13 Dec

Geographical Review Preview: When fieldwork “fails”: Participatory visual methods and fieldwork encounters with resettled refugees

By: Emily Frazier

Article Title:
When fieldwork “fails”: Participatory visual methods and fieldwork encounters with resettled refugees. Volume

What is the main purpose of your study?
This paper examines the challenges experienced in fieldwork using participatory visual methods with resettled refugees in the United States. By choosing to view instances of fieldwork failure as instances for productive reflection, this paper encourages scholars to disclose and transform their fieldwork challenges into alternate modes of understanding both research methods and the topic of study.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?
Participatory and visual methods are celebrated as having the potential to enhance communication, to elicit richer insight, or to create spaces of empowerment for research participants. While these outcomes are attractive, participatory and visual methods require time, careful planning, and sensitivity to particular characteristics of the chosen participant population.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
While these methods may potentially yield interesting results, especially with refugee populations, this paper reflects that the objectives of such methods may be confounded by obstacles arising from the logistics of the fieldwork encounter, the participant population, and the researcher themselves. This paper enriches the literature on participatory and visual methods with “vulnerable” populations such as resettled refugees by illustrating the nuances of such research encounters and reporting on when these methods failed.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
This paper reflects on the unanticipated challenges encountered in fieldwork with resettled refugees. In addition to anticipated obstacles such as logistics and power dynamics in the research, the author found that the role of gatekeepers in accessing and conducting research with resettled refugees in the U.S. was a significant challenge requiring careful negotiation.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
This article can be read alongside the developing methodological literatures in Geography considering the ethics of research encounters, innovative, participatory approaches, and fieldwork to facilitate better consideration of how to plan more successful fieldwork encounters using these methods. In addition, this papers highlights the layered power dynamics inherent to research with refugee populations and related gatekeepers. Through three vignettes, this paper offers cases that call for further theoretical consideration of these issues.

How does your research help us think about Geography?
This paper serves as a reminder that not all projects, research sites, or researchers themselves are tailor-made for these approaches. Likewise, even methods with a participatory ethic do not automatically espouse empowerment of research participants or other desired outcomes. As geographers continue to employ an array of innovative participatory methods, including visual methodological variants, they should consider all possible outcomes of these research encounters, and not miss potential for knowledge production, even through instances of failure in fieldwork.

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Click here to read the abstract of this article.