Fieldwork can involve risk, and intense and distressing emotions for researchers. In this laboratory we make this experience visible through open dialogue, and explore pathways for support. In doing so, we grapple with the value of emotions and vulnerability to anthropological research.
Fieldwork can be an intense and significant experience for researchers, particularly when it involves risk. Whether the risks are emotional, for example, in coming face to face with unjust lived realities of research participants and being isolated from family and support networks, or physical, concerning the researcher's bodily safety, or professional, such as possible damage to the researcher's reputation and networks, doing fieldwork can elicit responses of alienation, distressing emotions and fear both in the field and on return. Moreover, such responses may not be separable, and in fact, can impact upon the doing of fieldwork and data collection, including interviewing and observation, themselves. At present, the realities of experiencing risk in fieldwork, and permission to struggle with it, are not often discussed openly within academic departments or institutions. Moreover, there is little open exploration of the value of these affective experiences and responses in the course of research work. Our purpose in this laboratory is to make visible the struggles that researchers can face in their work through dialogue and reflection on our own field experiences, and those of others. We invite participants to join us in exploring these tensions, and possible pathways for overcoming them. We will begin the laboratory by modelling collective narrative methods of outsider witnessing as one pathway, before opening to exploration of possibilities from participants. In this way, our aim is to grapple with the value of researchers, and the value of their emotionality and vulnerability, to the aims and goals of anthropological research.