Identity, Positionality, and Story-Sharing

Big Question: Who matters – How does my positionality relate to how I might share stories to advance positive social change?

Time Commitment: 45 minutes

Question for Reflection: Returning to the “wicked problem” you identified in With and From – Participatory Methods, consider the stories you hear/ read about that problem. Who tells/ writes those stories?

Why this matters: Even if two of us are in the same place during an event, we can each interpret the event differently. Who we are fundamentally influences our interpretation (even of the same information, data or event). So, when researchers explore a question or problem, they will naturally interpret the data based on who they are and how they are or are not affected by the question or problem under investigation. So, as researchers report findings, what might be missing? What could multiple interpretations add to the understanding of the question or problem? 

Diving In, Part 1: Who gets to tell the stories?

Read Telling tales: How the media fails Appalachia (2,929 words, 20 minutes).

In this picture, a group of people are gathered around a bonfire in an open field lined with trees at dusk.

“We need more deep, honest, and complex stories from rural places in the United States, and specifically the Rural South. I appreciate that other folks throughout the U.S. are starting to realize this too. But what’s missing from almost all of the projects I’ve seen so far is real leadership by rural folks. Leadership which positions rural people as not only subjects, but agents of change-making, as bearers of deep wisdom, as articulate experts with lessons to share, not only with other rural folks, but with readers and viewers across the country. True rural leadership requires much more than developing an initiative in a major city and then hiring a local or transplant reporter for minimal pay.” – Rachel Garringer

Question for reflection: Take a look at the cartoon below and consider your own assumptions. Who is most affected by the “wicked problem” you identified? Who should be telling the stories of that “wicked problem”?

In this black and white comic strip, a young woman stands with her left hand on a suitcase and her right hand on her chin. There are five thought bubbles: Unpack your assumptions; They will collect the data...possibly; They wouldn't be able to do that; They wouldn't be interested; and They don't understand the complexity of it all.

Diving In, Part 2: Who am I and how can I contribute to positive social change?

Too often, positionality is described as either insider or outsider. Acknowledging the complexity of structures, identity, and relationships, it is important to push beyond this binary. Instead, Herr and Anderson (2005) provide a useful framework for exploring researcher positionality as a continuum. This continuum highlights both the ambiguous and shifting nature of researcher positionality and includes five categories: (a) insider, (b) insider in collaboration with other insiders, (c) insider(s) in collaboration with outsider(s), (d) reciprocal collaboration, and (e) outsider(s) studies insider(s) (p. 31).

Question for Reflection: Again returning to your “wicked problem,” how would you describe your positionality? Based on your positionality, what do you think is an appropriate role for you to play?

In contrast to the first video in With and From – Participatory Methods, Can Experts Solve Poverty?, the sidekick manifesto instead argues that economic development is: 

  • A complex and costly project of collective action, 
  • A political process,
  • A long term process,
  • A historically anchored process, and
  • A culturally sensitive process.

The Sidekick Manifesto provides a useful reminder about the importance of who is involved and calls out the importance of careful consideration about appropriate roles:

Pictured here is the Sidekick Manifesto. It says: "Local leaders with local solutions to local problems will end poverty. We will not. We are only visitors: who do not share their history; who do not share their culture; who do not pay their taxes; who do not vote in their elections; who are only engaged for short durations of time; and who have never ended our own poverty. In the story of poverty's end, we cannot be heroes. We are sidekicks! Take the Sidekick Pledge.

Additional resource to consider appropriate roles: Reflections on the catalytic role of the outsider (Bergdall) – 6,500 words

Page Completion – Outcomes:

Now that you have completed this page and the readings, videos, and activities within it, you should have strengthened your understanding of: 

  • The importance of examining who gets to tell the stories.
  • Researcher positionality and appropriate roles.

Please share feedback on this page by taking this 5-question survey. Thank you!

Next: How can we ensure co-construction through all phases of the research process?

Citation for this page: Reynolds, N. (2020). How does my positionality relate to how I might share stories to advance positive social change? In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from


Bergdall, T. (2003, February 21). Reflections on the Catalytic Role of an Outsider in ‘Asset Based Community Development’ (ABCD). Retrieved May 8, 2020, from

Garringer, R. (2018, March 22). Telling tales: How the media fails Appalachia. Retrieved May 8, 2020, from

IMAGINE Social Good. (n.d.). Sidekick Manifesto. Retrieved May 8, 2020, from