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Being an insider

I am an insider in my research domain.

Reading an article recommended by a colleague on insider research (Hellawell, 2006) raises the possibility of there being different dimensions to insider research, and that my position might vary in different aspects of my research and in relation to different participants.

My research focuses on the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system and uses the lens of the experiences of parents and practitioners involved with children and young people with diagnoses of Aspergers or high functioning autism (HFA).

I am an insider in that I have a son with Aspergers and I have had involvement  with the SEN system in negotiating to get his needs met. I am also an insider as I have an ongoing relationship with other parents who have children on the autism spectrum, or who are going through the diagnostic process. I share a lot in common with other parents both in terms of understanding and navigating the SEN system and in terms of coping with the effect of having a child with Aspergers on daily living and dealing with the many and varied effects on family life and on me personally as a mother.

However, I am also interested in the perspectives of practitioners in the domain. In a sense, I am a practitioner as I facilitate a support group, but my experience in that role is very different from those practitioners who are responsible for diagnosing the condition, recommending interventions or providing support. At the same time, I have nearly 20 years experience of working in social care organisations, so I have experience of making decisions and recommendations that affect the lives of other. Although I may be seen as an ‘outsider’ by the practitioners I interview in professional terms, I do have some understanding of the pressures and influences they work under, and that does influence my approach.

There is also the question of the extent to which both practitioners and parents form a community of practice within the domain. Although this is not the focus of my research, it is clear that there is much shared knowledge and language between people coming from different places in the domain.

A useful article in enabling me to see that doing insider researcher is more complex than simply questions of making assumptions about common understanding or giving access that might not otherwise be so readily available.

Hellawell, D. 2006. Inside–Out: Analysis of the Insider–Outsider Concept as a Heuristic Device to Develop Reflexivity in Students Doing Qualitative Research. Teaching in Higher Education, 11, 483-494.

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