Carolina Ladino (2002) ''You Make Yourself Sound So Important' Fieldwork Experiences, Identity Construction, and Non- Western Researchers Abroad'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 7, no. 4,
Received: 9/8/2002 Accepted: 21/11/2002 Published: 30/11/2002
The article explores processes of identity construction. It specifically looks into respondents' images of the visitingresearcher. Using my own experience as a Colombian researcher in the shanty towns of northern Mexico, the paper looks into respondents' responses to non- white, non-western researchers while doing fieldwork. My own fieldwork experiences revealed that local images of Colombians as 'southerners' conflicted with local expectations about researchers. This situation forced me to adopt the identityrespondents felt best suited me locally. Besides stating that not all researchers in the developing world are white, western and in a powerful position, the paper highlights that the construction of identities takes place 'through' and not outside difference. This process allowed me to understand the contradictory processes that lead to successful feminist alliances being formed with the 'other' in aresearch context.
Feminism; Fieldwork; Identity; Latin America.; Non-western; Respondents
All too often research remains silent about the relationships that develop between the researcher and respondents while in the field. It is only through the recognition of the personal and emotional dimensions of fieldwork that we can critically reflect upon the balance ofself-analysis and academic discussion in the presentation of data conclusions (Coffey, 1999:140; Jones et al., 1997; Lofland & Lofland, 1995). It is the personal dimension of my research which will be the focus of attention here. This article is based on feminist research conducted in the shanty towns of the US-Mexico border. It has enriched from the material written by feminists and non-feministsscholars alike. Whilst definitions of what constitutes feminist research abound, I will subscribe to the belief that feminist research is concerned with the underlying causes of persistent gender inequalities. Feminist research seeks to disentangle the ways in which inequalities are constructed and sustained between the sexes in various arenas of human life. Whilst feminist and non-feministscholars have looked at gender divisions in society, it is the researcher's personal commitment to reducing gender imbalances and inequality between the sexes within and outside the research process what makes feminist research different from other research. As a result feminists have felt the need to uncover some considerations around the way in which the researcher's identity is constructed in thefield, in particular if the research is conducted in the developing world (Abu-Lughod, 1988; Nast, 1998). Feminist geographers, in particular, have implicitly recognised the centrality of reflexivity, gender and identity in fieldwork experiences as the basis from which to address power imbalances (Asher, 2001; Dyck, 2000; Moss, 2002). Informed by post-colonial feminist theories, scholars haveexplored the interrelationships between researcher / respondents during fieldwork and how those touch upon issues of identity and power (see e.g. Gibson-Graham, 1994; Valentine, 2002). In order to uncover the power dimensions between researchers and respondents, it has been recognised the importance of exploring the interrelationships that develop between the visiting researcher and the host population,their identity, their perceptions of self and other. In the words of feminist Pamela Moss (2002:6): 'identity, subjectivity and self ….. have been important in understanding the relationships researchers have with themselves, research participants [and] research topics'. Indeed, fieldwork research starts with images of 'self' (usually the fieldworker) in relation to the 'other' (usually the...
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