Positionality

“A researcher’s background and position will affect what they choose to investigate, the angle of investigation, the methods judged most adequate for this purpose, the findings considered most appropriate, and the framing and communication of conclusions” (Malterud, 2001, p. 483–484).

I am a white, cisgender, able-bodied, queer female (she/her/hers) in a heterosexual partnership. I was born in the U.S. and grew up in Fairfax, Virginia in a lower-middle class, single-parent household. As a young person, I attended a home-based child care program, a cooperative preschool, and was tracked from middle childhood into highly segregated public schools. I have had access to higher education at private institutions, made possible in part by need-based aid and student loans. Although I have spent time teaching and learning in early childhood spaces, I have never worked as a full-time educator. These experiences position me as a fierce advocate for community-centered learning and enriching early childhood experiences as vehicles of social justice and joy for young children and those who care for them.

Some aspects of my positionality as a researcher have evolved and changed over time (Rowe, 2014). Some of my early training primarily relied on developmental and educational theories and methods that historically center whiteness and perpetuate deficit-oriented perceptions of children of the global majority and those living in poverty (Delpit, 1988; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995; Nxumalo & Brown, 2019; Souto-Manning & Rabadi-Raol, 2018; Swadener, 1990). Over many years of (un)learning, especially from those with different lived experiences and who have done this work long before me, I have attempted to reorient this approach. I see my current and future work as primarily drawing on critical theories, leveraging qualitative and mixed method designs when possible, and centering narratives of strength and promise in service of building more equitable and just early childhood systems. This is an ongoing process that I attempt to navigate with reflexivity, humility, and the knowledge that I will likely make mistakes along the way.

As a white researcher who studies (in)equitable early childhood experiences, practices, and policies, my work necessitates interacting with the racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse individuals that make up many early childhood spaces. My identities and lived experiences therefore typically position me as an outsider. While no research can be truly "objective," I acknowledge that this outsider status deeply informs all aspects of the research process, from question formulation to authenticity in data collection to potentially biased interpretation of findings (Holmes, 2020; Merton, 1972). To partially address this, I am continually learning about how to more authentically center the voices and stories of research partners and to de-center my own hypotheses and understandings as much as possible. This process includes incorporating principles of equitable evaluation throughout all my future projects and employing participatory approaches to designing and conducting research as much as possible.

References

Delpit, L. (1988). The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in educating other people’s children. Harvard Educational Review, 58, 280–298.

Holmes, A. G.D. (2020). Researcher positionality--A consideration of its influence and place in qualitative research--A new researcher guide. Shanlax International Journal of Education, 8(4), 1-10.

Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W.F. (1995). Toward a critical race theory of education. In Critical race theory in education (pp. 10-31). Routledge.

Malterud, K. (2001). Qualitative research: standards, challenges, and guidelines. The Lancet, 358(9280), 483-488.

Merton, Robert K. (1972). Insiders and outsiders: A chapter in the sociology of knowledge.” American Journal of Sociology, 78(1), 9-47.

Nxumalo, F., & Brown, C.P. (Eds.). (2019). Disrupting and countering deficits in early childhood education. Routledge.

Rowe, Wendy E. (2014). “Positionality.” The Sage Encyclopedia of Action Research, edited by Coghlan, David and Mary Brydon-Miller, Sage.

Souto-Manning, M., & Rabadi-Raol, A. (2018). (Re) Centering quality in early childhood education: Toward intersectional justice for minoritized children. Review of Research in Education, 42(1), 203-225.

Swadener, E.B. (1990). Children and families “at risk”: Etiology, critique, and alternative paradigms. Journal of Educational Foundations, 4, 17–39.