Inside out and outside in

At a recent PhD roundtable discussion (29.09.2014) we discussed a couple of readings about the ethics of research.  Can outsiders research vulnerable groups ethically? Where do we stand on our own positionality?  I was struck by the complexity of the question and indeed identity.  You are never fully an insider or an outsider, are you? Or at least I don't think I have ever fully felt like an insider, but maybe that is more personality than reality?  I have written here before about feeling like an outsider in different spaces, or on the edge, and perhaps that is inevitable most of the time.

Am I an insider in my research? Well yes to the extent that I have worked for one of the organisations I am studying.  That identity does come with advantages in terms of access.  Am I an insider when it comes to poverty and exclusion, mostly not, certainly not now, but that does not mean I have not had those experiences.  But I would not claim that growing up as a non-catholic with a funny name in a single parent household in rural Ireland gives me any particular claim to understanding poverty or exclusion.

I did like this quote from Decolonizing Methodologies: "Writing can be dangerous because sometimes we reveal ourselves in ways which get misappropriated" (p 36).  I am very conscious of this when describing the work of the NAPNs and in particular when critiquing it or drawing conclusions.

I worry about being too cautious, but on the other hand as an 'insider' I also wonder if I am more critical than an external observer, more likely to judge harshly my own work or the work of peers, or indeed competitors?