Identity

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A RT I C L E

‘Where are you really from?’: representation, identity and power in the fieldwork experiences of a South Asian diasporic M A R S H A G I S E L L E H E N RY University of Bristol

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Qualitative Research Copyright ©  SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) vol. (): -. [- () :; -; ]

A B S T R AC T

Feminist accounts of fieldwork have often been concerned with issues of representation, both of the researched and the researcher, exposing some of the complications that arise when the researcher must make critical decisions about representing herself to her research participants. These accounts demonstrate that a fieldworker’s identity does in fact impact upon the research process and product, challenging notions of researcher objectivity and neutrality. I contribute to feminist debates by complicating the process of representation and the power and problem of naming; identity and its impact upon the research process; and the field as a place of complex power structures, which can produce questions that seem all too familiar. One of the questions raised in relation to representation, identity and the field is one that I have been asked virtually all my life, but which has different meanings in different contexts. My research participants often asked, ‘where are you really from?’ This question in the context of the feminist literature on methodology has enabled me to analyse some of the difficulties and problems I faced in doing fieldwork and to develop a different conceptualization of the research process and research participants. Finally, it has also demonstrated some of the difficulties that our current and limited language of race, ethnicity and nationality pose for first generation South Asian researchers. diasporic, feminist, field, home, identity, insider/outsider, power, representation

KEYWORDS:

A substantial amount of literature explores the dilemmas faced by researchers using both qualitative research methods and a feminist approach (Bell et al, 1993; Coffey, 1999; Fonow and Cook, 1991; Gluck and Patai, 1991; Golde, 1970; Reinharz, 1992; Roberts, 1990; Stanley, 1983; Wolf, 1996). Feminist

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Qualitative Research 3(2)

accounts of fieldwork have often been concerned with issues of representation, both of the researchees and the researcher, exposing some of the complications that arise when the researcher must make critical decisions about representing herself to her research participants (Abu-Lughod, 1988, 1990; Acker et al., 1991; Berik, 1996; Dossa, 1997; Kondo, 1986; Lal, 1996; Narayan, 1993; Ong, 1995; Patai, 1991; Reinharz, 1992; Schrijvers, 1993; Stacey, 1991). These accounts demonstrate that a fieldworker’s identity does in fact impact upon the research process and product, challenging notions of researcher objectivity and neutrality. This article examines some of the issues raised in feminist research methodologies within the context of a first generation South Asian researcher’s experiences.1 I contribute to some of the feminist accounts by complicating the processes of representation and the power and problem of naming; identity and its impact upon the research process; and the field as a place of complex power structures, which can produce questions that seem all too familiar. One of the questions raised in relation to representation, identity and the field is one that I have been asked virtually all my life, but which has different meanings in different contexts. My research participants often asked, ‘where are you really from?’, a question in the context of the feminist literature on methodology that has enabled me to analyse some of the difficulties and problems I faced in doing fieldwork. It has also enabled me to develop a different conceptualization of the research process and research participants. Finally, it has demonstrated some of the difficulties that our current and limited language of...
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