Critical ethnography: extending attention to bias and reinforcement of dominant power relations
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Critical ethnography: extending attention to bias and reinforcement of dominant power relations

Helen ER Vandenberg Doctoral student, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Wendy A Hall Professor, School of Nursing and co-ordinator of the PhD program

Aim Many forms of critical theory shape nursing research. One approach that is gaining popularity is Carspecken’s critical ethnography. This methodology was designed to help researchers understand power relations by merging a critical stance with a complex and dynamic qualitative strategy of inquiry. Despite the appeal of this approach, we argue Carspecken does not adequately address how researchers can minimise researcher biases and dominance when studying power relations. The purpose of this article is to critique Carspecken’s implementation of critical theory from the standpoint of lack of attention to bias and reinforcement of oppression.

Discussion The authors explain how greater attention to reflexivity, relationality and reciprocity could reduce opportunities for researcher bias and the potential for oppressive structures and dominant power relations to be reinforced.

Implications for research Researchers can better address bias and reinforcement of power relations through reflexivity. Bias can be reduced by making explicit values that may privilege particular decisions and observations throughout the research process. Researchers can also reduce bias via relationality or giving participants equal power in decision making and taking action towards social justice. When researchers engage in reciprocity they encourage participants to contribute to all stages of the research process and therein equalise power relations.

Nurse Researcher. 18, 3, 25-30. doi: 10.7748/nr2011.

Peer review

This article has been subject to double blind peer review

Accepted: 04 March 2010

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