Fieldwork

Fieldwork

8. Relationship with place

When considering the role if place in your research, ask:

  • what is the significance of the chosen location to the research, i.e. in what ways would the research differ if it was situated elsewhere? These differences can be in the form of research methodology, including access to participants from different groups, or the ability to ask certain types of questions in certain areas.
  • What are the relationships between the location(s) and the activities that occur in them?
  • How does the research participants’ place identity inform the research? How does the researcher’s place identity (reflexivity, positionality) inform the research?

These are all ways in which place will inform your research findings. These can be worked into your methodology; for example, when conducting walking interviews, questions about the landscape can be incorporated into the interview, and that context may bring out particular kinds of responses from your research participants.

What is “place identity?”
The concept of place identity, from environmental psychology, proposes that a person’s knowledge and feelings, as well as identity, develop through one’s experience of the environment. “A sense of place identity derives from the multiple ways in which place functions to provide a sense of belonging, construct meaning, foster attachments, and mediate change…[and] can inform their experiences, behaviors, and attitudes about other places” Understanding one’s own place identity can explain a particular attachment to one location versus another, as well as why one may feel at ‘home’ in a new place, or uncomfortable when returning somewhere familiar after a long absence (from The People, Place, and Space Reader, edited by Jen Jack Gieseking & William Mangold, with Cindi Katz, Setha Low, & Susan Saegert (2014, ‘Section 3: Place and Identity?’).

 

When you are considering the locations within a fieldsite to conduct interviews, you will want to consider various issues including:

  • Safety: is the location safe for researchers/research participants?
  • Cost: are there any costs associated with accessing the space?
  • Accessibility: are research participants able to access the space?
  • Consider also noise level, comfort of the participant, and how public this location is. Is your research participant comfortable speaking about more sensitive issues in a public coffee shop? Or in their workplace when managers or colleagues might overhear them? Are they more comfortable in their home, or somewhere separate from family? How conducive is the location to the research participant?

Case Study:

  • A) In her article “Street Phenomeonology: The go-along as ethnographic research tool” Margarethe Kusenbach argues that accompanying research informants in their daily activities combines the strengths of participant observation and interviewing with the ability to access some of the transcendent and reflexive aspects of the lived experience. Instead of relying on the outside observer’s perceptions of a neighbourhood, this research methods allows participants to provide insight into the environmental and lived experience by living it.

References:

Anderson, J., Adey, P., and Bevan, P. 2010 Positioning place: polylogic approaches to research methodology. Qualitative Research, 10(5), pp.589-604.

Gieseking, J., Mangold, W., Katz, C., Low, S., and Saegert, S., eds. 2014. The People, Place, and Space Reader. London: Routledge.

Kusenbacj, Margarethe, 2003, Street Phenomenology: The go-along as ethnographic research tool. Ethnography, 4(3), pp. 455-485.