The long shadows cast by the field: violence, trauma, and the ethnographic researcher
As more geographers utilise ethnographic methods to explore pressing contemporary issues such as abandonment, precarity, and resilience, they enter into research environments often defined by social marginality and violence. There are emotional and psychological risks associated with embedded research in such contexts, however these challenges have largely been ignored in existing methodological literatures. A frank debate is needed about the emotional and psychological burden that ethnographic research can exact upon lone researchers and how these burdens interface with researcher identity and positionality. Drawing on a reflexive analysis of the author’s experience of fieldwork in South Africa, this paper highlights the emotional consequences of conducting ethnographic research with marginal groups in dangerous contexts. It specifically examines the ripple effect of exposure to traumatic events that culminated in the author’s diagnosis with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In so doing, the paper draws attention to the acute emotional and psychological consequences of ethnographic research, while also challenging prevalent professional attitudes within the neoliberal university that promote the downplaying or silencing of such repercussions. The paper concludes with a series of suggestions for how (early career) researchers, our discipline, and institutions might better promote and realise an ethic of collective care for field researchers.
Copyright (c) 2019 Stephen Taylor
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