Tag Archives: emotions

Only connect – the linked lives of the researcher and the researched in a walled village in Hong Kong

By Isabella Ng, The Education University of Hong Kong

In a village in the southernmost province of Hainan, China, women were not compensated when the government decided to remove some of the houses for tourism development; only the men were compensated for the loss. What is more, a new law passed in China in 2011 allowed no split in properties during divorce, but rather the property would be awarded to the person named within the deeds. In another part of China, Hong Kong the former British colony which was returned to China two decades ago, walled village women who lived in the territory were treated unfairly until 2004 when a law was passed that allowed women to have equal inheritance rights as their male counterparts. I was interested to find out how they fared after the old law was revoked and to find out more about gender dynamics in the walled villages. When I entered the field to conduct fieldwork, I soon discovered that studying a group intensively as a researcher is a journey that I needed to walk with the researched in order to produce ethical and fruitful research.

As a nascent ethnographer venturing into the field during my second year of PhD study, I felt anxious but thrilled about my initial pursuit in fieldwork. It seemed ‘cool’ to be an ethnographer—at least that’s what I thought initially—and I liked introducing myself to informants as an ethnographer. That feeling of excitement ended when one of my supervisors reminded me about my field notes, and how I should go about writing them. My notes should not just contain factual accounts and observations, but also my reflections and my state of mind. I should reflect upon the day’s event(s) and how I felt at the time. One important aspect that I failed to consider at that time was my role as an ethnographer. I had the naivety to believe that my work (research) and my personal life were, and could, remain completely separated. I thought that as long as I stayed away from personal involvement (meaning, keeping my private life to myself when conducting my fieldwork), then I could remain professional and avoid being too subjective.

However, it was not until I began my fieldwork that I realised that conducting fieldwork is more complicated than I had thought. Over time, I discovered that field experience is reciprocal, and that the lives of researchers are linked with the lives of the researched. I realised that my multiple positionality, the nuances in my life, and my personal experiences affected my day-to-day interactions with my informants. The way that things evolved in my life during my fieldwork, the way that prolonged interactions and connections with people and the environment intertwined with my personal life, and all the knowledge I acquired through this, could enrich my research and make it multi-dimensional.

In my recent paper, ‘When [Inter-]Personal is Transformational: [Re]examining Life Course Emotion in PhD Research’, recently published in Area, I explore the ways in which different life events I experienced between 2008 and 2013 affected my research as a PhD student. By examining the relationship between these events and my development as a researcher, I consider how the complexity of emotions and affect helped me understand my research participants and helped me produce multi-dimensional, ethical research.

Drawing upon a series of life events that happened to me during the research period—such as my divorce and then a new romance—I examine how these events affected not only my research perspective when looking into gender dynamics in the indigenous villages in Hong Kong, but how they also affected my interactions and connections with my research subjects. I discovered how research is an interactive and dynamic activity. The researchers and the researched are walking through a journey to mutual understanding. The lives of the researcher and those researched are connected, and they affect each other. In this auto-ethnographic account of my fieldwork, I demonstrate how life events happening to the researcher during the research period can affect the researcher’s emotional and affectual state, and how this in turn can enrich a researcher’s study of the subject.

Emotion and affect here play a critical part in my research. As Rose (1997) points out, emotions of researchers are affected by events preceding the fieldwork and during the research process. This alters the researcher’s positionality—defined in terms of gender, age, race, social status, economic status, and marital status. In geography, studies on emotions and affect have examined conscious and expressive factors. These factors are generally understood as emotion—as well as non-cognitive, non-linguistic, and non-representational factors—involving affect (Pile 2010; Thrift 2004). During the research process the discursive, conscious, and cognitive parts work in coordination with the non-cognitive, non-discursive aspects that affect how subjects and objects perceive the world and their relations with the world (Bondi 2005; Narvaro-Yashin 2009; Thrift 2004). In my case, these aspects affected how we saw each other.

In this paper, I argue that as researchers, we need to realise that research is an ongoing, interactive, ever-changing process. Also, we need to recognise the reciprocal relationship between researchers and the researched subjects during the research process in order to create a better understanding of one’s own work and the ways in which the research itself fits within one’s broader life goals.

About the author: Isabella Ng received her doctorate from SOAS, University of London. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Asian and Policy Studies, The Education University of Hong Kong.

books_icon Bondi L 2005 Making connections and thinking through emotions: between geography
and psychotherapy Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30 433-48

60-world2 Branigan T 2015 For richer, for poorer: how China’s laws put women second The Guardian Online https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/24/chinese-women-equality-laws-land-housing 24 February 2015

books_icon Burton L M and Bengtson V L 1985 Black grandmothers: issues of timing and
continuity of roles in Bengtson V L and Robertson J F eds Grandparenthood Sage, Beverly Hills CA 61-77

books_icon Elder Jr. G H, Johnson M K and Crosnoe R 2004 The emergence and development
of life course theory in Mortimer J T and Shanahan M J eds Handbook of the life course Springer Science + Business Media, New York 3-19

books_icon Haraway D 1988 Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the
privilege of partial perspective Feminist studies 14 575-599

books_icon Navaro-Yashin Y 2009 Affective spaces, melancholic objects: ruination and the
production of anthropological knowledge Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 15 1-18

books_icon Ng, I. (2017), When [inter]personal becomes transformational: [re-]examining life course-related emotions in PhD research. Area. doi:10.1111/area.12325

books_icon Pile S 2010 Intimate distance: the unconscious dimensions of the rapport between
researcher and researched The Professional Geographer 62 483-95

books_icon Rose G 1997 Situating knowledges: positionality, reflexivities and other tactics
Progress in Human Geography 21 305-20

books_icon Thrift N 2004 Intensities of feeling: towards a spatial politics of affect Geografiska
Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 86 57-78

Mobilising affinity ties for humanitarianism at the war-torn China-Myanmar border

By Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, National University of Singapore


Figure 1. An IDP camp at the China-Myanmar border. Source: Author’s own, 2012.

A few days after Christmas 2016, a social media post caught my eye. It stated,

‘Dear Humanitarian Agencies, [the] IDPs regret to let you know that all the humanitarian assistance you provided […] has been abandoned again last night due to the offensive war of [the] Govt Military’.

The IDPs referred to internally displaced persons at the border of China and Myanmar, while the ‘Govt Military’ in question was the military arm of the Myanmar government.

On 8 November 2015, international news agencies had reported the landslide victory of the political party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. It appeared to herald a new era of democracy in Myanmar. But the civilian government has no oversight over the military, which retains the right to a quarter of the seats in parliament, and power over key ministries to do with defence, home affairs and border affairs. As the Washington Post reports on 28 December 2016, fighting at the border areas of Myanmar has escalated as the Myanmar military intensifies its attacks on ethnic groups it considers insurgents.

The IDPs mentioned in the social media post were displaced from their homes in Kachin state (henceforth Kachin IDPs) as a result of armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin state of northern Myanmar. The breakdown of a ceasefire agreement (1994-2011) between the two parties renewed a civil war in Kachin state. Regional newspapers such as The Irrawaddy provide fuller coverage of the hostilities happening in Kachin state, Myanmar.

IDPs who fled further north to the border area that Myanmar shares with China were barred from crossing the border into Chinese territory. This act of refusal in turn prevents the IDPs from being recognised as refugees who have crossed an international border and thereby entitled to protection under international law. For several years following the renewed conflict, local humanitarian workers faced challenges channelling humanitarian aid to the IDP camps at the China-Myanmar border. The remote location of camps at the border area meant the supplies could be delivered only via routes controlled by the military in Myanmar or the government in China.

However, both parties denied international humanitarian agencies access to the camps citing sovereignty reasons or concerns over the safety of international personnel in the conflict zone. Only in recent years has advocacy by humanitarian workers succeeded in pressuring the Myanmar military to provide safe passage for the international humanitarian agencies to assess the IDP camps and the needs of the IDPs. Even so, as the social media post above informs us, the humanitarian supplies remain at risk of being destroyed through ongoing conflict.

Considering these humanitarian challenges is an article published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers which examines the geographical and geopolitical constraints that deter international humanitarian assistance, yet provide opportunities to engage a different set of humanitarian actors at the China-Myanmar border.

The paper first argues that the Kachin IDPs are treated as surplus populations by the sovereign states in both Myanmar and China. Surplus populations come into existence when nation-states impose punitive measures that compromise the survivability of populations that are considered threatening to national sovereignty. Second, the paper examines how mobilising affinity ties enables Kachin humanitarian workers to leverage the citizenship resources of empathetic Chinese nationals across the China-Myanmar border for negotiating humanitarianism constraints.

Overall, the paper considers how physical and cognitive borders establish taxonomies of social difference but also provide opportunities for identifying connections and forging transversal dialogues (henceforth transversal webs of connections) to bridge people of different social positionings. The paper argues that transversal webs of connections engender affinity ties that can be mobilised towards nurturing empathetic identification and caring relationships in societies characterised by cultural diversity and social complexity. This approach provides a potential ethical stance and productive analytical lens for advancing wider migration and citizenship debates.

About the author: Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore. Elaine’s current research interests include China-Myanmar borderland migrations, Chinese diaspora and transnationalism, Asian forced migration, and urban aspirations of new immigrants in China. 

books_icon  Ho, E. L-E. 2016 Mobilising affinity ties: Kachin internal displacement and the geographies of humanitarianism at the China–Myanmar border. Trans Inst Br Geogr. doi:10.1111/tran.12148

60-world2  Htusan E 2016 Kachin rebels see more Myanmar attacks, no hope for peace The Washington Post online Dec 28 2016

60-world2  The Irrawaddy http://www.irrawaddy.com/

It’s a car’s world…

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Motor cars have become one of the most common private means of transport in today’s world and have transformed our societies, lives and physical landscapes beyond recognition. However, our relationship with these mobility machines transcends the purely practical domain and transforms the way we feel about our im/mobilities and personal spatialities. The success of programmes such as Top Gear (BBC) is based on the complexity of emotions which are embroiled in our relationship with wheels and speed. Similarly, but in a negative way, there are continuous examples of ‘road rage’, accidents and other incidents which remind us of the potentially devastating impacts that automobiles can have on our lives.

The environmental impacts of our petrol consuming four-wheeled ‘friends’ are unsustainable and developing electric, low-carbon and other alternative forms of motor cars has become a pressing matter. Geography, among other social sciences, has a great deal to contribute to the understanding of the human relationship with automobiles, road space, driving practices, etc. For instance, Peter Merriman (2009) provides an in-depth overview of the research that has been conducted on geographies of the spaces and practices of driving, focusing especially on the UK. He shows the important role that this type of research has in providing “sophisticated understandings of the complexities of car use and people’s desire to travel in private, flexible vehicles [so] effective strategies can be developed to tackle increases in private, petrol-car use and increasing CO2 emissions” (2009: 594). We need to follow the road of sustainable motoring if we want to continue enjoying the mobility and independence that motor cars can provide.

Visit Top Gear‘s website (BBC2)

Visit the Green Car Website (UK)

Read Peter Merriman (2009) “Automobility and the geographies of the car”. Geography Compass. 3(2): 586-599.

Drinking emotions

By Rosa Mas Giralt

According to the BBC reporter Jim Reeds, the Home Office has just announced plans to return power to local authorities to police drinking behaviour in their streets. This proposal follows criticisms of the ‘24 hour drinking policy’ which was introduced with the aim of staggering the closing of bars and other establishments, therefore reducing drinking related problems and anti-social behaviour in the city centres and streets of England and Wales. The new plans, currently under consultation, would include Councils being able to stop drinking in their streets after midnight, bars being charged a late night fee due to extra-policing expenditure and supermarkets and other establishments being banned from selling drinks at ‘below cost’ price. This is a new episode on the long-standing battle of public authorities in the UK to reduce excessive drinking and its related public safety and health impacts.

In a forthcoming article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Mark Jayne, Gill Valentine and Sarah L. Holloway argue for an emotional, embodied and affective approach to researching alcohol, drinking and drunkenness. Such an approach, they suggest, can provide a bridge between scholarship focusing on health and legislation issues related to excessive drinking and that centred on the social and cultural aspects of these practices; therefore, providing a more holistic context in which to understand the complexity of factors which play a role in people’s experiences of drinking and their related impacts.

 Watch Jim Reed’s report “24-hour drinking culture ‘failed’, Home Office says” on the BBC website.

 Read Mark Jayne, Gill Valentine and Sarah L Holloway (2010). “Emotional, embodied and affective geographies of alcohol, drinking and drunkenness”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. [Early view]

Embracing affect and emotions

By Rosa Mas Giralt

As Saint Valentine’s day approaches, shops and other commercial venues in the UK and further afield are being swamped by red hearts of all makes and sizes, soft teddy bears, boxes of chocolates, colourful flowers, piles of cards and thousands of suggestions on how to celebrate the day with your chosen one. Anyone with a bit of commercial sense finds a way to profit from the stickiness and sweetness of this feast of love. In fact, the origins of this festival take us back to Ancient Rome and to the very confused story of three Christian martyrs with the same name. The most accepted version (see BBC website) seems to be that in the year 496 Pope Galasius declared the first celebration of the day in remembrance of Bishop Valentine, who, around 270AD, continued to marry very young people in the name of love despite Emperor Claudius’ ban of such practices (apparently, married men made bad soldiers). Bishop Valentine was harshly punished for his belief in love as God’s will but, before being beheaded, he had time to fall in love with his jailer’s daughter and write, for the first time, a love note signed “from your Valentine”.

Whatever our reaction to the yearly dose of sentimentalism that this festival brings, the commercial success of this celebration could have not been built and maintained without the appeal of human emotions. In a recent article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Steve Pile (2009) offers an engaging overview of the revival of affects and emotions for human geography researchers. In his piece, Pile critically analyses the two main current approaches to this subject, affectual and emotional geographies, exploring their commonalities and fundamental disagreements and suggesting some ways forward. Despite the struggle between the politico-ethical approaches of these two strands of research, they remind us that emotion, affect and feelings matter and they matter because of their power to inspire, dissuade, influence or even manipulate people. How they do so is a matter for further geographical discussion.

 Read BBC’s piece on Saint Valentine

 Read Steve Pile (2009) “Emotions and affect in recent human geography”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 35(1): 5-20.