By Britt Dzioba, coordinator, Teaching and Learning
Including a positionality statement in published work has become a common practice in social sciences research. These reflective paragraphs are meant to introduce the author and show the reader the personal lens through which the researcher approached their work. A positionality statement often includes the intersections of the author’s race, gender, sexuality, able-bodiedness, indigeneity or settler ancestry, language, religion, or any other aspect that may impact their worldview. The statement is not just a list of intersections of identity; it is the active process of interrogating the lenses through which the author views the world to give the reader a holistic picture of how the author moves through it and is perceived by others. It is also a way the researcher can introduce themselves to their audience with honesty, build trust with readers, and hold themselves accountable to what they state in their work. A positionality statement is intended to show the reader the author acknowledges their identities and understands how their lenses may impact their research. As Dr. Kari Grain stated in her book, Critical Hope, “More than just engaging with your identity, a positionality statement asks you to consider how this identity might be related to history, social chance, current events, or conceptions of knowledge. It is not just a reflection or an engagement with self-though — it is also a ‘statement’ in the truest sense” (2022, p. 4).
During my master’s program in education, I had to write many positionality statements as assignments or as part of research papers. Each time I approached the practice, I found a new way to think about my identity and how my worldview impacts the way I interpret data. After joining BCcampus, I had the idea of bringing the practice into a team-building exercise. This was an opportunity to explore how our positionalities impact the work we do and how we can hold ourselves accountable to the learning communities we serve. A group of us met several times over the course of six months to share our draft statements, talk about the process, and get feedback. Each time we left with new perspectives to recraft our statements to reflect who we are but also how we approach our work. Some of the questions that are helpful to ask when forming a work-based positionality statement are as follows:
- What decisions do you have the power to make in your day-to-day tasks, and who is impacted?
- Do you have any control over how money is spent?
- Do you have any decision-making power over which projects are picked up?
- Are you in charge of or do you have input on hiring practices?
Reflecting on these questions while building a positionality statement can help illuminate hidden privileges and find new ways to foster equity-making opportunities on your team.
Here is a proposed activity outline for bringing the practice of positionality into your workspace:
- Host a short meeting with your team (or invite anyone from your workplace to join), and explain what a positionality statement is and the purpose and benefit of creating one.
- Host a co-working session to give everyone dedicated time to work on creating their statement.
- Come together to share what each person has written. The statements do not need to be completed, but it is a great opportunity to share challenges, give feedback, and generate ideas for how to dig deeper into your statement.
- Regroup on a six- to eight-week basis to check in and reshare your updated statements.
Sharing your process with others is an important step when working on a positionality statement. It can feel raw and uncomfortable to be vulnerable with others, but it’s a chance to create a community of trust and honesty with how you authentically show up to your work.
If you’re an educator, creating a positionality statement is a powerful way to introduce yourself and your teaching philosophies to learners. As Christine Harrington wrote in an article on positionality in teaching practice, “Students will probably appreciate you sharing your multiple identities; it may help them feel connected to you, especially if you have shared identities. Learning about you may make it more likely for students to reach out and engage with you outside class” (2022). Sharing your statement can create a more meaningful connection with learners when they see you as a multifaceted human who has thought deeply about their place in the world.
Here are some ideas for how to bring the practice of positionality into your learning space:
- Write your own short positionality statement to share on the first day or in the welcome module. Sharing your positionality statement with learners is a great way to build trust and show learners what lenses you are applying to your teaching practice.
- Have the learners write their own short positionality statements to share in small groups or as a larger group. This is a good way to get to know one another and practice reflecting on how identity may impact approaches to assignments.
- Create an arts-based assignment where learners create paintings, drawings, collages, poems, or digital art pieces that reflect their intersecting identities. Creative mediums of expression have a way of accessing hard-to-articulate aspects of our personhood: “Visual knowing can transport us into the mind and experience of another in a way that is not inherent in everyday language or conversation” (Gerber & Myers-Coffman, 2017, p. 603).
Creating a positionality statement, whether on your own, with colleagues, or in your learning space, is an enriching way to explore not only who you are but also how your identities impact your worldview. It’s a way to shine a light on some of the biases you hold and where your privilege resides. It is important to remember this is an open-ended process, which is why I like to refer to the creation as a practice. There will never be a time when your positionality statement is perfect and complete because we are never perfect and complete. It is worth it to revisit this project regularly, either on your own or as a work team. As we age and grow, and as the world around us changes, we too become new people with different perspectives. We must take time to reflect on what we know and how we’ve come to know it in order to create nurturing teaching and learning spaces for others to grow.
Gerber, N., & Myers-Coffman, K. (2017). Translation in arts-based research. In P. Leavy (Ed.), Handbook of arts-based research (587–606). Guilford Press.
Grain, K. (2022). Critical Hope: How to grapple with complexity, lead with purpose, and cultivate transformative social change. North Atlantic Books.
Harrington, C. (2022, Jan. 26). Reflect on your positionality to ensure student success. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2022/01/26/successful-instructors-understand-their-own-biases-and-beliefs-opinion