Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

"You In or Out?: Reflecting on Positionality in Gang Research" (by Sou Lee and John Leverso): Review 1

Published onJul 16, 2023
"You In or Out?: Reflecting on Positionality in Gang Research" (by Sou Lee and John Leverso): Review 1

Vote: Publish pending minor changes

 I enjoyed reading this paper and thinking about its arguments. In this clearly written and richly descriptive paper, the authors make a convincing and compelling case via their own personal experiences as researchers. I thank the authors for everything they shared in their reflexive accounts to illustrate specific benefits and drawbacks, whether the dynamics are those of insiders, outsiders, or those in the “space between.” 

I want to provide a few examples of what I was most excited to read about in this paper. Given my own scholarly interests, I read with great interest about the gender dynamics Lee experienced in the field and appreciated that those were made visible. I also appreciate that the authors argue for acknowledging the value of reflexivity in quantitative data collection/analyses and that Leverso’s leadership on this issue led to specific examples from which to draw. I am also always delighted when I learn the term another scholar uses for a field experience many have had. In this instance, I was taught Lee and Leverso’s term “selective incompetence” as what you do when you and the participants believe you already know the answer to your question. Still, you ask it anyway to learn more about their perspective. (When my participants said something like “You’re gay, you understand,” I started somewhat sheepishly asking for them to explain it “for my tape recorder.”)

Regarding the “minor changes” I am requesting before publication:

1) I had one methodological question in keeping with this piece's instructional value. To Leverso: when you determined that a participant wasn’t being truthful about certain exaggerated claims that you could disprove through triangulation, did you then discount all or most of what the participant said otherwise, or only his claims that would lead to greater gang status were they true, or some other method altogether? I do not mean to focus heavily on the issue of participant fibbing vs. truth-telling (since that’s often an unfair critique of qualitative research, in my opinion), but rather about researcher decision-making about what to prioritize, and how, what to question/challenge and how, etc. and the implications of these decisions. 

2) Admittedly, I was a bit thrown off by the references to maintaining “objectivity” in the literature review considering the foci of this paper, and because exercises in reflexivity and positionality are usually about making subjectivity and bias visible and analyzable, just as the data are. Perhaps the writing describes what the authors perceive happening in the literature and not their own values, but that could be clarified. 

3) For the authors’ purposes here, would there be any value in briefly discussing the experiences of qualitative methodologists who were regarded as outsiders by participants, who were still granted access and could gather rich data but were sometimes harassed or treated with disrespect? (I’m thinking of a couple of Lois Presser’s works specifically, but there are undoubtedly others.) That seems to be the missing permutation here, but it certainly happens, and there are models for how to make meaningful sense of those experiences and the co-created data.

4) There were a few tiny wording things I wanted to call to the authors’ attention: 

a) p. 7, “those that” should be “those who” 

b) p. 7, Bennett “wore casual clothing over his typical suit and tie”? Is that phrased accurately?

c) p. 6, at first glance, the reader may interpret that Sou Lee is being described as “a former correctional officer turned academic” instead of Carter, of Carter and Thomson!

All in all, these are very minor “minor changes,” which underscores the quality and thoughtfulness of this piece.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?