The Challenges of Doing Research

Research can be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle”

– from a poster. I substituted ‘research’ for ‘golf’.

With my fieldwork in Venezuela now officially over, a quick look back at it all makes me think more of what was missed rather than what I actually got done. With this being said, there are two topics I could pursue from this point forth. The first would be reflect, and lament, over missed opportunities and rookie mistakes. While I certainly have a good idea of what most of them were, and how they impacted my research, that’ll probably end up being more of a book than a blog, so I’ll leave that alone for now.

Instead, I’ll hit on the second, which has to do with the external constraints I found myself under in attempting to do research, which precipitates from the current climate of political polarization prevalent in the country. For any who may be a bit lacking in knowledge on the subject, Venezuela is currently undergoing a drawn out process of revolutionary change, on the path towards ‘21st century socialism’. Since its unofficial beginning in 1998 with the election of President Hugo Chávez, this process has created an increasingly bifurcated political environment which has accelerated in recent years, with on the one side there being those in favour of the process, being the majority, popular or working class, and on the other there being large sections if not the vast majority of the middle-class and of course every single last one of the upper-class bourgeoisie. One caveat here, often overlooked, is that there of course are large numbers of the population in between, who don’t subscribe openly to either the appeals of the now much more united opposition bloc, nor the PSUV (Partido Socialista Unida de Venezuela – huge with 7 million members out of 17 million registered voters in the country). This has been made clearer to me both through my own research and also with the election season warming up as I was finishing up over my last 4 weeks. And yes beyond this lies even more political complexity. But suffice it to summarize the situation as such here. Continue reading

Something different (but familiar)

I have been intending for awhile now to write, much as Neil has, about the work I’ve been doing here in Merida over the past 5 weeks. Unfortunately, though, that’s going to have to await my next post, as what’s captured my imagination at least for the moment is a movie I watched last night at the university cinema, an American film from 2007 named ‘The Visitor’. What makes this film blogworthy in the realm of development studies is, well, at least in my mind, its relevance to a central theme in development discourse we in the development studies program have all become very familiar with. Any guesses? Well, if my memory serves me correct it was one of the titles for this blog that was bandied over originally. Need another clue? Well, think back to the very first lecture we were given by our dear mentor Pablo, and there you shall find the answer. Yes my friends, I am going there: it’s immanence and intentionality once again.

Before I get into the heavy stuff, though, let me just say this was a beautiful movie. The experience was also completely unexpected, as (a) I had been debating whether to even go in the first place, and (b) I bought my ticket not even knowing what movie was playing (OK so what if it only cost 25 cents). Now, steeped in metaphor of the aforementioned development terminology, this movie is centrally about opening up and allowing oneself to be immersed in the ‘immanence’, or actuality, of things as they unfold, become manifested, and are lived on a day to day basis. ‘Intentionality’ within the film is contrasted, interestingly, as something divorced from the ‘immanence’ of things, as it is literally equated with the academic world of development economics, inside of which the central protagonist, Walter, is a professor. Continue reading

So hello everyone,

I finally decided to contribute to the famous blog!!! i hope everyone is fully enjoying their own particular research experience.

couple of days ago, i realized that half of my time here, in slovakia, is simply gone. this realiztion was accompanied by a sudden rush of panic….i became aware that i dont really have much research information collected! of course, after that i started to hectically run around, trying to do what ever i can to catch up.

i must say, i dont really know what to think about my research. somehow, there are two lines on which i am moving, and i am not really sure how to connect them. on one hand, i am talking to the food producers (people who make cheese, sausages, meat products…) and on the other hand i am talking to the farming cooperatives-well they are not really cooperatives, but i am not sure what the word would be in english for them. they are what remained from the “united peasants’ coops” that were established during the communist regime. because of the communist regime, we dont really have farmers as such but these coops that produce grains, and milk…. Continue reading

Experiencing the Ebbs and Flows of Conducting Research

A few weeks ago I shifted gears. For the first two months or so I focused my energies on participant observation, and as a result spent a good portion of my time in COMOSOC’s office. In the beginning this was key as it allowed me to: a) have a more or less fixed schedule, which kept me on track and focused (something that a ‘flojo’ like myself needs at times), b) observe the day to day workings of COMOSOC and the dynamics between its members (pretty essential for someone looking to observe power dynamics and how decisions are made internally), c) better understand the context within which COMOSOC and its members operate, d) offer something ‘in return’ to the coalition (which as you will read below ended up becoming more than I expected), and e) from a selfish perspective, helped me gain a considerable amount of trust that has giving me greater access to interviewees and has added richness to the interviews I have conducted. I really enjoyed the experience of working in close proximity to the people I am studying, and found myself in a rather comfortable routine. But a few weeks ago I decided I needed to shift gears, deciding that for my own research purposes I needed to focus on the interview process. I am glad I made that decision when I did, because it its proving to take much longer than I initially though it would to get the amount of interviews I have deemed necessary. Continue reading

Sex Workers (and Liberalism)

Yesterday I was somewhat hastily invited to sit in on a meeting for which I hadn’t been briefed. Three people came into the office and exchanged business cards with us (I definitely wished I had sprung for York business cards before I left). From their cards and the conversations I could see they were all advocates for Ugandan sex workers’ rights and were currently seeking to follow through on a case against an abusive police officer and secure protection for the litigating victim in the interim.  Two of the people present were women (one of whom was the litigant) and were both coordinators of separate but collaborating sex worker advocacy organizations. I assumed the litigant was an advocate who had been harassed due to the nature of her work, I did not think she was a sex worker. The third person present was a male doctor who has taken a role in the case. As we filled out an intake form, I was somewhat annoyed seeing the man tell the woman exactly, word-for-word how to fill out the intake form which asks her to describe her case. After the meeting was complete I did some research on the organizations and found out that both women who came to us were (as of their last public writings) active sex workers who had taken up advocacy and organizing within their working environment to respond to the abuses they had experienced and witnessed in their line of work. Continue reading

Peru

Ahh my first blog post! I’m really enjoying reading all the blogs.

So much to write, not sure where to start, so this will ramble. Well I’m in Lima, Peru right now. My trip started late April in Guatemala where I travelled with Rights Action to mining affected (and I mean really affected, like homes burned to the ground multiple times) communities for a week. That was an unbelievable experience but I’ll stick to Peru for now. Then I was in Arequipa for language school for 3 weeks then travelled to Bolivia for 1 week. Continue reading