Diary of a Research Fellow Part 7: Early fieldwork reflections

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Agnew and Pyke (1969)

In Post 7 of my blog series Diary of a Research Fellow I update you on some of my fieldwork experiences. The last few months has been a balance of living miles away from my study site, keeping recruitment going and meeting with participants who are providing care in low-income localities. I have also been doing some impact activities as well to keep visibility of the study going. Read on…

It feels like it has been a little while since I have written my diary blog but perhaps that is because so much has been happening, as is often the case in academic life. I am now just over two months into the second year of the study and as ever, I am balancing lots of different things. I provide a brief discussion of some of these things here, by way of showcasing what Early Career academic life is like for me (although of course it differs for everyone) and as a way of reflecting more critically on my everyday practice.

Fieldwork

Fieldwork has been taking up the majority of my time in the last two/three months. I live about 100 miles away from Leeds so I struggle with this quite a bit. Not only is it tiring to trek up and down the country every week but it can also be tricky in terms of scheduling and fitting in interviews and getting to research sites. I don’t mean this as a moan at all; I love my work and I find great value in what I am doing but in methodological terms it can be a difficult thing to do. I carry a constant guilt that I am not able to do a more thorough ethnography when living at such a distance, as I try to balance my (insecure) work and family life. However, I make sure that I amin Leeds as often as I can be and I often book in several interviews a day if I can, to ensure that if there are any inevitable no-shows or problems, that the travel isn’t wasted. Alongside interviewing, I have continued to engage with possible stakeholders in Leeds in order to bolster recruitment. This has been an on-going process involving remaining in contact with existing stakeholders and finding creative ways to engage new ones.  In the last few weeks I have attended a kinship carer group, a personal communications group at a local community centre and a meeting with the Think Family, Work Family team at Leeds City Council, to make sure that the study is known about and to try and access possible participants.

The meeting at the community centre was particularly thought provoking. I was asked some very difficult questions by the group, but questions that have enabled me to reflect on my positionally as a researcher and key questions like ‘why me?’ and ‘why this study’. Several of the men at the group were concerned that I was only researching men and queried why women were not being researched. They reflected on the fact that they often observe young women in the locality with their children and that their experiences might be more important to understand. I found it challenging to try and justify to this group that men are much less visible in academic studies about care and low-income life and that poverty has gendered effects. They also highlighted the point that they felt ignored and rejected by the government. I got the impression that they saw me as idealistic for trying to argue that making their voices more visible to policy-makers and the government might have some impact and create some change. This sense of apathy from participants I think, is reflected by the concerns of researchers more generally who work in low income localities, that if we over-research with no observable change, then ;so what?’. We therefore need to more strongly justify what we are doing and why and make a clear case that in speaking to power we may have some hope of tackling entrenched inequalities.

These are just some brief reflections that I hope to develop further as the study progresses. I am also reporting regularly about my fieldwork experiences via the Twitter account for the project (@menpovcare) so please do follow me and get in touch with any queries, comments or suggestions for participation.

Writing Projects

I have got two book chapters is process that have been through rounds of comments. One is a chapter I have written in collaboration with Dr Emily Cooper, a colleague I met at Lancaster University during our PhD days. We have written a brief auto/biographical reflection on our experiences as young, female Early Career Researchers in the neoliberal university environment. We reflect on our contradictory positioning as feminists seeking to challenge the traditional male career trajectory while simultaneously desiring the seemingly secure status that such as trajectory affords. This will be in a book called Feminist Beginnings: Being an Early Career Feminist Academic in a Changing Academy, edited by Dr Rachel Thwaites and Dr Amy Godoy-Pressland.

I have also written a chapter based on a journal article I have already published in The Professional Geographerfor a book being edited by Dr Michael Ward, a colleague who I worked with at the Open University. This chapter is called ‘”Betweenness” and the negotiation of similarity and difference in the interview setting: reflections on interviewing grandfathers as a young, female researcher’ and will feature in the book Gender Identity and Research Relationships. 

I have a couple of other projects in the pipeline, including a journal article that I have just recently submitted for peer-review (eek!) but I will update you on those when I have more definite plans for them. See other writing I have been doing on the study website outputs page.

Funding bids

Watch this space, but I have developed a small bid with Jo Neary at University of Glasgow as a result of my blog post on risk in fieldwork. We are hoping to run a workshop about this and researcher well-being in order to establish a small network to reflect on these issues. We hope that this might have some impact in terms of governance of lone-workers at universities, and more broadly, for other research organisations. This is all dependent on getting the funding but it cold be quite exciting and productive in the long term, especially in terms of thinking about reflexivity and researcher-participant safety in research encounters.

Teaching

Alongside my research activity I have been picking up some lectures here and there, some that I have developed myself and some that I have taken on and evolved to meet my own interests and teaching style. I have taught on a number of modules for Sociology and Social Policy students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I ran a session about Qualitative Interviewing on the MA Research methods course, a lecture on Researching Families and Relationships for first year undergraduates, two lectures on flows of culture and migration for the Globalisation module and lectures for Sociology and Social Policy on Paternalism and Philanthropy and Globalisation. All of this teaching not only contributes to my teaching portfolio but also enhances my research and the thinking that I do about my study. I love meeting with engaged students and having what feels like a more direct impact through discussion and debate.

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