24 April 2013

General musings on field work from Laos

I started to pen a post two weeks ago, when I returned from the field. I may still post it, it is about logistics. Being in the middle of field work - data collection in my case consists of interviews, which can take 2 hours or 15 minutes, transcriptions of said interviews, content analysis and mapping of each interview as a count of one, and then connection to the larger body of work I am attempting build - is time consuming.

The next time I do this, I want a team of reliable souls so I can delegate some of this work out to them. The dream of a grad student struggling to handle all this data...

A team of people who go out and do studies about interesting phenomena. I know this is done, but it seems to me that whoever I encounter doing this is doing it in some official capacity. Are there still teams of renegade researchers going out in the world and collecting data about something they deem important?  I mean them vs. the powers that hold the purse strings. Or has all of this been relegated to the confines and bounds of the funding agencies? Funding agencies...hmm.

I am unfunded in Laos. Not for lack of trying. I applied to about 10 big pools of funding for this year. I fell on my face. Usually without explanation I was rejected. It is a mystery. One person, here in Laos, commented that I am lucky. There are no constraints or expectations on my work because of this. I am of course grateful to be free in my work. I am also annoyed that my work has not been supported by anyone in the world of science - be it social or physical - less so for the money, but more the acceptance. I would like them to embrace me. I am studying something interesting. Maybe it is not uber important to anyone. Maybe it is not life altering or global shifting or earth shattering. But it is still an interesting question to research. I am fully capable of pulling it off - getting the data I need, dedicating the time and energy. If I were not a stubborn (and perhaps stupid) person, I would have let the idea go, not pursued it, chosen something less challenging and closer to home, been in more comfortable climates, relegated myself to the powers that be and given them a project with buzz words and promised lies of what can be achieved by looking at certain aspects of rivers and geography.

In the end, the work is just information filtered through a model that highlights the strength and weaknesses of this given situation - dam development in two fo the world's least developed countries - relevant maybe to the people it involves. But beyond that? Do we care so much about the world's least developed countries? How about dams? Do we want to do some mental gymnastics to understand how water and poverty are related somehow, and that development is some link between the two - some link that can either exploit or benefit populations of impoverished people? I would say, most people glaze over with this talk. Not to say I do not believe in my work. I do. I love it. Otherwise how could I wake everyday, early, to transcriptions and analysis. How could I stay awake at night working on text and edits? How could I pester people for interviews, begging, as it were, to be met with and given some time? I couldn't.

I enjoy the mania of intense work periods. The long days of interviews, the long hours on transcripts, the endless thinking about how to organize this work into something readable, something digestible. It is a creative project and should be fun. Maybe I am obsessive.

I guess this musing is for other researchers and dreamers and artists out there who have an idea, or just an idea of an idea, that can be fixed with wings. Go for it. The research, the project, will take care of itself somehow, just give it some breath of life. And don't worry about those big funding vehicles. Maybe they love you and want to see your work come to life. Maybe they could care less. But it is YOU that have to make it work, make it live, make it relevant to yourself, to someone else, somewhere, someday. Be true to yourself, against the odds. Why not? We may only have this moment, and this chance at this moment. Passion and truth are ingredients for success. Or at least the very least, these things move us in that direction and provide the hope that it will all work out.