Fieldwork Checklist

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Use this document to help you critically reflect on the process of doing fieldwork.

Asking Questions

  • What approach did you take to asking questions today?
    • indirect/listening

    • direct/assertive

    • formal interview

    • informal chat

    • blended with participant observation

    • structured questioning

    • informal and unstructured

    • with individual

    • with group

  • What difficulties did you run into?

    • lost in translation

    • lack of background knowledge

    • difficulty engaging interlocutors

    • lack of rapport

    • not knowing the right questions to ask

    • direct questioning not appropriate for this group/on this topic (other approaches?)

  • Where and why did you feel you succeeded today?

    • piggybacked on research facilitator’s rapport

    • got direct/instructive responses

    • got a sense of social “warmth”1

    • built on previously established relationship

    • interlocutors motivated to share knowledge on this particular topic (why might that be?)

  • Does direct and structured questioning work better with some interlocutors and indirect and casual questioning with others?

    • officials

    • farmers

    • city people

    • educated people

    • adults

    • children

    • men

    • women

  • What people say and what they do

    • do you note a coincidence between what people say they do and what you observe people doing?

    • where do these things coincide?

    • where do they clash?

    • to what do you attribute the gap?

  • Access and equality

    • did you get to talk to who you wanted to talk to?

    • did some subjects steal the limelight and “speak for” others?

    • are there ways of getting around this?

    • how do you talk to the quiet or “silenced” subjects?

  • Working with translators

    • was your research facilitator a neutral translator?

    • or was she also an interpreter?

    • did she introduce subjectivity into the conversation?

    • how did this manifest?

    • was this useful or problematic?

    • how can you “control” for or account for this subjectivity in your data?

Participant Observation

  • What was your experience of participant observation today?

    • felt tension/awkwardness

    • felt natural and at home

    • misunderstandings, errors, false starts?

    • found ways to cope with strangeness and difference

    • forgot to stand back, observe and take notes

    • shared emotions and sensations of other participants

    • complete observer—complete participant?

    • things learnt by doing that one can’t learn by asking questions or observing?

    • what was the status of your “membership?”

    • did you play an insider or outsider role?

    • did gendered or ethno-racial difference dictate this role?

    • were you called on to participate in unexpected ways?

    • were you covert or overt?

  • What did participation achieve for you today?

    • allowed you to get close enough to collect data

    • was a source of data in itself

    • allowed you to learn about events, feelings, rules and norms in context

    • demonstrated your commitment

    • helped you pursue a critical ethnography

    • helped you understand insiders’ perspectives and experiences

    • enabled you to participate in the co-construction of local social worlds

    Case Study

  • Is your case study

    • Intrinsic (no generalisation or theorisation appropriate)

    • instrumental (actual case of secondary importance e.g. to theory being tested)

    • ethnography used to make arguments about processes beyond to local situation studied

    • how “far” do you dare go from the particular and local things you observe?

    • do you have another case study against which you could compare this one (sampling?)

    • can you link this case study to other sites you’ve researched (multi-sited ethnography)?

    Multi-sited and mobile ethnography

    • Have you managed to link your case study to other locations or the macro scale?

    • regional, national, global scales?

    • field site constituted by flows?

    • by mobile subjects (e.g. tourists)

    • identified connections between places, things, people etc

    • did you compare sites or were you mobile between them?

    Critical Ethnography

  • was there a critical or political intent to your ethnography?

    • exposing hidden agendas, power relations, forms of oppression, challenging the taken-for-granted

    • how meanings connect to broader structures of power and control

    • identified local/global inequalities

    Inductive and Deductive

    • what “sensitizing concepts” did you use?

    • grounded theoretical perspectives emerging?

    • deductive reasoning

    • inductive reasonong

    • abductive reasoning

    • how are you dealing with messiness and uncertainty in your ethnography?


  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of “good feeling” in Vietnamese social interaction! People often refer directly to the sense of affect or emotion [tình cảm] they experience when engaging with others. While you may feel you’re being nosy at times, your curiosity will often be interpeted positively as a sense of concern for your interlocutors’ welfare. 

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