Methodology Notes: Fieldwork and Reality Construction

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This month I am following a Master course, “Fieldwork in Conflict and Post-Conflict Setting” with Gemma van der Haar and Peter Tamas. It is very good and gives me a lot of imagination to handle the practice and methodological thinking of doing fieldwork. I would recommend to do this course especially if you already had a fieldwork in mind. In each session, we discuss the delicate and intricate dilemmas based on experiences of other researchers, which is why it open my mind in a good direction. This is perhaps the only Master class (with big credits) that I will be taking in the course of my PhD and I am happy that it is very interactive, not a one way lecture loaded with cognitive material, but it deals with our emotions etc. The point is to put the study materials into a dialogue with our own thinking and research.

Today we study about what are we able to research? We encountered the “social construction of reality” line of thought that shows us how it is perhaps not enough to study hard facts. My own interpretation of today’s class is we are able to study three “layers” of research object: the first is the action or practice, the second is what people say about those action (what they think is knowledge or knowledge claim), and the third (the constructivist approach) is the “structures that enables some societal knowledge to be possible”, it means doing a historical study or an “archaeology” of the knowledge (claim). The implication of our discussion is the question of whether or not is it important that the content of the knowledge claims is true in the sense that it objectively tells the factual reality? Or does it matter more to see what are the frames within which such claims are possible? Does it matter so much that what people say has to be the real truth, or does it matter more to see how their claim, regardless of its “objective accuracy”, implicates their action?

I am a very beginner on this, it seems like the course is persuading me to study the third layer and not taking the first layer for granted. But I am not sure if I would be able to study the third layer, it seems very difficult. So for now, for my own research I would still stick with the first layer, at least initially, you can call me a positivist, it is okay for me. I would still need to have the concrete, material, practices and action, that is something I can research. Then only I will think about the next layers. And I think also each layers are interactive and constitutive of each other. As we discussed in class, it is a process (between the three layers), one does not exclude the other. Constructivist is studying the process of how knowledge comes into being, including within ourselves. We also problematizes how “representation” of realities are often seen as different and separated from “the reality” itself. But it is not separated, it has a dynamic relation. People act based on the representation of realities. “Representation is what informs action, not the brute reality but what they think is real,” said my lecturer.

The second thing that I will be following this week is a workshop on how to write an abstract. It is going to be more informal and intimate, I guess. I will let you know how it goes. Another thing that I am doing this month until December is a reading group on Marx’s Kapital. I am happy to do it together with friends and also a lecturer, Kees Jansen. It is a biweekly reading group and this week we are reading the third chapter about money. I am not doing this because it is trendy or cool to read Marx, but because the labour theory of value is very core in my theoretical framework. But I am also simultaneously struggling to learn the methods and how to do the research in practice. How to study labour relationship? Should I train some households to keep a diary of activities like what Michael Dove did in his research? Well, I am still in the search of different options.

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Research Update: Introduction

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Okay, long story short: I haven’t been updating my research process for almost a year now. Thanks to my office room-mate Britt Broekhaus today, we had a short chit chat on what our research is about. It is a challenge for both of us to say what our research is about in two words or one sentence. So, our chit chat helped me a lot to think about how to introduce my research in two words or one sentence.

How am I going to describe my research in two words or one sentence? At this point, I would say community rangers (that’s two words). In one sentence, it would be the relation between community rangers and farmers within and adjacent to Gunung Leuser National Park, Aceh, Indonesia (like what you’ve read in my about page). I constantly ask to myself, why? Why do I want to research this? I am not quite done with this question but it is okay.

What concerns me now is my imagination that my research is actually not possible. Why? Because I imagine there is a clash between the rangers and the farmers in the buffer zone, because I imagine the rangers is doing a type of fortress conservation in some sort. But it is also possible that, because they are community rangers, they have a very close relationship in everyday life with the farmers, instead of being in some sort of a clash.

Another thing that I am concerned about is whether or not conservation has a real presence in the daily life of the community (farmers in the buffer zone). I can choose a very isolated area and not getting any conservation presence but it would be the area most likely located within the national park. I can also choose location with strong presence of conservation practices, but again, how to see and what is actually conservation presence? What if it is just an ad-hoc, one-off, temporary thing? It is an important conservation area in Indonesia, arguably one of the most important not only in Indonesia but also worldwide, but I imagine that that doesn’t mean people’s daily life are really heavily affected by conservation the way social scientist tend to describe.

I hope I can start writing this type of logbook under the “research update” menu. It is good to keep track of my thoughts, research process, inspiration, and worries. And it would be fun to look back later on.

… continually facing a problem which is very familiar to anthropologists: how to express a different system with a vocabulary which is inevitably moulded to the institutions of the society in which it is normally used. (Bloch, 1983: 34)