Identity, Standpoint and the Limits (and Possibilities) of Fieldwork


  • Stephen Selka Indiana University




positionality, identity, subjectivity, fieldwork, Brazil, reflexivity


This article discusses the concept of positionality, which challenges the notion of a neutral, disembodied observer. For ethnographers, thinking about positionality means to attend to how fieldwork happens through interpersonal relationships that play out in complex and uneven social spaces. Drawing on examples from my own ethnographic fieldwork in Bahia, I consider how positionality is both limiting and enabling, and I address the challenges of writing about positionality in ways that enrich ethnographic description and analysis.


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Author Biography

Stephen Selka, Indiana University

Stephen Selka is a cultural anthropologist and associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University. He is the author of Religion and the Politics of Ethnic Identity in Bahia, Brazil (University Press of Florida, 2007).


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Further Reading

Bakas, Fiona Eva 2017 ‘A Beautiful Mess’: Reciprocity and Positionality in Gender and Tourism Research. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management 33: 126–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhtm.2017.09.009

Hoel, Nina 2013 Embodying the Field: A Researcher’s Reflections on Power Dynamics, Positionality and the Nature of Research Relationships. Fieldwork in Religion 8(1): 27–49. https://doi.org/10.1558/firn.v8i1.27

Meadow, Tey 2013 Studying Each Other: On Agency, Constraint, and Positionality in the Field. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 42(4): 466–81. https://doi.org/10.1177/

Miled, Neila 2019 Muslim Researcher Researching Muslim Youth: Reflexive Notes on Critical Ethnography, Positionality and Representation. Ethnography and Education 14(1): 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/17457823.2017.1387063

Rabinow, Paul 2016 [1977] Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/9780520933897




How to Cite

Selka, S. (2022). Positionality: Identity, Standpoint and the Limits (and Possibilities) of Fieldwork. Fieldwork in Religion, 17(1), 92–100. https://doi.org/10.1558/firn.22607