Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Book Review: Insider Research on Migration and Mobility: International Perspectives on Researcher Positioning



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4 Minutes

Guest post by Veronika Nagy, doctoral student at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research of the University of Kent. Veronika is on Twitter @newspeakineu and at academia.edu.   

Review of Insider Research on Migration and Mobility: International Perspectives on Researcher Positioning, edited by Lejla Voloder and Liudmila Kirpitchenko (Ashgate, 2015).

What is the role of belonging in qualitative research? As an invitation to a discussion about research positioning, Insider Research on Migration and Mobility challenges essentialist approaches to insider/outsider research statuses in qualitative studies. The book stresses the situational nature of interactions between researchers and participants and aims to critically reflect on the role of insiderness in migration and mobility studies. Insiderness here refers to the shared experiences between researcher and research subjects that are drawn from specific features such ethnicity, age, gender, class occupation, or identity. These shared experiences maximise potential for sensitised, prolonged interaction which in turn may provide better access and more revealing data.

Insider Research on Migration and Mobility explores these matters from diverse angles of positioning, questioning perceived power reactions in the research field and providing reflexive insights of transgression concerning the dynamics of social and professional boundaries. The editors, Lejla Voloder and Liudmila Kirpitchenko, collected eleven essays from different countries written by scholars working in the fields of mobility, citizenship, and human rights. This multidisciplinary approach not only stretches the epistemological scope of insiderness, but also provides a full overview of the conceptual dilemmas of multiple positions along nationality, ethnicity, or religion.

The collection starts with an extended introduction discussing the key conceptual challenges of objectivity, context, and power that form the basis for the three main sections of the book. This is an all-embracing collection of self-reflections described in a laid-back style that’s accessible to a wide audience. There are, at times, overlaps between descriptions of case studies and some chapters may read like field notes due to their restricted theoretical explanations. Nevertheless, all the essays embrace a broad field of secondary literature that softly extends or interweaves with the primary data analyses, while being presented accurately and in a clear form.

The text is divided into three sections, representing three levels of insiderness in order to advocate an analysis of situated actions from a discursive framework. In bringing the dichotomist insider/outsider positions gradually closer to each other, the positivist boundaries are increasingly blurred throughout the chapters until this disposition is fully dissolved in the final essay, presented as an autobiography. This editorial volume brakes with the conventional social, cultural, and spatial differentiation and the authors advocate dialogical encounters in the construction of identities.

The first part, ‘Dimensions of Insiderness,’ contains four essays that discuss the situational dimensions and epistemic concerns of insiderness, such as shifting power dynamics and multiple dimensions of belonging in different contexts. The first essay discusses how multiple positions of outsiderness indicate inclusion and identification between the dark skinned migrant researcher and his Aboriginal research participants. The chapter’s author, Michele Lobo, describes different identity markers, such as skin colour or nationality, that are consciously used by participants and interplay with the researchers’ identity, in order to claim likenesses in a particular context. This conscious anticipation is interpreted as a form of reciprocity in the research endeavour where participants have the power to decide their level of engagement.

In the following chapter, Farida Fozdar illustrates the situational flexibility of language as key to the study of race relations in New Zealand by using several aspects of her personal encounter that made her an outsider in her own context. The situational role of mobilised identities is further discussed in Chapter 4 where Christof van Mol et al. are researching foreign doctoral student fellows. They argue against the ‘censor of emotional encounters in the field’ and stress the significance of emotional involvement in the data collection process. Importantly, they analyse how the presumed characteristics of the researcher led to disruption with, and skepticism from, participants.

The second part of the volume, ‘Researching Home and Community,’ goes a step further in describing the complexities of positioning. Here the essays deliberate on the political and ethical challenges of insiderness when conducting fieldwork. Each chapter includes an account of the researcher’s personal experiences as they intersect with those of his or her participants, be they post-war experiences or memories of forced displacement. Moreover, the essays describe antagonising situations wherein the researchers face normative expectations of emotional detachment that, in turn, lead to their activist approach. The best illustration for this is Hariz Halilovich’s comparative research on the Bosnian refugee diaspora in different countries where the author bears the same migration background as his participants in Sweden and in the US. Although this section stresses the role of engagement, there’s no reference to the legal aspects of insiderness such as involvement in criminal activities.

The last section, ‘Producing Self, Producing Others,’ compiles the most reflexive and confronting essays of this collection. These studies critically analyse the impact of the researchers’ legal, social, and political positions in the production of data. Although every chapter in the book promotes intersubjectivity, this last section develops and discusses pertinent questions regarding knowledge production and its relation to the data as created and interpreted in the process of participation. Petra Andits, for instance, describes experiences of detachment from her Hungarian diaspora where social expectations provided access to data collection in a distrustful network. References of suspicion, distrust, and gossip are often neglected forms of data sources, yet as Andits suggests, even these may be decisive in the research process.

Objectivity, emotional detachment, and positivist assumptions about research positioning are facing new challenges. Although the situational approach is generally accepted, the validity of data collected from an insider research position is still subjected to critical inquiry. This collection of young scholars gives a lively overview of research positioning, claiming more recognition for this dialectic approach. The book would have benefited from further methodological considerations, a concluding chapter, or a short discussion about the relation between insiderness, mobility, and research validity. Having said that, Insider Research on Migration and Mobility provides an important and timely contribution through its strong acknowledgement of fluidity between insiderness and outsiderness in the process of qualitative data collection. Ultimately, the book provides an excellent introduction to the field of positioning, not only for those interested in the complexities of insiderness, shifting power relations, and ethnicity, but also for those who perform research in the field of mobility studies.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) Nagy, V. (2015) Book Review: Insider Research on Migration and Mobility: International Perspectives on Researcher Positioning. Available at: http://bordercriminologies.law.ox.ac.uk/insider-research-on-migration/ (Accessed [date]).

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