Getting Personal: Reflexivity, Positionality, and Feminist Research*


  • Kim V. L. England

    1. KIM V. L. ENGLAND is Assistant Professor of Geography at Scarborough College, University of Toronto, Scarborough, Ontario, MIC 1A4. Her research interests include local labor markets, gender identities and the urban built environment, and feminist methodologies.
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    I want to thank Mike Bradshaw, Rosemary Coombe, Mireya Folch-Serra, Ted Relph, Sue Ruddick, the reviewers, and the editor for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Thanks also go to Muriel and Stan England for their patience and understanding, and to Heidi Nast for organizing the session on which this paper is based and for her encouragement to write about a “failed project.” The support of a Connaught New Staff Grant and a grant from the Humanities and Social Science Committee of the University of Toronto is gratefully acknowledged.


Feminist and poststructural challenges to objectivist social science demand greater reflection by the researcher with the aim of producing more inclusive methods sensitive to the power relations in fieldwork. Following a discussion of contrasting approaches to these power relations, I present a reflexive examination of a research project on sexual identities. My reflections highlight some of the key ethical questions that face researchers conducting fieldwork, especially with regard to the relationship between the researcher and those being researched. My discussion of these dilemmas reflect the situated and partial nature of our understanding of “others.” I argue that the researcher's positionality and biography directly affect fieldwork and that fieldwork is a dialogical process which is structured by the researcher and the participants.