Wishing to be reflexive, to critically examine our assumptions, is easy. Doing it is less so. For researchers doing a study in their own professional field, it represents a special challenge. In this essay, I make some forays into this mythical landscape, using my own study as exemplar.
I am currently doing a qualitative study, researching workplace inclusion of workers with intellectual disability in ordinary businesses. As a professional, I have worked with and for people with intellectual disability for many years. The knowledge I bring to my inquiry – about the inabilities, vulnerabilities and needs ascribed to persons labelled thus – are deeply entrenched in common culture, as well as in my professional training. How can I handle this knowledge in my research? To what extent may, or must, it command my perceptions and interpretations? How may I challenge and look beyond it?
In these reflections, I consult a handful of researchers who have examined pitfalls of involving informants with intellectual disability in research. I also call upon four giants of social science – Hans-Georg Gadamer, Pierre Bourdieu, Charles Taylor and Michel Foucault – as well as Brian Eno, British musician and music producer extraordinaire. Starting with a concrete situation, the essay winds its way through nine discussions, each generating a ‘rule of engagement’. Although the discussions are specific to my project, these nine methodological suggestions, ranging from the apparently trivial to decidedly non-trivial, are not. Formulated generally, I believe they may hold some interest for any qualitative researcher.