Author Archives | aaminahm

Connecting the Dots: Researcher Positionality in Participant Observation

Aaminah Norris

Aaminah Norris

Editor’s Note: Aaminah Norris (@aaminahm) is just about to finish her PhD in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. She studies “critical making” and “design thinking” movements in an urban school, particularly the ways that its students use design thinking to develop methods to negotiate their racial and gender identities, which in turn relates to their self-efficacy. We’re excited to hear her perspectives on ethnographer positionality as a researcher and a woman of color as a contribution to this month’s theme on ethnography in education.


Ethnographic researchers all have to deal with issues of ethnographer positionality. Participant observers must make on-the-ground decisions about how much of their relationships to the communities that they research is participation and how much is observation, contributing to debates about the role of ethnographers. As a researcher of color whose background mirrors those of some of the individuals I study, I have had to make many such decisions about my positionality.  Sometimes, though, the participants in the community made this decision for me.

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The following narrative illustrates ways in which my participation was informed by the teachers at my field site.  I will relate a snapshot of my ethnographic field note data collected during participant observation of one teacher professional development training.

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