Doing research reflexively:
The case of disability research
Dr Chrissie Rogers,
Reader in Education,
Anglia Ruskin University
[email protected]
Doing research reflexively:
The case of disability research
1. Beginning to research reflexively
from the inside out?
2. Mothering a learning disabled child
or adult.
3. Personal narrative in
understanding social issues
1. Beginning to research reflexively:
thinking about method and theory
Researching from the inside out
reflexively: a continual process
The ‘insider’....
Doing research, not as personal
narrative but simply as an ‘insider’
BUT also researcher
The mother/researcher: inside out.
• As a member of the audience and a presenting delegate, I wait
for the conference to begin. This particular one only happens
every five years so is a big event for academics and education
practitioners. The Inclusive and Supportive Education
Conference (ISEC, 2005) is called ‘Inclusive Education:
Celebrating Diversity?’ The opening ceremony begins and the
room is filled with music and young people on the stage
performing their interpretation of ‘inclusive education’. They
weave in and out, their bodies supple and mobile, their voices
clear and their story profound. They sing and chant ‘seize the
day!’ at the end of punctuated exclamations of ‘individuality’,
‘sharing’, ‘creativity’, ‘SUCCESS!’
The mother/researcher: inside out
• A lump in my throat and a tear attempts to escape. I pretend I
have something in my eye and look around to see if I’m the only
one emotionally provoked. Either I was, or like me, everyone
else was able to disguise his or her emotionality. This, after all is
a serious event. I recall my daughter being on stage desperately
trying to remember a line, and me willing her to… whatever…
she was great. Back in the audience I’m sad and angry. “I know
that the philosophical underpinning of inclusive education is in
some way right, but is it not a little premature to celebrate it,
when we haven’t got there?” I think. I go back to my room and
cry, for myself and for my daughter who will always be different
and indeed difficult? (Personal research notes, 2005).
A little about the research...
2. Mothering a learning disabled child
• Expectation
– the fairy tale
• Disappointment
– loss of the ‘normal’
• Exclusion
–For the mother and for the child
Inclusion/Exclusion: the child
• If I am unable to play a musical instrument at all,
it seems to make little sense to say that I can be
included in an orchestra which is to play
Beethoven or if I cannot even add up or subtract
that I should be in a group learning quadratic
equations. Of course, I can just sit there alongside
others but this is hardly inclusion in any serious
sense. But then, it could be argued, I ought not to
be ‘left out’ of these activities, however
incompetent I am (Wilson,1999, p. 110).
As Warnock (2005, p 36) suggests,
• “Inclusion should mean being
involved in a common enterprise
of learning, rather than being
necessarily under the same roof”.
It seems there are many children who are ‘included’ in
mainstream but are excluded at different levels:
 Practically - they are often removed from the class for
one to one work in an individual teaching unit.
 Intellectually - they often cannot access the
curriculum in the same way their peers do.
 Emotionally - their difficulties can preclude them
from sustaining friendship networks and engaging
with others socially.
These ‘exclusions’, are caused and compounded by a
testing and examination structure, cultural ignorance
and misunderstandings about difference and difficulty
(Rogers, 2007)
3. Personal narrative in
understanding social issues
Auto/biography, auto ethnography,
personal reflections
Hertz (1997) discusses in some depth the need for
reflexivity in an attempt to shift our understanding of the
data and its collection and therefore
• It is important to admit that we study
things that trouble us or intrigue us,
beginning from our own standpoints.
But what makes writing about our lives
social science and not a novel? How do
we find the parallels in our experiences
to make sociological sense of our own
routines, or chaos for that matter? (xvi).
Sparkes questions those who are critical of
autoethnography, and in response asks
• What substantive contribution to our
understanding of social life does it make?
What is its aesthetic merit, impact, and ability
to express complex realities? Does it display
reflexivity, authenticity, fidelity, and
believability? Is it engaging and evocative?
Does it promote dialogue and show potential
for social action? Does the account work for
the reader and is it useful? (2002: 211).
Auto/ethnographic voice: from the mother
Two Vignettes
• Educating sexuality
–Who has the right to decide on
what can be taught – who is
• Governing the sexual
–Who governs and surveys?
I would therefore suggest as social
researchers we can focus
• ‘outward on the social and cultural
aspects of personal experience’ and
expose ‘the vulnerable self’ with a
view to ‘move through, refract, and
resist cultural interpretations’ (Ellis
and Bochner 2003, p, 209).
And as Sparkes comments,
• ‘[m]emories serve particular
personal and social functions within
the stories we tell ourselves, and
others, to explain who we are, what
we are, and where we are in life at a
particular time and place’ (2002,
• personal and qualitative narrative alone
is not always enough in attempting to
understand deeper cultural psychosocial
processes. It is therefore also useful to
construct knowledges that are aided by
theoretical frameworks in attempting to
make sense of a disabled social world.
Some references from paper
Ellis, C. and Bochner, A. (2003) ‘Autoethnography, Personal narrative, Reflexivity:
Researcher as Subject’ in Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y. S. (eds.) Handbook of
Qualitative Research [2nd Edition] pp 733-768, London: Sage Publications.
Harding, S. (1993) Rethinking standpoint epistemology: What is “Strong
Objectivity”? in Alcoff, L. and Potter, E. (Eds) Feminist epistemologies London:
Hertz, R. (1997) (ed.) Reflexivity and VOICE London: Sage Publications
Smith, D. (1988) The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology Milton
Keynes: Open University Press.
Sparkes, A. C. (2002) ‘Autoethnography: Self-Indulgence or Something More? In
Bochner, A. and Ellis, C. [eds.] Ethnographically Speaking: Autoethnography,
Literature, and Aesthetics New York: Altamira Press
Stanley, L. (1993) On auto/biography in sociology. Sociology, 27(1), 41-52.
Warnock, M. (2005) ‘Special educational needs: a new look’ Impact (Philosophy of
Education Society of Great Britain)
Some publications
Rogers, C. (In Press) ‘Hope as a mechanism in emotional survival: documenting
miscarriage’ Auto/Biography Year Book 2010 Nottingham, Russell Press
Rogers, C. (2010) ‘But it’s not all about the sex: mothering, normalisation and young
learning disabled people’ Disability and Society 25 (1)
Rogers, C. (2009) (S)excerpts from a life told: Sex, gender and learning disability in
Sexualities 12 (3) 270-288
Rogers, C. (2007) Parenting and Inclusive Education: discovering difference,
experiencing difficulty Palgrave Macmillan
Rogers, C. (2007) ‘Experiencing an ‘inclusive’ education: Parents and their children
with special educational needs (SEN)’ British Journal of Sociology of Education 28: 1.
Rogers, C. (2007) ‘‘Disabling’ a family? Emotional dilemmas experienced in becoming
a parent of a learning disabled child’ in British Journal of Special Education 34 (3) pp
Lucey, H. and Rogers, C (2007) ‘Power and the unconscious in doctoral studentsupervisor relationships’’, in, Power, Knowledge and the Academy: The Institutional Is
Political Edited by V, Gillies and H, Lucey. Palgrave Macmillan
Rogers, C. (2003) ‘The mother/researcher in blurred boundaries of a reflexive
research process’, Auto/Biography XI (1&2) pp 47-54.

Doing disability research: the reflexive sociologist