COM 275: Foundations of Communication Research: Scholarly, Positionality

Authoritative or Scholarly?

Definitions of "scholarly," "authority" or "authoritative," and "expert" vary by field, major, or discipline. In Advertising & Public Relations, for example, trade publications are valued types of information resources along with scholarly journal articles. Case studies, best practices, industry reports, market intelligence research, media data and costs, audience or target market data, campaign videos, or public opinion polls are valued as well. In Native American or Indigenous Studies, authorities are the people whose lived experiences make them the experts - on their own people.

Information exposes the biases or viewpoints of their authors. Scholarly/academic work is often created by white, cis-gender males, and their viewpoints are revealed in the terminology/vocabulary. How exactly do authors reveal their viewpoints? By the names they use to describe the population they are studying and with the details they reveal about their own background.

Peer review, known as a process of choosing which scholarly or academic articles get published, is deeply rooted in bias. The scholarly world is small, so reviewers often know who has written a submitted article, even if the author has taken care to anonymize it (remove identifying names and characteristics). This can be used to choose work that reflects the reviewer's biases and perpetuate the publication of known "experts."

As an example, listen to or read:

The politics of citation: Is the peer review process biased against Indigenous academics? CBC Radio · Kyle Powys Whyte is a professor at Michigan State University, and Sarah Hunt is an assistant professor of First Nations and Indigenous Studies at University of British Columbia. Both have experienced first hand how difficult the peer review process can be for Indigenous academics."

Read Davis Lachlan "Including Participants in Co-Constructed Research," pp. 116-117, in chapter 6!


"Rather than seeking the objectivity and detachment quantitative researchers value, qualitative researchers acknowledge their own subjectivity and include that either formally or informally in their analysis and consideration of the research. Qualitative researchers acknowledge that research is biased and infused with their own values and assumptions, and, rather than trying to remain objective, take those biases into account during the research process" (Davis Lachlan, p. 328).

"Positionality refers to aspects of the researcher’s sociocultural identity that are salient in the field and to how the researcher positions him- or herself in relation to participants and within their cultural context. ... To develop an understanding of researcher positionality, qualitative researchers begin by accounting for their identity, beliefs, values, and affiliations. This is sometimes referred to as a self-identity inventory or audit. In this process, the researcher acknowledges demographic markers such as sex, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class; physical characteristics and appearance; and social and cultural affiliations such as religion and profession (e.g., communication researcher). In addition, communication researchers consider their communication and relational competencies and how others perceive them. Then, the researcher reflects upon how these identity attributes might impact the fieldwork. … Finally, accounting for one’s own cultural identity as a researcher is necessary in order to interrogate and understand personal biases, beliefs, and attitudes that influence interpretations and claims based on observational and other types of fieldwork (e.g., interviews).

Norander, S. (2017). Researcher–participant relationships in observational research. In M. Allen (Ed.), The sage encyclopedia of communication research methods (Vol. 3, pp. 1469-1470). SAGE Publications,


  • Choice: you as the writer can make choices on what to reveal or not reveal about your identity or positionality.
  • Reader: we each may make assumptions about the writer’s identity based on our own identity.  Stating your, the writer's positionality, is one way to inform the reader. 
  • Sources/Citations: are another visible frame of your positionality- whose voices do you include in your research?  Why?  Do you look for a certain type of source?  Or look for voices/people that have viewpoints similar/different from yours?  How do these sources contribute to your paper and inform what we learn?


What are the scholarly, professional, or experiential qualifications of the authors?


Do a self-identity inventory: list your positional characteristics as they are related to your topic of research.

Reflect on how you orient to the community that you are learning about.

  • Geographic: insider or outsider to the group
    • Are you a member of the community? Have you been a member of a similar community?
  • Identity: gender, age sexuality, ethnicity, dis/ability, profession, etc.
    • Hidden or visible
    • Public or private
  • Ethics: what boundaries do you uphold or practice?
    • Power
    • Privilege
    • Marginalization
    • Vulnerability
  • Last Updated: May 23, 2022 2:38 PM
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