Trajectories of Persons and Practices: Sociohistoric Perspectives of Disciplinary Development. The Case Study of Terri Ulmer

Chapter 2 | Theoretical Perspectives and Methodological Approaches


In qualitative research, those individuals at the heart of the inquiry are commonly referred to as “subjects,” “informants,” or “participants.” While perhaps meant to function as neutral descriptors of the individuals under scrutiny, these terms frequently index the particular roles played in the process of conducting research as well as the relationship between the researched and researcher. The term “participant” suggests a more active role in the research process, and perhaps implies a somewhat closer relationship between researcher and researched than do “subject” or “informant.” And yet, it also frames the person’s identity in terms of the researcher’s project. In addition, it fails to clarify both the nature and degree of the participation, and thus its very ambiguity renders it little more descriptive than either of the previous terms.

We borrow the term “co-researcher” from Ivanič’s (1998) study of the ways students work to construct identities as academic writers by drawing from the full range of their discoursal repertoires. Ivanič’s key research method, which consisted of asking the students in her study to work sentence by sentence through the essays they had crafted for their university courses and then listening to the stories they told about where they had encountered the various discoursal resources they were weaving together in their academic writing, demanded that her students assume an incredibly active role in the research. Since the students’ recollections frequently turned toward intensely personal issues, this method also demanded a close relationship between the students and Ivanič. The notion of “co-researcher” also serves to soften any rigid distinction between those involved in the research. It is both the active engagement of those involved in the research and the nature of the relationship between those involved that drew us to the term “co-researcher” as Ivanič (1998) employed it, and we find it an apt description of both the roles the people at the center of these case studies have played in the research and the relationships that have been, and in many cases continue to be, formed over the course of this work.

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