By Mark Carrigan and Susan Robertson
The Covid-19 crisis has created unprecedented disruption across nearly every aspect of social life. The university is no exception to this and the last two months have seen a rapid transition to remote working, encompassing every aspect of our work. The suddenness of the disruption means that those currently undertaking fieldwork or planning to begin it in the near future had little time to prepare for lockdown measures and what they meant for their research. The scale of the disruption means that fieldwork as it is traditionally conceived simply cannot take place for the foreseeable future. The uncertainty of the disruption means that it remains unclear when it could be resumed, with the growing realisation that social distancing is the ‘new normal’ to which we all must adapt. This is an enormous challenge for those committed to fieldwork at a time when there are so many other difficulties which even the most mundane aspects of daily life are currently presenting us with.
It’s been reassuring to see how the social scientific community has responded to this challenge in creative and supportive ways. Deborah Lupton has crowd sourced a collection of resources on doing fieldwork in a pandemic. The LSE Digital Ethnography Collective have compiled a comprehensive guide to the literature on ethnographic methods which use digital tools. Adam Jowett has offered important reflections on the practice and ethics of qualitative research under lockdown. The Methods Lab have curated a selection of resources to help us respond to the crisis. The National Centre for Research Methods have also compiled a series of resources.
It is in this spirit that we are inviting personal reflections on the challenges of doing fieldwork during lockdown, through the format of short audio diaries which will be released in the form of a podcast series. This fieldwork diary by Michaela Benson gives a sense of what we imagine this might look like in practice but we leave the precise approach open to participants. You can listen to the initial episodes online here.
Topics might include explanations of digital methods used to conduct fieldwork at a distance, reflections on the methodological challenge of redesigning projects at short notice or the personal challenges involved in negotiating this disruption when already out in the field. Contributions might take the form of first-person reflections but we would also be keen to see fictionalised vignettes which explore scenarios that others might be experiencing. However these are only suggestions and we look forward to seeing other topics and formats which people feel are relevant for the series. Our intention is to create a dialogical resource through which the research community can help each other through this difficult time, as well as advancing our practical and methodological thinking about doing fieldwork in a pandemic.
The audio files should be 15 minute or less and recorded as an Mp3 if possible. There’s no need for sound quality to be perfect but please try to keep background noise to a minimum when you record. If you would like more information about or assistance with the recording process then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re happy to receive finished diaries but we’re also happy to discuss ideas and help you develop them.
Please send your contributions or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org