The researcher as participant: how adopting a dual role can enrich the efficacy of fieldwork
Natalie Close (Sophia University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper looks at how boundaries between the researcher and the participant in fieldwork can be affected by the role of the researcher, and what can be gained by including the self in research on abstract notions such as identity and hierarchy.
Paper long abstract:
When conducting fieldwork it is often difficult to differentiate clear boundaries between the subject and the researcher, especially when using participant observation methodology. In fact, it can be argued that is advantageous for these boundaries to be blurred in order to gain further, more in-depth insights. Often, however, the presence of a researcher can affect what is being researched, or can distract many subjects who may not understand the role of the researcher, especially when participating in group events that are usually inaccessible to outsiders. In these circumstances, having a distinct participatory role can help give the researcher a clear identity which can be easily related to by the subjects. This paper will focus on fieldwork conducted on hierarchy in a community festival in Tokyo. As part of the fieldwork, the researcher was engaged in not only investigating the nature of hierarchy, but also in filming the events that constituted the festival, and therefore was viewed as performing a task within the group. As such, the researcher had two distinct roles; one as the researcher and the other, fulfilling a more readily easily understandable function, as participant. In addition, due to the presence of other members of the media, this role was further solidified and therefore offered a unique opportunity to investigate hierarchy from both an insider's perspective as a film-maker, and externally, as an outsider or researcher. In this way, having an additional role within the group allowed further insight to be gained on the abstract concept of hierarchy.
Reimagining the self and the field in contemporary ethnography: insights from living and researching within and through borders