Adler and Adler - Membership Roles

Adler and Adler's (1987) typology of membership roles

All of the membership roles Adler and Adler identify involve a process of gaining acess to a research setting.

  • Peripheral member - involves daily or near-daily contact, interactions with members varies from acquaintanceship to close friendship with key informants.  This is the most marginal role and least committed to the context.
  • Active member - Researcher assumes a more central place in the setting that involves a functional role in addition to an observational role. This facilitates trust and acceptance of the researcher, but increases the identification of the researcher with members of the setting.  Self-reflexivity, role awareness and periodic withdrawal from the setting are needed to maintaining the research role.
  • Complete member - fully immersed in the research setting.  One may study a setting in which he or she is already actively a member or "become the phenomenon" of interest.

Adler and Adler identify a number of factors that influence the role selected and maintained in a setting:

  • inherent conditions of the setting
  • personal characteristics of the researcher, including abilities, theoretical orientations, demographic characteristics and others
  • changes in the setting during the research process
  • changes in the researcher during the process

Adler, PA and Adler, P. (1987). Membership roles in field research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.