Literature informs of how aspirations of some groups can be ‘naïve’, ‘too low’ or ‘too high and unrealistic’ (for example, certain communities in England). It also tells us that gender remains a key predictor of disadvantage (especially certain women in particular parts of the world-Pakistan). These discussions are based on data and evidence which shows only one side of the picture-how structures constrain people. A key aim of these narratives is to campaign for more resources to be provided to marginalised groups sometimes at the cost of a failure to recognise the subjectivity of the people in question. Such deficit discourses about certain groups though meaning well, omit questions around the subjectivity and agency of people existing within structural constraints. In order to find the balance between defining people based on their conditions and recognising individual struggle, analytical tools and approaches are needed to account for individual struggle. This talk is a recollection of my own journey as a researcher and teacher as I have reflected on two questions: how do we engage analytically through research and practice with contexts that are differently structured (economically and socially) and unintelligible to North informed research sensibilities? How do we become researchers who can adapt practice to stay relevant in this complex international field?