Positionality, Access to the Social Space and Place of Research: Narratives from Research in Low Resource Settings

Document Type



Population Health (East Africa)


Research on positionality and accessing field work for researchers studying their own communities in Lower Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) is scant. The majority of the literature on this topic emanates from High-Income Countries (HICs). Drawing on ethnographic field work conducted in Kenya and Pakistan, the authors have explored ways in which dialectic relationships between the researcher and participants in various social spaces (SSs) within the place of research (PoR) influences access to the field and data quality. The authors analysed reflective narratives from their fieldwork using Gibbs’s Reflective Cycle (GRC). The findings show that, accessing field work in LMICs where the research agenda is not fully developed with respect to funding and government support presents not only social and practical issues concerning the fieldwork but also ethical dilemmas. SSs in a PoR are powerful in determining both access to the field and data quality. For researchers returning from HICs to study the communities of their origin, being a native does not grant automatic access to research spaces. Gender and power dynamics are not only crucial for accessing the communities which are studied and from which data are collected but can also bring a degree of bias to the data collected. This paper sheds light on issues around positionality, access and doing field work in these contexts. The findings show the complex context in which research is conducted and how positionality is contested. This paper is useful for professionals from LMICs, early career researchers and professionals working in international development.


People, Place and Policy