Field research

Photo:  early morning between Kungu and Beya, Central African Republic 

The dilemmas and passions in intercultural field research – a female pedagogue’s ethnographic notes

The field research which I conduct has a dynamic and “mobile” character and entails the duality of the term field, as it becomes not merely a “peculiar space of a researcher’s experience” (Kaniowska), but the female researcher– nomad’s temporary “home”.

This research is done in environments outside Europe (African countries and the countries of the Caucasus), in socially, culturally and normatively distinct worlds of children and adults. It is conducted in places which are difficult due to external factors (natural environment, climate, social, political conditioning, etc.) and internal factors (the hermetic character of the studied community, difficult memory, poverty, children’s malnutrition, illnesses, discrimination and marginalisation).  At the same time,it is research in “sensitive” contexts (among communities affected by war, conflicts, rebellions and the burden of difficult history).

My own difficult experiences and reflections focused on (and emerging from) women (both researchers and participants) coping with difficult research situations, have led me to reflect on the need to decolonise approached in research about/with female migrants and refugees in research concerning them (Gatt et al. 2016).

I draw attention to selected explicit and implicit problems and dilemmas appearing in research with women and children (migrants and refugees) from countries of the Global South conducted by researchers from the Global North.

As a field researcher who conducted multiple female field research (Markowska-Manista 2017), I analyse the causes of these problems and ask to what degree and how researchers’ reflexivity and ethical principles (international perspective) can be help them cope with and overcome these problems so as not to exacerbate inequality and avoid unconscious victimisation.

My research is conducted in so-called fragile (sensitive) contexts and among groups affected by marginalisation, discrimination, and exclusion. In this type of research in particular, researchers have to search for the possibility of applying ethical symmetry and an inclusive perspective – oriented towards research participants’ participation (Bertozzi 2010; Vacchelli 2018) and protection of their human rights.

My journeys in the field, loneliness, young age, visual distinctness, the fact that I belong to the European cultural circle and come from a country of the Global North do not only make me “exotic” in the eyes of those I reach and study. They also entail the baggage of psychologically and physically negative experiences, difficult research situations, and at times border situations.








Visual ethnography in participatory research with children from an indigenous community
– the challenges and dilemmas of non-discrimination and ethic

While conducting research among and with children from the Ba’Aka indigenous community I applied methods based on engaging the participants in tasks to be carried out, in other words, engaging their voluntary involvement, opinions and knowledge in research activities. Visual ethnography was one of these methods.
Treating children as competent research participants, legitimate partners and experts in explaining observable phenomena, I included (with their consent and the consent of their community – the clan) their experiences, knowledge and voices in the visual ethnography I conducted. To a large degree, our research showed the children that their actions and voices are very important and can become effective tools for change and activities for children and their community as well as the epicentre of their world – the place and space of their life (the rainforest).
In the text, I would like to outline (based on the research in Central African Republic) the challenges and dilemmas connected with conducting research that should be non-discriminatory, based on the principles of social justice, non-hierarchical relations and reciprocal learning by the participants and researchers. I also collected extensive research materials relating to the use of images and products made by Ba’Aka’ children by the employees and volunteers
of developmental and aid projects. They very often work with children from indigenous communities and – either consciously or unconsciously – appropriate the children’s images, voices and hand-made products.
They distribute them in the virtual world or use for commercial and fundraising purposes in Europe, and doing this they colonise children and childhood by spreading stereotypes and prejudice in the spirit of compassion and a sense of a “civilising mission”
More on the subject  in a chapter of the ethics handbook “The Ethics of Research with Children and Young People: A Practical Handbook, 2020 SAGE” by Virginia Morrow & Priscilla Alderson
Alderson, P., & Morrow, V. (2020). The ethics of research with children and young people: A practical handbook. New York: Sage Publications.
 I describe situations in which the researcher from a different cultural context, undertaking research based on the principles of ethical symmetry, conducts research in a community which is a recipient of developmental projects and projects supporting development implemented by organisations from the Global North.  I intent to show (frequently unknowingly) unethical activities within “support in development” for local communities, based on Western approaches, rooted in values and norms which often indoctrinate the indigenous system and appropriate the local philosophy of education and co-existence in a collective community.
The key problem lies in an unethical use of images of children and engaging them in research (evaluation-report) activities – designed by adults, based on the relations of power, and oriented towards fundraising purposes. In the case of missions, these fundraising campaigns are connected e.g. with the program “adoption of the heart”.
In the text I only draw attention to unethical practices of adults, standing in opposition to a child rights-based approach, which provoke a question about preparing activists and volunteers to provide aid in an ethical way, and about double ethical standards referring to photographing and using the representations of children from the countries of the Global South and Global North (Markowska-Manista 2020).