Dance reflexivity

Research Reflexivity

Reflexivity is defined by Gratton and Jones (2004, p. 186) as:

A process whereby the effect of the researcher, and their own characteristics, background, values, attitudes and so on, upon the subject matter is taken account of.

Gratton and Jones (2004)

Acknowledging researcher bias is a commonly accepted practice in the field of qualitative research (Sparkes, 1992b; Maykut and Morehouse, 1994; Bourdieu, 1996; Mason, 2002; Marshall and Rossman, 2010; Sparkes and Smith, 2014) because, as Sparkes and Smith (2014, p. 73) indicate, ‘the person and their communicative competencies are the main ‘instrument’ of data collection.

Because of this, they cannot adopt a neutral role in the field and in their interactions with people during interviews or observations’.

My Own Influence in the Research

This research has been influenced by many years of involvement in the field of Egyptian raqs sharqi, as well as by my academic background in cultural heritage studies and my own cultural background and view of the world.

These factors have influenced the choice of topic, the particular questions I pose and the methodology.

My knowledge in the field has provided me with the starting point from which to begin gathering data.

Throughout this thesis, the voice of the researcher can be heard, not only through reflexivity but also because I considered myself to be not only the researcher but also one of the participants.

I did not choose to write an autoethnography, because I wanted to include other people’s voices, to gather richer data.

A way for me to use my own experience as data was by quoting pages from my Raqs sharqi website.

For the majority, I have used other people’s sources but, when I thought that it would add useful information to the data, I quoted some pages from my website, which I wrote long before I started this research.

Hence, by using those web pages, I was looking retrospectively at my own point of view as a participant in the field, before I became a researcher in the same field.

I have not found a big amount of literature for the use of blogs in qualitative research.

Moreover, none of the sources I found (Dickey, 2004; Hookway, 2008; Murthy, 2008; Walker Rettberg, 2008) mention using the researcher’s own blogs, from before the research was conceived, as sources of data.

Data Analysis and Interpretation Reflection

In terms of data analysis and interpretation, I am aware that the interpretation of data will inevitably be filtered through my vision because, as Bourdieu (1996, p. 34) states:

the sociologist must never ignore that the specific characteristic of her [sic] point of view is to be a point of view on a point of view’.

Bourdieu (1996)

Hence, my bias as a researcher did not only affect the choice of the topic and the way I carried out the research in the field, but also the way I interpreted the data and how I decided to present it, since ‘representational practices inform all stages of dance ethnography . . . from the conception . . . to its execution and completion’ (Gore, 1999, p. 209).

As Mauthner and Doucet (2003, p. 415) point out:

Methods of data analysis . . . carry the epistemological, ontological and theoretical assumptions of the researchers who developed them’, thus they cannot be neutral.

Mauthner and Doucet (2003)

Reflection as a Dance Practitioner

As somebody who has been a practitioner of Egyptian Raqs sharqi for over 15 years, I am an insider in this field, at least as far as the international community involved with this genre is concerned.

This gave me a privileged point of view as I could access some of the participants easily and I had previous knowledge of the field, as well as a kinesthetic knowledge of the dance.

As Bacon (2003, p. 57) reports citing Sklar, a ‘researcher’s dance experience enables an entrance to the field’ because of the ‘kinesthetic empathy’ that s/he already has.

At the same time, being an insider in a field can affect a researcher’s interpretation of the data.

For example, I was sometimes tempted to accept my respondents’ comments at face value (even the most essentialist ones) as I largely shared the same cultural discourse and interpretations regarding Egyptian Raqs sharqi.

Also, whilst writing, I had to often stop myself from making essentialist claims by trying to avoid taking assumptions for granted.

Being an Outsider in Research and

At the same time though, as a non-Egyptian, I was also an outsider to the field insofar as the local roots of this dance were concerned.

So, I had a double outsider/insider status as a dance researcher (Koutsouba, 1999). The ‘outsider’ status gave me the opportunity to gain some distance from some aspects of Egyptian Raqs sharqi, but at the same time, I lacked a deep, lived understanding of the ‘Egyptianess’ of this dance form.

Hence, when writing the history of Egyptian Raqs sharqi from the 20th century, I could not write “the” history of this dance genre but rather “a” history, as Fraser (2014, sec. On Writing This Book) contends, ‘defined within the limits of my skills of cultural awareness’.

Overall, I will have to accept that, for as hard as a researcher tries, as Mauthner and Doucet (2003, p. 425) posit, ‘there may be limits to reflexivity’.

So, we may have to accept that, as Mauthner and Doucet (ibid.) suggest, it is not possible to be aware of all our present biases and we may need to allow time to pass from the end of the research, in order to distance ourselves from it.

Time should allow a researcher to become aware of influences (and even prejudices) that permeated the interpretation of the data but were not noticed whilst s/he was still involved in the research process.

Indeed, this is what happened to Buckland (2006) when she looked back at the way she had interpreted data from her Ph.D. research, some decades after its completion.

Seeing Dance through an Ethnographic Lens

After the end of my Ph.D., I will probably not leave the field in a practical sense, as I will still practice Egyptian Raqs sharqi.

Nevertheless, I might leave the field in what Bacon (2003, p. 61) refers to as a ‘cognitive’ way, that is in my ‘ability and interest in examining a group of people through an ethnographic lens’.

Thus, leaving the field in this sense will probably allow me to distance myself from this research and interpret it differently.

Also, I may experience this genre differently (or practice different styles) and this could also influence my interpretation looking back, in a similar way as practicing revival morris dance (which she had not tried during her research), gave Buckland (2006) a different appreciation of this style many years after completing her Ph.D.

This is something I will not know until a few years after finishing my research.

In the meantime, I will give my interpretation of the data, which only constitutes a tale rather than the ‘truth’, ‘just one of many tales to tell which reveals our interpretation at any particular moment’ (T. J. Buckland, 1999, p. 204).

Nevertheless, having acknowledged that, as Buckland states (1999, p. 205), ‘it also remains our responsibility to aim to distinguish stories from fantasies’.

The PhD Team and Critical Others

One way to help researchers achieve this, as Maykut and Morehouse (1994) suggest, is for researchers to work with others as a team.

For a Ph.D. student, the team would be the supervisors who review the work, giving critical feedback, as well as fellow researchers and other practitioners from the community in which the Ph.D. student is involved.

For me, the feedback from others in the field of dance research was particularly useful, including during conferences I attended and feedback received on the publications based on this research, during the review process.

Finally, even if qualitative research cannot be separated from the researchers and their bias and, as Mason (2002, p. 52) posits, because of this, ‘it is more accurate to speak of generating data than collecting data’, it is still possible to apply concepts of reliability and validity to qualitative data.

In the next section, I will explain how I dealt with validity and reliability.

Next Page >> Validity and Reliability of the dance datasets.