Understanding Global Development Research: Fieldwork Issues, Experiences and Reflections: Chapter 9

Swetha Rao Dhananka | February 2017

In Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka’s rich career as a social anthropologist, 1979 marks the year of her first entry into the field. I was born in that year and I first entered the field a full three decades later – in 2009. Professor Pfaff-Czarnecka describes her first field experience in Nepal as exciting but challenging, primarily due to the mutual foreignness between her, as a white woman from Europe, and the village community in Nepal tucked away in the many folds of the Himalayas. My first encounter with my field in India was enmeshed with my identity as a child of Indian parents originally from the city of Bangalore who migrated and settled in Switzerland. I came to discover Bangalore during subsequent summer holidays spent among the same people. In 2009, I entered this city that I partly called home, partly loved and partly despised, with an entirely new mind-set. I wanted to explore social inequalities and their production in a highly stratified society. In particular, I was interested in investigating the pervasiveness of inadequate housing for the urban poor despite sustained economic growth and rapidly transforming urban landscapes. Bangalore was well suited for this endeavour, as I was able to work with slum-dwellers – a population marginalised on many fronts in terms of housing, access to productive land, crucial urban services, and also education. Notwithstanding the substantial differences in how Professor Pfaff-Czarnecka and I achieved ‘first entry’ as researchers, and the considerable time lag between our field visits, which were set in contrasting rural and urban settings, I am struck by the similarities of the lessons learned from our respective fieldwork experiences.