Embracing the ‘inverted commas’, or How COVID-19 can show us new directions for ethnographic ‘fieldwork’

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Qualitative researchers often refer to the sites they study as a ‘field’ and the work they do there as ‘fieldwork’. Setting both terms in inverted commas implies that their meaning stretches beyond clean categorisation of places or methods. Taking the example of ethnographic research during the coronavirus pandemic, I argue that embracing this excess meaning opens new research perspectives when fieldwork gets disrupted. As a more hopeful intervention into a debate currently focused on lost access, immobility and professional frustration, this article puts forward alternative readings of ‘fieldwork’ as a relational and emergent process in which proximity and knowledge production are bound to sensitive research practice more than to physical (co)presence. By tragic serendipity, I argue, COVID-19 has the potential to normalise such readings against the traditional gold standard of fieldwork as extended (and often expensive) research stays in places far-away from ‘home’.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Research
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1342-1358
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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