Prisons are described as systems of positions and rules within more or less rigidly defined hierarchies. Researchers entering the institution are, thus, somewhat of an oddity, neither prisoner nor officer, yet no part of this system. They must carve a space for themselves through continuous negotiation. Having conducted research at the same site – the all foreign nationals prison at Kongsvinger, Norway – in this article, we reflect on our field persona and position and the possible ways this impacts the data collection process and the findings.
Although we conducted two different projects, we both sought to understand life at Kongsvinger prison. Perhaps not surprisingly, our differences, specifically at the intersection of citizenship, age, and gender, resulted in fairly different positions in the field. We were co-opted differently by the prisoner and officer ‘tribes’, and we established rapport with different participants. Nonetheless, when comparing notes, we both identified similar themes in the prisoners’ perceptions of prison life. For instance, prisoners were by large frustrated with the Norwegian criminal justice system, perceived to discriminate against foreign nationals. This perception, in turn, colored many aspects of prison life. Overall, our findings were fairly similar, despite our fairly different research personas. Perhaps this reflects the weight of the prisoners’ experiences and the pains experienced in prison. We urge, thus, for complex descriptions of prison life, while maintaining awareness of one’s persona and position in the field and the potential implications for data collection and findings.
Dorina Damsa and Thomas Ugelvik, are researchers at the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law University of Oslo
The full text article can be accessed on the SSRN database: Damsa, Dorina & Ugelvik, Thomas, A Difference that Makes a Difference? Reflexivity and Researcher Effects in an All-Foreign Prison (June 13, 2017). International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16 (1), 1-10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2985411
Dorina Damsa and Thomas Ugelvik