Jul 16 2018

Where should a researcher posit her scholarly position in the field? A note on reflexivity

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This blog is about ethical reflexivity that drew upon my field research in Xi’an, China. I ask how a researcher should posit her scholarly position when processing communications with research participants, and avoid establishing any hierarchical relationship between the participant and the researcher. As Bourdieu illustrates, researcher’s pre-formed academic training in the educational cultural field endows the researcher a cultural disposition when she tries to access the field and contact research participants. However, it does not mean that the researcher is able to access the research field in a ‘taken for granted’ way without considering the complexity of the field. Rather, critical judgment is required from the researcher throughout the whole study period to ‘assess what kind of access you have’ (Mason, 2002: 91), and such critical judgment demands the researcher to employ ‘reflexivity’ while conducting qualitative research, write Chao Yuan.

Before entering a field study site and making a connection with gatekeepers and research participants, one of the crucial issues for researchers is how they are to manage their own identities in a way that does not make them appear threatening. To resolve this, researchers should familiarise with the new environment and adapt to the local culture to meet ‘cultural expectance’ (Mulhall, 2003). It is also necessary to objectify their own position when entering an unfamiliar field site, thus minimizing the researcher’s sense of alienation from research participants. Obviously, these are not straightforward for researchers, and cannot be completed on a single occasion either. Rather, the entire process of familiarisation and adaptation runs through the whole research process and impacts the kind of questions to be asked and what kind of people to meet in the field. Therefore, critical judgment is required throughout the whole study to ‘assess what kind of access you have’ (Mason, 2002: 91). Moreover, such critical judgements demand the researcher’s ‘reflexivity’ when they conduct qualitative research.

Reflexivity helps researchers to ‘de-familiarise one’s view of the world’ to increase researchers’ awareness that their ‘taken-for-granted’ judgements/prejudices and domination may exert on their participants (Webb, et al., 2002: 75-76). That requires researchers in the social field must be reflexive practitioners who have empirical experience and learn to pursue ‘participant objectivation’ (Bourdieu, 2003). Participant objectivation does not mean that the researcher has to withdraw from themselves nor from their work, because the pre-reflexive social world is always formed in certain social historical conditions made up not only of the researcher’s life trajectory and origins but also position in social space. Participant objectivation is mostly relying on the researchers’ observational view that locates their position when they process their work in diverse research sites and it runs through the whole research process and impacts what kind of questions to ask and what kind of people to meet.

In this context, reflexivity demands that I acknowledge my training in a higher education institution, which helped me acquire certain ‘legitimated’ cultural tastes. At the outset of my doctoral field research in Xi’an, China, this ‘taken for granted’ cultural disposition made me choose a newly opened café located next to the northern residential neighbourhood of A Chang, [1] to have my first formal meeting and interview with a research participant, Wu (anonymised name), who was a laid-off worker of A Chang. I chose this place partly because it was near to where Wu lived so that she could get home without have to walk far, but also because, haunted by my already formed cultural habitus, I almost unconsciously considered cafés and some kinds of tea houses as the most suitable places to meet people and have casual conversations.

This ‘taken for granted’ recognition of space and prejudice based on my existing knowledge created an unequal power balance in the relationship between myself and Wu. I found that Wu presented some disturbances and anxieties about the meeting place we had agreed in advance. Her anxieties came to a head when she looked at the price on the drink menu and started to calculated the expenses she might pay afterwards in the first five minutes after taking her seat. This finally drove us to escape that café (although I had claimed I would pay the bill for both of us). After we left, I asked Wu why she could not tell me beforehand if she felt uncomfortable with this place, but she said shyly that she did not want to embarrass me with so picky on the location choosing and bother to change to another cheap place where she knew. I asked her why she thought that and she gave as a reason that she believed in me because I was a scholar, and scholars in the university must like those kinds of places, which she thought of as having ‘atmosphere’, the place I chose was always right. She finally told me that the prices there were too expensive for her: ‘that place was not for me’, she said to me, ‘maybe better for people like you or the rich people who live in the high-end neighbourhood around here’.

A Chang neighbourhood where Wu lives (on the right side) and the new-built high-end commercial apartment (on the left hand). Photographed by the author in the summer of 2015

Figure 1. A Chang neighbourhood where Wu lives (on the right side) and the new-built high-end commercial apartment (on the left hand). Photographed by the author in the summer of 2015.

Then following Wu’s suggestion, we went to a small and dim snack food restaurant where she said she was familiar with the owner. The restaurant owner was a nice woman, offering us two chairs and two cups of free hot water. Because there was no table, I had to find a coaster and placed it underneath my notebook to enable me to write notes. This interview experience pushed me to do some reflexive thinking and uncover the power relations behind it. On the one hand, the dominant force comes from the state and market-led commercial housing development. As more and more lands are taken by the state and developers to build high-grade apartments and related cultural and economic places which meet the expectations of the gentrified rich and middle class, this symbolic force triggers deeper spatial and social class divisions resulting in the behaviour of poor laid-off workers such as Wu, who lacks economic and cultural capital. She always ‘sets boundaries’ between the places she usually goes to and those newly developed places for the rich. She is also vigilant about places beyond her class disposition (which is formed from her long-term spatial living experience).

The general dwelling environment of A Chang or most of Chinese former SOE work units (Danwei). Photographed by the author in the summer of 2015

On the other hand, more importantly, it also reminded me of the power relations hidden in the bodily habitus of the researcher and the research participant. Wu did not refuse my suggestion to meet in the coffee shop at first because of the unequal power relation between us: she thought my decision was ‘always right’ and she treated me as her intellectual superior, as someone who controlled dominant cultural capital (a PhD student from a major UK university) and probably economic capital (studying and living there was never cheap). Thus, she thought of me as someone with higher social standing than her and somehow displayed her respect when we communicated. In the café, even if I suggested I would like to cover her expenses, the very suggestion made things worse because it made her aware of her embarrassing lack of economic capital and her dominated social position. Then she had to persuade me to change to a different place to continue our conversation.

In this way, I was easily influenced by my pre-existing knowledge and habitus but ignored Wu’s feelings. I imposed my spatial understanding on my research participant unconsciously, but as a social researcher, I should have maintained ‘epistemological vigilance’ about the social world (Bourdieu, 1991). The social researcher should practice reflexivity to clearly distinguish habitus or ‘unconscious’ knowledge in everyday life. Such reflexivity forces the researcher to acknowledge his/her presence and position in the field by understanding the rules and the common cultural norms he/she is working among, and to probe the structure behind the various social phenomenon and the trajectory and historical reasons underlying structures. Therefore, Bourdieu requires the social researcher to cultivate the ‘craft of sociology’ which ‘affords one to enter the life of others’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 205). He also emphasizes that only with such ‘craft’ is the researcher able to tackle the various circumstances that arise in the research site, and to help the interviewees to speak about their true situation and ideas by asking the proper questions that related to their life.

To be fully aware of this, ‘participant objectivation’ requires the researcher to be aware that the relationship between themselves and their research participants may exert influence on the research result. The researcher will, therefore, build relationships with the interviewees by asking questions in an objective way, avoiding power relations between him/her and the participants during field work. Moreover, the researcher should be conscious of her position (such as a listener, or conversation participant) and not try to control the conversation from his/her perspective during their communications with their participants. As well as this she should avoid using some professional or academic terms during the research, mixed with scholastic “presuppositions” and epistemic doxa (Bourdieu, 1997), to minimize her dominance over the conversation.


[1] A Chang is the one of researcher’s field work sites in Xi’an, China. It was a former military supplement manufacturing factory before its broke down during the SOE reform in 1990s to 2000s, which left thousands of poor laid-off workers who still lived in A Chang’s family areas.


Bourdieu, P. (1989) Social Space and Symbolic Power. Translated by Wacquant, L.J.D, Sociological theory 7(1): 14-25.

Bourdieu, P (1991) Sport and Social Class. In: Rethinking Popular Culture: Contemporary Perspectives in Cultural Studies, edited by Mukerji, C and Schudson, London: University of California Press.

Bourdieu, P (1997) The Forms of Capital. In: Halsey, A. H, Lauder, H, Brown, P and Wells, A.S eds, Education: Cultural, Economy and Society, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bourdieu, P (2003) Participant Objectivation’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9(2): 281-294.

Bourdieu, P and Wacquant, L.J.D (1992) An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, Chicago: The University of Chicago University.

Mason, J (2002) Qualitative Researching. London: Sage.

Mulhall, A (2003) ‘In the Field: Notes on Observation in Qualitative Research’, Journal of Advanced Nursing, 41 (3): 306-313.

Webb, J., Schirato, T and Danaher, G (2002) Understanding Bourdieu, NSW: Sage.

About the Author

Chao Yuan is graduated from the school of Sociology, Politics and International Study (SPAIS), University of Bristol, UK. Using Bourdieu’s social space theory, her research mainly focuses on urbanisation, internal migration, urban inequality, and everyday life experiences of urban residents in contemporary China.

About the Research

This blog comes from the author’s PhD research thesis ‘The Everyday ‘Spatial Struggle’ of Three Categories of Urban Residents in Two Typical Poor Neighbourhoods in the Chinese City of Xi’an during Urbanisation and the Transition to a Market Economy—a Bourdieusian Explanation’. The doctoral research first examines how the state’s market-oriented housing development has helped to speed-up the spatial segregation of rich and poor, and the formation of typically poor urban neighbourhoods, both in family areas owned by State Owned Enterprise (SOE) work-units, and in urban villages. It then investigates the everyday life of three typical categories of urban resident: poor laid-off SOE workers, migrant workers and low-income college graduates who live in the decayed family areas and urban villages. In examining the interaction between state-led symbolic power and individual urban social agents from a bottom-up ‘lifeworld’ perspective, this research reveals the way that symbolic power has operated during this rapid state-led spatial change, illustrating the processes that have led to the division of the external environment into high/low, luxury/low-end, bright/dark and rich/poor physical spatial order in the state-led urban spatial redevelopment. It also unpacks how it is reproduced in the everyday lives of urban residents through their economic activities, consumption, leisure and social networking via their bodily movements and their spatial recognition of both their own neighbourhoods and those adjacent to it.


For citation: Yuan, C. (2018) Where should a researcher posit her scholarly position in the field? A note on reflexivity. LSE Field Research Method Lab (16 July 2018) Blog entry. URL: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/fieldresearch/2018/07/16/participant-observation-chao-yuan/

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Jul 2 2018

Entanglements that matter

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Marking the launch of a new online journal entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography, it is our intention and hope that the entanglements becomes an online point of destination for interdisciplinary research that draws on the emerging and ever expanding practice of multimodal ethnography, write Sevasti-Melissa Nolas and Christos Varvantakis.

We are delighted to launch this new online journal of entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography. In so doing, we aim to engage with some of the challenges and questions that contemporary multimodal ethnographic practice throws up: What knowledge do multimodal and multimedia encounters generate? What languages are available to researchers to describe the coming together of different modes and media? What are the everyday practices involved in such convergences and divergences? How might these encounters themselves be described?

These questions have emerged out of our individual and joint practice over the last 15 years. During this time we have experimented with visual ethnographic methods in various forms: as approaches to documenting a field that take us beyond the text, as found objects that cast an eye on the past and present, as ways of documenting everyday life and creating publics, as well as collaborative methods for policy evaluation. It was also during this time that a field of multimodal ethnography begun to emerge and coalesce bringing together researchers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. While this field of enquiry is still young and constitutes an open space we do maintain that it is currently undergoing a coming of age and we aim to explore this liminal space and its tropes.

The choice of name for the journal conveys something of an orientation towards multimodal ethnography that is both emerging in the literature (Pink 2011) and which resonates with our own experiences. Research is often an attempt to disentangle everyday experiences, those of our interlocutors as well as our encounters with them, and multimodality is no exception here. The analytical approaches of the social sciences tend towards the creation of order out of complexity asking us to categorise and organise our experiences and data in issues, themes, narratives and discourses. The messy actuality of practice, with its sensory dimensions and emotionalhues, is often lost in this process (Ingold 2011). What if a different logic guided our analytical and practice endeavours?

Entanglement conveys a meaning of bodies coming together, those of images, producers and consumers. It is a knotting and twisting of different modes of knowledge generation, and of the intersecting and enmeshment of media of production, representation and consumption of lived experience. It also conveys a meaning of the political as visual representations invite involvement of an audience and implicate a viewer. An entanglement is an adventure, a desire line through a data set perhaps. It calls to mind excitement, risk, confusion and matters of the heart. It is in this sense that Laura Marks (2002) talks about the haptic and the erotic coming together when multimodality is involved. Analysis here is a ‘touching, not mastering’. It involves an engagement with the senses, observational, audio and visual for sure but more importantly synesthetic, a resonance between different senses, and an openness to one sense triggering another. As such, this sensory dimensions of entanglement is an intimate and proximal practice, a mimetic form of analysis, of becoming (an)other.

Entanglements call for a paradoxical form of agency from the researcher. On the one hand, the researcher is called on to go beyond categorisation and interpretation: it is a form of agency that assumes and necessitates invention as the researcher is ‘called on to fill in the gaps in the image, engage with the traces the image leaves’ (Marks, 2002). Yet, at the same time these close up entanglements with the visual image dissolve distinctions between figure and ground and in so doing, simultaneously asks the researcher to give up their own sense of distinctiveness from an image and to relinquish control. By framing the research encounter as an entanglement, our aim is to open up a space of discussion around researcher experiences with precisely these sort of complexities.

There is another reason for insisting on entanglement and its communication. Given the distance between such a logic and received notions of analytic practice in the social sciences – of distance, of categorisation and of dis-entanglement – it is not surprising that for a novice of multimodal ethnography the practice of paradoxical agency becomes something of a mystery, confusion and possibly, though hopefully not, prohibition. In a historical moment where the transmission of technical and epistemic knowledge in higher education relies heavily on the peer-reviewed journal articles, and where opportunities for cultivating phronetic knowledge – practical know-how – is often solitary and painstakingly acquired, there is a need for spaces, on and offline, in which communities of practice can take shape and through which researchers can mutually support each other. This journal is one such space, the accompanying JISCMAIL multimodalethnography@jiscmail.ac.uk is another, and the workshops we have run in London (November 2017, March 2018) and Athens (February 2018), as well as a forthcoming summer school (June 2018) in Tirupati in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, are further ones.

Phronetic knowledge emerges in the banalities and hurdles of everyday practice. It is the messy actuality in all its corporeality, at once sensory and emotional. We have used theories of everyday life (de Certeau, 1984) to organise the ethos and structure of this journal and hopefully provide the conditions for such knowledge to be captured. We have envisaged space for the exploration of possible entanglements, through stories (recits), experiments and experiences (captured in the french word ‘expériences’ and English false cognate) and re-views, returns and reviews of multimodal material with relevance to the development of a language for expressing and communicating multimodality.

A récit is a short story or anecdote; récits are often told to amuse, entertain, intrigue, or warn and in other ways impart knowledge and experience from practice. Experimentation and experience, and their sharing, are key to the cultivation of phronetic knowledge. As such, in many ways, phronetic knowledge remains informal, open and incomplete. Re-views are critical reflections on works scholarly, artistic or other, which may prompt us researchers to consequently re-think our multimodal research practices.

As such, entanglements occupies the dual meaning of a journal as both a professional platform for communicating ideas captured in a more diary-like format. The very word journal stems from the Latin diurnal, meaning ‘of the day’ and communicating duration across a day. Journaling, as such, is a practice of documenting everyday life, a space between private and public thoughts and feelings. As such, entanglements is a space for experiments in multimodal ethnography that touch upon methodological, analytical and theoretical terms.

We will be publishing articles, in various, multimodal formats, which address particularities in collecting and analysing different media in ethnographic research, across the social sciences. We are particularly interested in papers that creatively incorporate the use of different media – be that still image, video, audio, drawing, video games, coding or other – to produce experiments in theory, analysis and critique.

We hope to address frustrations in facing (seemingly) disconnected kinds of data but also the analytical possibilities that bringing such data in dialogue with one-another and exploring them over time and in discussion with the research interlocutors, might open up to. We are interested on research that addresses multi-sensory and embodied aspects of the everyday experience, also in their critical and political dimensions.

The inaugural issue opens with Récits, which hosts three brief photostories from ethnographic research conducted in the context of the connectors study, an ethnographic research in three cities, aiming to explore the relation between childhood and public life. In the first piece, “Banter in fieldwork”, Vinnarasan Aruldoss discusses playful exchanges and teasings around his hand-writing with a child interlocutor, and situates humour and teasing in social research. In her piece “I hope we are not boring you” Melissa Nolas discusses sleep deprivation, sleep and work-life balance in an account from a first visit to a research interlocutors home. Christos Varvantakis, in the piece “To part with one’s dolls” discusses interweavings of play and coming of age around the liminal gestures that a child interlocutor devised when she was about to part with her dolls.

The section expériences hosts a piece by Alexandra Bulat, on her experiences of escaping the constraints of her research topic guide to open up to other media and modes. Alexandra provides an account of how a political moment and her emotional state signified a decisive turn in her methodology. And thus her reflective piece critically discusses research conventions and attempts to incorporate the emotional and political selves of the researcher in capturing the realities of the field among her interlocutors.

In the section Re-views, Elsie Whittington provides a reflexive and multimodal account of her experiences and encounters during a workshop on multimodal ethnography (“Making Connections”) which we (the editors) organised in London in November 2017 – Elsie’s account is accompanied by audio contributions on the re-view made with Rebbeca Webb. In the next piece, “Understanding children’s viewpoints and participation” Fransesca Vaghi discusses her own data in the light of her experience of participation in the aforementioned workshop, and the messiness and non-linearity involved in research that is situated in, and aims to theorise, the everyday.

It is our intention and hope that the entanglements becomes an online point of destination for interdisciplinary research that draws on the emerging and ever expanding practice of multimodal ethnography.

This blog originally appeared at the entanglements.

About the Authors

Sevasti-Melissa Nolas is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is the Principal Investigator of the ERC funded Connectors Study. Melissa has an interdisciplinary background in the social sciences and has been carrying out multimodal ethnographic and other qualitative research since 2000, focusing on human agency and everyday life. Previous research has engaged critically with the topics of child, youth and family welfare, well-being, and social support. Her current research explores the relationship between childhood and public life and political activism across the life course. ORCiD: 0000-0001-6928-7001

Christos Varvantakis is an anthropologist, working as researcher at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has a BA in Sociology (University of Crete, Greece), an MA in Visual Anthropology (Goldsmiths, UK) and a PhD (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany). His research focuses on the intersections of childhood and public life, politics and urban environments, as well as on visual and multimodal research methodologies. He has carried out ethnographic research in Greece, India and Germany over the last 15 years. Christos is a founding member and the Head of Programming of Ethnofest, an international festival of ethnographic film held in Athens, Greece every year. ORCiD: 0000-0003-0808-2795


For citation: Nolas, S-M. and Varvantakis, C. (2018) Entanglements that matter. LSE Field Research Method Lab (2 July 2018) Blog entry. URL: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/fieldresearch/2018/07/02/entanglements-that-matter/

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Feb 8 2018

Little pink notebook, or fragments of my manic fieldwork adventures

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The blog post is an effort at honest reflection of the personal side of conducting field research. Using private notes from my field diary, I sought to convey the contradictory emotions that my recent experience with fieldwork had triggered. The article highlights the insecurities, stress, and anxiety that get otherwise overshadowed by my own understanding of fieldwork as both personally and professionally enriching and constitutive experience. In this article, I reflect upon my fieldwork in Tunis where I spent two months between October and December 2016, interviewing politicians, civil society representatives, experts and journalists about the constitution-making process that followed the 2010/11 uprising, writes Tereza Jermanová.

Little pink notebook (photograph by the author)

I research politics. In my doctoral thesis, I study the extraordinary events of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions that started in December 2010 and January 2011 (respectively) and the processes of writing new constitutions that these upheavals brought about. I interviewed mostly politicians, but I also spoke to journalists, activists, scholars, and other specialists from these two countries. Back in England, I now read through piles of my notes, documents that I copied while in Tunis, articles and books published by others, and listen through hours of interview recordings, trying to make a sense of all my data, reflect, tell a story, and write it down. I tend to think about this stage of research cycle as less exciting than fieldwork; in words of Mock Turtle and Gryphon, characters from Alice in Wonderland – ‘Explain all that,’ said the Mock Turtle. ‘No, no! The adventures first,’ said the Gryphon in impatient tone: ‘Explanations take such a dreadful time.’

I prefer fieldwork.

I enjoy fieldwork because that’s when politics reveals itself to me more naked, tangible, giving me the sense that if I stretch my fingers just a little bit further, I would touch it. My work feels for some reason more real there than when I sit at my desk. When I’m in the ‘field’ (how strange that word is anyway…), my thoughts click, and problems that I couldn’t solve for months become immediately obvious. There’s more into fieldwork when I strip the layers down from my professional (or rather the more reasonable) to my selfish self. A side of me feels that just being there is an achievement of something (you’re chasing an experience that others might not have) and it makes me more interesting, and it is indeed interesting, exciting, adventurous, meeting new people, learning new things, living that life. Those who come back from fieldwork

Tunis, Tunisia

have the aura of people who did something real. The everyday uneasiness of things then gets covered under personal satisfaction that at the end, I’ve managed – gathered interesting insights, met the people that I planned to, survived the loneliness of a new place, handled it without long lasting psychic consequences…

But then, when I was skimming through notes from my last research trip – searching for details on interviews that might have slipped my mind – I accidentally stumbled upon these exact words, which I had scribbled in my small pink notebook (in Czech, my mother-tongue) last November, almost a month into my fieldwork in Tunis.

So I’m here for a month and it’s so intense, mostly emotionally. You feel like you can’t make it, that you don’t know enough… I do one interview and it’s all great, and then another one and it’s not. It’s like up (a lot up) and down (really down). A feeling of success that I made an appointment with someone important, as if that, on its own, would make the fieldwork successful. A bit superficial. And then you learn – again – that things are more complicated. Someone else doesn’t pick up the phone, another one can’t meet up or cancels, and suddenly, a slump. Thinking whether these interviews are important at all, perhaps I should read more instead. But then there’s the level of thinking, of ideas, which is so intense here. Yet it’s hard to keep it going, in a reasonable way, when there’s this much. And then, I’m here alone. It is all so physical, the fear of dialling a new phone number, will they be congenial? Fear of my French. Will they come to our appointment?… The intense experience of the interview itself. And then the absolute exhaustion. The feeling that I should transcribe the interview, but that I terribly don’t want to, I want to sleep, but I have to prepare for tomorrow’s interview… So much pressure at the same time, and a worry whether I will be able to finish everything in time, stomach ache. 

And I concluded: I should make these notes more often.

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Jan 17 2018

Being a positivist researcher in the field: Reflections on conducting a field experiment in Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri districts, India

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Few quantitative researchers share their field experiences (for one of those rare moments, see the contribution by Ping Lin). Perhaps this is because they are invested in large teams of enumerators, who collect data across large sample sizes. However, the process is far more complicated than just getting a team together to collect the data. There are several subtle challenges at every stage of fieldwork, much of which is often unexpected. This is often because these challenges are not freely and frequently shared or discussed. My identity as a positivist, quantitative researcher was put to test every single day of my fieldwork given the dynamic, unpredictable and often haphazard settings across the districts of Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri situated in West Delhi, India, write Aditi Bhutoria.

In association with a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), which acted as the implementing agency, I conducted a randomized control trial with women-only savings groups (involving a sample of 1281 women). The study aimed to measure the impact of a financial education program on savings and other financial behaviors. The program was relatively light (a day of training), offered in non-formal community settings and was a significant departure from more costly traditional classroom style adult education interventions. This is because it was based on simple rules of thumb involving a goal-oriented, action-focused learning, which targeted behavioural change.  Limited time, limited funds (doctoral fieldwork grant), substantial sample size and most importantly ‘me being a girl’, were enough reasons to make me concerned about going into the field, one of the largest resettlement colonies of Delhi. Hearing the participants’ stories of violence, hardship or strength and personally staying detached, resisting help even when most needed to avoid bias or innovating new techniques to optimize resources – taught me much about life and perhaps my own self as an individual and a female researcher.

On the Geographical Context

Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri (see Figure 1 below) are among the oldest and the largest resettlement colonies in India, established way back in 1977. These are also amongst the most highly populated areas of western sub-urban Delhi. The majority of the population in this area comprises old migrants from the poorest states of India. This is largely non seasonal migration, flowing in from under developed states or areas with limited economic opportunities to fast developing areas, which provide higher wages and prospects for an improved socio-economic status. Today this area is a combination of an industrial hub and residential colonies, and falls within the city with well-connected roads, local transport, basic water supply and sanitation facility, electricity and other basic facilities for a modest living.

Figure 1: Location of project area in India and within Delhi


Like most other urban resettlement colonies in Delhi, Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri also lie at the geographical periphery of the capital city. There has been a disparity in economic growth between the city center and the peripheries, with the latter converting to an agglomeration of slums and government built resettlement housings. The changes in spatial structure of the city over the years along with growth of manufacturing industries in these peripheral areas, has led to severe environmental concerns for the population residing in the resettlement colonies (Kundu, 2012). A rising demand for labor to work in the adjoining industrial areas has also led to intense population pressures. This has been coupled with unorganised development and little policy attention from the local government. As a result there has been a gradual degeneration in the living conditions and economic status of the resettlement colonies.

Interestingly, both Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri areas constitute of multiple parallel lanes, which are crowded with a motley collection of kutcha and pukka houses. Women from each lane usually come together to form their own savings groups and the research was conducted with these groups.

Figure 2: Bird-eye view of a resettlement colony in Mangolpuri (author’s own sketch)

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Oct 30 2017

Ever wondered why practitioners treat researchers like a nuisance? The challenges of accessing expert knowledge, from two perspectives


The difficulty to reach practitioners and experts is one of the main challenges faced especially by young researchers and can overshadow fieldwork experiences and attempts to produce new knowledge. While researchers might get an impression that they are ignored or treated like a nuisance by experts, the latter often have a different view at researchers’ attempt to reach them. We look at nuances and blind spots of the interaction between researchers and practitioners through two pairs of eyes, and suggest a way forward, towards a more dialogical, collaborative approach, write Philipp Lottholz and Karolina Kluczewska.

One aspect that came to the fore on recent exchanges about research on Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and International Organisations (IOs) in Central Asia was the difficulty of gaining insight into their activities and knowledge when doing field research. Many if not all researchers are finding it hard to collect rich empirical material during their field trips. The struggles and dilemmas they are confronted with can relate to research ethics, safety of research participants, interlocutors or researchers themselves, and the emotional baggage accumulated from these and other fieldwork aspects. Yet, accounts of these struggles, the search for solutions and acknowledgement of failures tend not to make it beyond informal conversations and some reflective formats on academic conferences and blogs. In this contribution we unpack the particular difficulty researchers encounter when trying to reach practitioners and experts in specific areas. We look at the issue – that researchers are treated like a nuisance in more or less obvious ways – from the perspective both of a researcher critically reflecting on fieldwork in retrospective and that of a former practitioner. While we use the general term NGOs we understand this to include both national and international NGOs. By IOs we mean organisations with bilateral (e.g. DFID, GIZ) or intergovernmental mandates (such as the UN system or OSCE).

Doing field research with/on NGOs: A researcher’s perspective (Philipp)

Everyone who has done fieldwork in developing and peripheral countries will share this impression to some extent: It can be a greatly satisfying activity but is also marked by a lot of precarious – even if just emotionally – moments. The fact that researchers usually depend entirely on the readiness of national and international organisations, institutions or individuals to participate in their research usually subjects them to a painful initial ‘trial and error’ period. However, even once they get the trick, researchers are usually confined to a ‘scattered and shadowy presence in the field’. As Loyle and Simoni note in their article on researcher trauma, especially graduate students and junior researchers may feel stressed to succumb to rigid timelines and carry out research despite limitations and risks incurred by their research framings and techniques. However, even if academics encounter a lot of access barriers and may sometimes openly be treated as a nuisance, it is worth reflecting on why this is so and how we as researchers might be complicit in the production of such tense and uncooperative situations.

In my own field research on peace-building and community security practices in the Kyrgyz Republic, I encountered both indirect and direct resistance and non-cooperation from NGOs during my MSc research in 2012 and doctoral fieldwork in 2015. The first challenge stems from the fact that  web pages of major actors are often scarce, and  indicate only general areas of activity or dated lists of realised projects. This often made it impossible to prepare questions and interview requests based on information about ongoing activities. Although perhaps partly due to negligence, lack of capacity and human resources, this non-transparency reflects attempts to limit public exposure so as to prevent interference or criticism from a population that had proven unsympathetic to the involvement of international actors in Kyrgyzstan who, like in Russia, were about to be classified as ‘foreign agents’ in a 2014 draft law.

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