White Researcher‑Black Subjects: Exploring the Challenges of Researching the Marginalised and 'Invisible'


  • Gisela Schulte Agyeman


Lifeworld, marginalised individuals, 'invisible', dominant discourses, black white perspectives


How to access the life world of the Other without mis‑representing it, has long been a concern in a number of research traditions, including disability, feminist and black research traditions. Feminist debates have addressed issues such as whether researchers can only speak on behalf of their own social groups or whether there is legitimacy in speaking on behalf of the Other. Justification for this often arises from the fact that dis‑empowered groups may not have access to a public forum where they can be heard, so that social researchers see their role as 'giving a voice' to those who would otherwise not be heard. By contrast, other researchers see commonalities with their respondents as a particular strength. The paper focuses on theoretical perspectives which provided the framework in a study of the lived experiences and expressed views of second‑generation female young people of African and Caribbean heritage in predominantly white community and school settings. It examines some of the theoretical as well as personal considerations of a white female researcher and educational practitioner whose personal position and interests had to be negotiated within the research process. The paper highlights some of the difficulties, dilemmas and challenges of a white researcher attempting to access the lived realities of ethnic minority children whose lives are 'invisible' in dominant discourses. Drawing on theoretical perspectives from the feminist, black and disability literature, the paper explores the implications for researching 'sensitive' topics in organisational contexts from the perspective of an outsider 'looking in' and argues for a conscious 'positioning' of the researcher who may or may not be part of the lifeworld of individuals or groups being researched.



1 Sep 2008