Mika Launikari


Reflexive research practice to reduce power imbalances

Published on

Background photo: Karin Beate Nøsterud (www.norden.org)

Earlier this week I got inspired by an article of Wanda Pillow, in which she discusses the four trends that are prevailing in reflexive qualitative research today, namely reflexivity as recognition of self, reflexivity as recognition of other, reflexivity as truth, and reflexivity as transcendence. Pillow is specifically interested in the power imbalance between the researcher and participant subjectivities. She points out that narrowing the thinking of power down only to the interactional context (between researcher and participant) does not allow us to consider the full extent to which power may affect qualitative research. Therefore, the reflexive research practice will have to be further reinforced in line with these four trends.
TREND 1: Reflexivity as recognition of self is about our subjectivity as researchers related to people, events, occurrences, etc. that we encounter in the field. Reflexivity is expected to improve the quality of research by means of extending our understanding of how our own self-awareness, social position and life interests as researchers influence the entire research process from initiation to completion (i.e. from situating the study to telling the story). The issue here is to come to know oneself as this is the key to knowing and understanding the other as well.

TREND 2: Reflexivity as recognition of the other requires one’s conscious awareness of and ability to deal with differences between oneself as a researcher and the participant. Without properly acknowledging these differences, the other may easily remain an object or a projection of the researcher’s self. In the worst case the researcher’s lack of identifying and correctly interpreting differences can result in misrecognition of the other, and this can make the researcher rely on false assumptions and misguided perceptions of social phenomena.

TREND 3: Reflexivity as truth draws the attention to the notion of voice as well as to whose voice exactly is to be heard and whose is eventually going to be silenced. As there is no single truth in our social world, the researcher should make every attempt possible to guarantee that the voice in the research is given to the community being studied. The duty of the researcher is to communicate his participants’ own interpretations and perceptions of the researched phenomenon as this way a reflexive research practice can better reflect the reality of those who are living it on an everyday basis.

TREND 4: Reflexivity as transcendence means that the researcher will be able to go beyond the self, the other and the truth, and rise above all the biases he may have brought with him into the research field. This relates, among other things, to one’s own subjectivity, situated positionality (e.g. professional identity) and cultural context (incl. values, beliefs, norms, traditions). The question that remains is whether or not a researcher by means of self-reflexivity will ever be able to release himself from subjective biases and cultural assumptions, and that way transcend them and see the objective truth about them.

Finally, Pillow also brings into discussion the uncomfortable reflexive practices that aim at knowing while at the same time situating this knowing as tenuous. These reflexivities of discomfort deal with what is unfamiliar, difficult and challenging. In her article, Pillow illustrates how these reflexivities can be practiced as well as gives examples of problematizing dominant discourses of acceptable research practices. Pillow suggests that researchers who are practising reflexivities of discomfort do not question the importance of studying issues of power and ethics, but they recognise that reflexivity is tightly linked to power and privilege; dimensions that cannot be easily abolished from social/ethnographic research.

Source: Pillow, Wanda (2003): Confession, catharsis, or cure? Rethinking the uses of reflexivity as method-logical power in qualitative research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 16:2.

Photo: Karin Beate Nøsterud (www.norden.org)


Reflexive Interviewing - Role of Researcher

Published on

An important phase of my doctoral research lies ahead of me now in February-March 2015 as I will be conducting thematic interviews and focus group sessions with experts working for European Union agencies in three different locations in Europe (see also www.launikari.eu/phd/). All this is exciting, but an element of stress is linked to this data collection process. Hence, in the past weeks I have been contemplating a lot on my own role as a researcher, the way I eventually influence the data collection process and how reflexivity in qualitative research can be done well.   

Within the contemporary research context, there is no need anymore to try to eradicate the presence of the researcher, nor a need for avoiding a reflexive approach in running qualitative research. The researcher must be regarded as a central figure, and we have to accept that his/her identity is part of the research process and contributes to constructing the collection, selection and interpretation of any given data. Qualitative research is considered as a co-constructive process of knowledge creation between the participants involved in it. The aim is to establish some kind of a “working together relationship” between the researcher and the data providing interviewee. This way meanings can be negotiated within a social context, yet it must be kept in mind that different people may well give different meanings to particular phenomena in human life. (Smyth and Mitchell, 2008; 442-443)

Emotions are present in all aspects of life and they influence the way we make sense of the social reality as well as our interaction with others. Riach (2009; 356) emphasizes that conducting analysis or presenting findings in a way that sensitively captures the multiple levels of a research encounter remains one of the biggest challenges for the qualitative researcher. Indeed all humans have feelings, emotions as well as instinctive and intuitive knowing, which cannot and should not be ignored, nor an attempt to abolish them should be made in carrying out interviews for qualitative research. The issue is of course how much space they can be allowed to have and what kind of an impact they will have within the given research context.

These days there is a wider acceptance of the researcher’s emotions and experiences. They have been recognised as an important source of insight to be taken into consideration within qualitative research. The researcher is neither required to bracket out him/herself, nor his/her past experiences, prior knowledge or prevailing emotions. Rather, by means of critical, yet open self-reflection, experience and knowledge will be integrated in the research process, and they are regarded as necessary in relation to analysing and interpreting the issues being researched. Therefore, we may argue that researchers who try to avoid relying on their personal emotions and life experience when sharing the research story can at least to a certain extent be considered dishonest (Watts, 2008).


Riach, K. (2009). Exploring Participant-centred Reflexivity in the Research Interview. In Sociology, Vol. 43: 356-370. SAGE Publications Inc.

Smyth, L. & Mitchell, C. (2008). Researching Conservative Groups: Rapport and Understanding across Moral and Political Boundaries. In International Journal Social Research Methodology. Vol. 11, No. 5, 441–452.

Watts, J. (2008). Emotion, empathy and exit: Reflections on doing ethnographic qualitative research on sensitive topics, Medical Sociology online, Vol. 3, No. 2, 3-14.

Graduate employability and the ever internationalising world of work

Published on and modified on

Given the shift towards the service-oriented knowledge and interaction economy, where the work environments will be increasingly multicultural and multinational, there is an intensified demand for people, who are able to operate flawlessly in culturally diverse contexts. Also the recent McKinsey research report Diversity matters (2014) pinpoints the fact that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially. To this end, higher education institutions in Finland and elsewhere are making efforts to prepare their students for global citizenship as well as for the international labour market.

At least to a certain extent, skills required to function well in an international work environment can be obtained during higher education studies through mobility experiences in other countries and through real-life exposure to international academic disciplines, internships, research, languages, study trips abroad and other forms of intercultural engagement. An Australian qualitative study (2010) revealed that students, academics and employers identified evident connections between international experience and employability. The research outcomes were associated with the creation of networks, opportunities for experiential learning, improvement of language skills and the development of soft skills linked to cultural awareness, personal characteristics and processes of thinking.

This clearly indicates that international and multicultural competences are an integral element of one’s personal employability (also see e.g. Teichler 2011: Employability and mobility of bachelor graduates in Europe). Cedefop (2009) has defined employability as the combination of factors enabling individuals to progress towards or get into employment, to stay in employment and to progress during career. This definition is applicable to the local, regional, national and international labour markets. So, in case we wish to see more people in the future participating in international labour mobility and acquiring related intercultural competences, we have to start exploring and analysing in further details, how higher education institutions more systematically could contribute to the development of graduate employability in relation to the internationalisation of working life.

All these issues were touched upon in the lecture that I gave in early February 2015 to Finnish and foreign degree students at Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Espoo, Finland. The main aim of the lecture was to raise awareness of the demands of the global labour market as well as to highlight different ways to increase one’s own intercultural sensitivity. And finally, do not miss out this online article about the future world of work.