Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The "Native" as Ethnographer: Doing Social Research in Globalizing Nsukka

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The "Native" as Ethnographer: Doing Social Research in Globalizing Nsukka

Article excerpt

The origin of social research was influenced by the physical sciences, which emphasize neutrality and objectivity on the part of the researcher. Early social researchers set off with the impression that such attributes of good science should also be practiced in the human sciences. In recent decades, there have been debates as to how much objectivity is possible for social research because we, as humans, can hardly achieve the sort of distance that physical scientists can maintain from the inanimate objects of their research. For social (especially qualitative) scholarship, many now agree that it is pretentious to claim such levels of neutrality because, as human beings living among others, social researchers cannot be totally impartial and detached observers (Berger, 2015; Giddens, 2009). However, concerns about credibility and trustworthiness of results remain crucial, as has been expounded by several scholars that include Winter (2000), Golafshani (2003), Haralambos, Holborn, and Heald (2015) and Stewart, Gapp, and Harwood (2017).

This paper results from my experience as I did ethnography of the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) initiative as an insider in Nsukka, a locality in southeast Nigeria. Initiated in 1998 through a joint partnership of major international health bodies, the RBM initiative is a transnational intervention targeted at the malarious world. It was launched in Nsukka in 1999. The study was defined by me for a PhD project (Ugwu, 2016) and not the RBM managers. The aim of my project was to explore the attitudes of this local population to the RBM initiative. However, I felt compelled to write this methodological report because fieldwork experience opened my eyes to something interesting: Members of this local setting naturally assume that social research is linked to the external world, particularly the state and/or the global North. So, it became the case that, although I was born and raised in this locality, my position as a researcher conferred on me (in the eyes of the local population) an identity of the authority and power of the state and the global North. This paper is an attempt to contemplate the merits and challenges of this intersecting identity for the credibility of research results arising from such a context. Vandenberg and Hall (2011) note that when researchers are in positions of power, or when participants sense that disagreement with the dominant power position of the researcher could affect them in some way, they would tend to present only the local sides considered more palatable to such powerful external forces.

Hutchinson (1996), Whyte (2011), and Geissler (2014) have analyzed how local attitudes that connect social research to the external world played out in the different African settings where they worked. This reality has the potential to vitiate credibility of findings, depending on how the researcher handles this challenge. This reality that tends to portray the researcher as connected with powerful external forces will play out in peculiar ways for different categories of researchers working in different settings. Yet the challenges for the local researcher working in a setting where other locals ordinarily link research to external forces (Geissler, 2014; Izugbara, 2000) have yet to be especially articulated.

Being an insider in the area of this study for more than three decades guaranteed me the deep cultural involvement required for understanding the members' social experience from an insider's viewpoint. Interactions and rapport building were easier on account of this. The fieldwork would have been longer and more challenging were I to learn afresh the language and terrain of the area. However, I attempt, in this paper, to highlight important ways in which the challenges that attended my ethnographic encounter--as an insider who came to acquire the status of a symbolic outsider on account of his research--could affect the credibility of results. Where relevant, I draw from experiences that predate the present fieldwork. …

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