In 2019, I spent about nine months visiting urban secondary schools in Malaysia, spending most of my time at two schools. There, I observed and recorded teachers’ meetings, hung around in the staffroom, watched significant school events and interviewed the teachers before I left the field.
Like Sophia, I too had to prepare myself to navigate the insider-outsider tension. Like my participants, I was an English teacher and a Malaysian. Like them, I had done my first degree locally. But unlike them, I am currently a doctoral student at Cambridge, and I had also studied in Singapore, both of which, are generally perceived as markers of “eliteness.”
This year marks a decade of my travelling to and from the Dominican Republic, conducting research, taking classes, teaching, training teachers. ‘Tienes más tigueraje que yo,’ my Dominican friends tell me, insinuating that I have learned to acculturate and take care of myself in this country that is foreign to me. But at times I forget its foreignness. My foreignness. Since first travelling to the DR as a twenty-year-old college student I immediately felt connected to the Caribbean culture. My mom is from Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans and Dominicans refer to each other as ‘dos alas del mismo pájaro,’ two wings of the same bird.
My local supervisor was no longer just a part of the ethical or formal procedures. In cross-cultural research, many have shared stories including dilemmas in valuing diverse knowledge systems, respecting different concepts on punctuality, locating “private” space in a communal culture, and ensuring voluntariness in participation. The contextualized advice given by a local expert was thus pacifying. It was invaluable in revealing the cultural norms, which were often misinterpreted by outsiders socialized in western research conventions.
Not many people get an opportunity to be a part of an organization even after leaving it. I’ve been one of those lucky ones, remaining connected to the ASER Centre, the research and assessment arm of Pratham Education Foundation in India, for whom I have worked for more than 3 years. When I got the opportunity to pursue a PhD at the University of Cambridge, I was delighted to learn that the REAL Centre at the Faculty of Education would be working closely with the ASER Centre on a grassroots intervention to increase accountability in education in rural India.
The case of Matthew Hedges, the PhD student from Durham University’s School of Government and International Affairs, who has been detained in the United Arab Emirates since May 2018, drew significant attention from the media and the academic community in the United Kingdom and worldwide. Over 600 scholars from all over the world have signed…
Before embarking on my fieldwork, I felt that I understood the importance of researchers needing to carefully consider the place in which they will carry out their research, and their own positionality, so that the needs of their participants can be taken into account; however, in spite of having conducted research in Bihar, India previously, there were a number of ethical issues that arose, which I did not anticipate.
In this blog entry, Hiba Salem shares the complexities of being a Syrian researcher studying the voices of Syrian students. Hiba discusses her fieldwork, where she researched the experiences of Syrian refugee students aged 13-16 in Jordan’s schools.