Implications of the unexpected:changes in a research environment to the conduct of fieldwork

by Fiona Ferbrache

Among your family and friends, I am sure there are people you know who have been implicated by the recent snow and ice that has fallen on the UK, as well as much of northern Europe, and the US (BBC News, 2010).  Changes to travel arrangements and festive plans seem to have characterised the end of 2010, just as they did for many parts of the UK at the start of 2010 (The Guardian, 2010).  Of course, the media is often filled with news about the implications of the (relatively) unexpected; political crisis, economic crisis, and natural disaster, for instance.  While these topics often provide the focus of geographic research, they also implicate changes in the research environment for those already working there when incidents occur.

Dealing with the impact of change on the conduct of fieldwork is the topic of Veit Bachmann’s (forthcoming) Area article.  This very readable piece draws upon Bachmann’s own fieldwork experiences in Nairobi, as the Kenyan post-electoral crisis unfolded in 2008.  The article deals with issues of positionality, researcher/researched relations and ethics, but from the perspective of changes to the research environment.  It is shown how events shaped the thematic focus of Bachmann’s work, as well as the geography of his research.  This article provides essential reading for any geographer preparing for fieldwork in a potential crisis zone, as well as reminding the reader that all fieldwork is conducted in dynamic environments.

This article is not designed to put you off conducting fieldwork at the first sign of disruption, for as Bachmann illustrates, and reassures, about change to the research environment: “This is, however, not always to the negative” (p.6)

Bachmann, V. (forthcoming) Participating and observing: positionality and fieldwork relations during Kenya’s post-election crisis. Area.

BBC News (2010) North-east US struggles for normality after blizzards. BBC News Online. 28 December, 2010

The Guardian (2010b) More travel disruption as heavy snow moves south. 05 January, 2010

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