Insider-outsider: researchers in American Indian communities

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Brayboy, Bryan McKinley, and Donna Deyhle. “Insider-outsider: researchers in American Indian communities.” Theory into Practice 39.3 (Summer 2000): 163 (7 pages).


The authors, both Native American (Brayboy is Lumbee-Cheraw; Deyhle, part Choctaw), discuss tensions and conflicts they have faced as Native Americans using qualitative research methods on indigenous populations. The authors' methods have included focus groups, interviews, participant observation, and examination of the documents produced by institutions. Brayboy's ethnographic research focused on Native American students at two Ivy League schools. He had several questions about using traditional research methods with a Native American population, including: “How does [my] Indianness influence [my] roles as an indigenous person and ethnographer? Does the outsider or marginal position lead to more valid research data? . . . How can one build and maintain relationships when the foundational rapport rests on seemingly contradictory interactional styles?” When interacting with the students during his research study, he was uncomfortable using notebooks and pens, because he was aware of the distrust Native Americans have had for anthropologists. He also disliked pressing the students to include him in activities he would not normally have been invited to. He feared he was “wearing out his welcome” in order to gather research data. The authors cite scholars with two different views on insiders vs. outsiders in participant observation. Hammersley and Atkinson (1996) feel that insiders miss things, or take things for granted, due to their “over-rapport” with informants; thus, a “marginal position,” neither completely insider nor completely outsider, is best. Swisher (1986, 1996) holds that being an insider enhances the validity of the data collection and analysis because insiders can better understand the issues faced by Native Americans.

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