Characteristics and relationships that come to the field

The most recent ethnography forum was titled ‘Negotiating identity in the field’. It was billed as being about gender, with both speakers talking about being females accessing male interlocutors. The second speaker discussed the role of her husband in her being able to interview certain males, and it was this topic of relationships that the group seemed most interested in discussing. I could just imagine the look on my fellow health science students if they had suggested to them they could take their husband with them to interviews to be able to speak with different people and that their husbands’ experiences could help highlight information they are failing to elicit through their own interviews.

I came away from the forum wondering about the difference between those characteristics that can be easily observed in the field and those that you can keep to yourself. Of course many clues to who we are become inscribed on the outside of our bodies or are suggested by how we choose to present ourselves. We also live in a time where we can be ‘googled’, meaning a section of our history hovers within reach of any curious interlocutor with access to the internet.

What draws me to ethnographic methods such as participant observation is the potential for negotiation when you are in the field. I like to think that, even when you are not asking your interlocutors to take on co-authorship, research is a collaborative process where the identity you have in the field differs from that you had at university not because you are pretending to be somebody you are not, but because of the growth that comes out of different experiences and genuine engagement.

That said, there are aspects of your identity – such as age and gender – that are going to shape the access you are granted. Hopefully overt research can allow you to use strategies to be able to explore your questions anyway.

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