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The Researcher : Engaged Participant or Detached Observer?

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image of Journal of Empirical Theology

The relationship between the researcher and the researched is one of the fundamental methodological issues which distinguish different approaches to empirical enquiry. Methodological debates on this issues usually contrast a detached observer (outsider or subject-to-object) perspective with an engaged participant (insider or subject-to-subject) perspective. There seems to be consensus among practical theologians that the observer and participant perspectives respectively correspond to quantitative and qualitative research approaches. The aim of this article is to explore an option that goes beyond the traditional dualism of the researcher's role, namely as detached observer or engaged participant. On the basis of Ricoeur's views on the dialectic between belonging and distanciation, it is suggested that the practical theological researcher embodies the dialectics of belonging (the insider perspective) and distanciation (the outsider perspective) in every research endeavour, whether quantitative or qualitative. The article ends with some methodological implications of this view of the relationship between the researcher and the researched.


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