Fieldwork

Fieldwork

10. Summary

Fieldwork is the stage of a research project where you collect primary data from your research site and your research subjects using your chosen research methods.

Conducting fieldwork is a way to explore, discover, and locate lines of inquiry related to the research question you are investigating.

The field is your sphere of enquiry. It is where you will find the data you will analyse to answer your research question. The nature and location of your ‘field’ will depend on your chosen research methodology and method.

The length of fieldwork depends on a range of circumstances, including your methodology, the nature of what you discover in the field, how quickly you are able to access your research subjects, and how long it takes to conduct your research.  Longitudinal projects may include several fieldwork stages which require you to collect data at an interval of a few months or a few years to investigate how things have changed over a period of time.

Fieldwork is a messy process. It can become messy when things do not go to plan in the field, and when different stages of the research process overlap or occur simultaneously. Some strategies to deal with the messy nature of fieldwork include:

  • learning to be flexible,
  • being reflexive about the research process,
  • being open to revising our approach, our research questions or strategies in the field, and
  • seeing research as an ongoing and iterative process, in which research questions, meanings, and analytical insights are being developed, tested and revised at every stage of the research process.

Preparing for fieldwork includes clarifying your research questions, becoming familiar with your field site or location of your research, and in some cases, conducting preliminary research to test the feasibility of your planned research.

While conducting your fieldwork it is important to take extensive fieldnotes of different kinds, including, mental notes, jotted notes, and full fieldnotes. It is also important to have a plan for managing your fieldwork data, including the tools and technologies you will use to record,  organize and protect your data, and to create back-up copies of your data in case of accidents or loss of your materials in the field.

Forming relationships with place and relationships with people are both central elements of the fieldwork process. Feminist researchers engage a range of principles and strategies in understanding and building ethical relationships with place and people, including ethics of respect, accountability and care.