deem as the optimal way to carry out a process. In most things, I reflect on what the “big picture” is to doing ‘x’. In some ways, it motivates me to move things along and persist, and in other ways it deters me from wanting to start on a new endeavor. In my ESL study, I can forsee myself contemplating on the big-picture of my research and depending on what I conclude as the broader philosophical purpose of conducting the research, my goals may potentially change. In another scenario, I can forsee becoming frustrated over the inability to piece together the big picture during the research process. The big-picture-I and my research interact on a delicate frontier that can evoke different reactions in me.

In sum, Denzin and Lincoln (2005)[3] point out that the situatedness of the researcher impacts how one conducts research, the question one asks, and the framework (e.g., theory, paradigm) one uses to approach qualitative research. As I reflect on my situatedness, this reflection aims to mitigate the possibility of being trapped in my subjectivity moving forward.

[1] Peshkin, A. (1988). In search of subjectivity — one’s own. Educational researcher, 17(7), 17–21.

[2] Admittedly action research aims to do so but I will not be conducting action research.

[3] Denzin and Lincoln (2005). The discipline and practice of qualitative research. In Denzin and Lincoln (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research.


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