Adaptable ethnographic methodology in a post-disaster changing landscape
How adaptable has to be an ethnographic methodology when everything around it is quickly changing?
The change from building science to social sciences was a challenge from the start. Learning about ethnography, running a fieldwork pilot, getting into participant observation – which resulted in nearly four full notebooks of 100 pages each – and doing 86 in-depth interviews was a lot. Then the time would come for the subsequent steps of transcribing interviews, coding and memoing notes and transcriptions. All under control until here, but there were more challenges ahead.
My research is about adaptation, and I somehow had to mirror it as my case study is a post-earthquake environment. I had to constantly adapt to be able to carry on. Over the 18 months of field work sites opened, others closed, some were gone forever and others were fixed, renovated and came back to life. In the middle of the turmoil I was investigating how the urban environment affects daily lives and climate experience. Considering the city’s context, there were times when studying climate felt like an unimportant issue.
At the start of this work I had in mind that a research methodology had to be like a cake recipe. It is not enough to say ‘add eggs’, you need to say how many and what size, otherwise the instruction for the cake making is not reproducible and the result will be different. But what if the site and especially its context is not reproducible in itself? What if the environment where the fieldwork takes place is a constant changing one? This made me aware of the methodological challenges in post-disaster environments in general, and perhaps this is also important regarding climate change and consequent sociocultural adaptation uncertainties.
All this ‘methodological process’ will be presented at the end of this month at the CELA 2014 Conference. My supervisor, Simon Swaffield, will present it and I am looking forward to the comments that will come from our presentation.
I am also interested in knowing about what were your major methodological challenges. What area are you studying?