Riddims of the Street, Beach, and Bureaucracy: Situating Geographical Research in Jamaica

Article excerpt

This paper is motivated by a concern about the limited critical attention directed toward the methodological challenges of conducting geographical research in the Caribbean. Drawing on social theories and our empirical experiences with doing qualitative research in Jamaica, we present a variety of methodological conundrums associated with three distinctive contexts: the street, the beach, and the bureaucracy. Such contexts in Jamaica, we argue, should be understood and approached by researchers with respect to their 'riddims,' that is, their distinctive socio-spatial textures and cultural expressions. We seek to foster critical discussion of how methodological problems can result from contextually and spatially insensitive research. This paper contributes to the critical literature on methodology in the Caribbean by showing how certain epistemological and methodological frameworks may hinder research in Jamaica. We do this by explaining how various micro-scale inter-personal dynamics between the researcher and the researched in Jamaica are shaped by the meso-scale riddims of the street, beach, and bureaucracy.

KEY WORDS: Caribbean, Jamaica, fieldwork, qualitative methods, social theory

INTRODUCTION

The Caribbean is often characterized as a region thoroughly dependent on connections with the wider world (e.g., Deere et al. 1990; Richardson 1992), but it is also a region that produces its own complex cultural interactions and socio-economic relations (Maurer 1997). Generated in part as an effort to interpret these complexities, a literature on critical geographies of the Caribbean has burgeoned (e.g., Roberts 1994; Potter and Conway 1997; Pulsipher 1997; Skelton 2000; Lambert 2001; Klak 2002; Mains 2004; Pantojas-Garcia and Klak 2004; Kingsbury 2005a,b; Newstead 2005; Rubinoff 2005). Mullings (1999), however, represents the only critical and in-depth engagement with the methodological challenges of doing geographical research in the Caribbean.

Reflecting on her experiences of conducting qualitative research on the information processing sector in Jamaica, Beverley Mullings, a "black woman of British/ Jamaican heritage, from a North American University" (Mullings 1999, 341), provides numerous valuable theoretical and empirical insights into the difficulties of conducting the research. For example, Mullings explains how interactions between the researcher and the researched in Jamaica require both parties to negotiate through "positional spaces." That is, both parties must contend with social interactions fraught with uncertainties concerning the expectations and effects of gender, race, class, nationality, and sexuality. In light of the power dynamics that infiltrate interviews, Mullings describes how she presented herself as a British academic affiliated with a North American university. She did not volunteer her a priori knowledge of Jamaica in order to minimize the suspicions that the managers of Jamaican information processing companies might have. Furthermore, Mullings stresses how the interactions between researcher and the researched are underpinned by dynamic, non-binary logics that "cannot be reduced to the familiar boundaries of insider/outsider privilege based on visible attributes such as race, gender, ethnicity or class" (Mullings 1999, 340). In other words, Mullings argues that the spatial and temporal dynamics of interviews disrupt any neat distinction that an interviewer is either an 'insider' (belonging to the social group under study) or an 'outsider' (removed from the group under study).

This paper aims to extend Mullings' insights on how inter-cultural and positional spaces matter by linking them to an investigation of how larger-scale Jamaican spaces also matter. In doing so, we address the dearth of methodological discussion on geographical research conducted in Jamaica. In this paper, we focus on idiosyncratic Jamaican spaces that have profound impacts on research activities. …