Inside the Whale : Deep Insider research

Year: 1999

Author: Edwards, Brian

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper will seek to outline the advantages and pitfalls/concerns/doubts of deep insider qualitative research. I define 'deep insider' research as that undertaken by a person who has been a member of the organisation/ group under research for at least five years.

The study which is the subject of this paper is of a single secondary school's English staff and Key Learning Area Managers implementing the centrally mandated curriculum changes in Victoria known as the Curriculum and Standards Framework. (CSF). I have been a member of the school teaching staff for over twenty years holding various positions on committees, school Council and the like. Until quite recently the staffing was extraordinarily stable with some years seeing at most one or two staff out of fifty moving.

The peculiar benefit of deep insider research is the knowledge the researcher brings concerning history and cultures and an awareness of body language, semiotics and slogan systems operating within the cultural norms of the organisation/group. (Kincheloe, 1991). The organisation and group memberships have been for some time under constant surveillance, review and adjustment. But now that the member is also a researcher a process of self-interpretation is initiated with the change in role in relation to others. (Walker, 1981). Rather than researcher authority I would suggest rapport and trust are of greater significance and the deep insider researcher should not take these for granted given the role change.

The deep insider/researcher is aware of the organisational history and personal relationships which are inter-woven with that history. Much of this may be undiscoverable to outsiders apart from the organisational elements. (Ball, 1997). The deep insider has been and is still a part of that unfolding history and the research being undertaken may indeed have a significant impact on that ongoing story and relationships .

Researching the lives of others carries with it onerous ethical implications. Quite apart from matters of disclosure and anonymity there is also the need to justify such intrusions, willingly though they may be granted by participants. The work of Emmanuel Levinas (1985) will be explored for his help in setting a duty of care for such research.

The whole point of insider research is the 'privileged' nature of the insider's knowledge. It rests upon long-term relationships often extending well beyond the boundaries of work-place affiliations. Given such a context accusations of betrayal of confidences or managerial attempts to edit reporting of unattractive organisational features are experiences central to insider research. (Humphrey, 1995). It might also be noted that reporting unpalatable information about individuals or organisations may carry with it its own dangers for the insider researcher's career within the organisation. Whistle -blowers generally have an unhappy history.