Research Methods for Law

By Mike McConville; Wing Hong Chui | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Researching the Landless
Movement in Brazil

George Meszaros


INTRODUCTION

Every research setting poses its own problems. Ideally, research methodol- ogy has the dual task of first accurately conceptualising and then over- coming them. Failing the latter (which in many respects is a natural part of the research process, as initial options are discarded), methodology should at least try to account for the difficulties. The present chapter is just such an account. It examines some problems commonly arising from overseas research in so-called ‘developing’ countries, the context being a project looking at land struggles in Brazil. The chapter’s main aim is to sensitise readers to challenges posed by fieldwork, especially those associated with power relations. Power relations, it is argued, pervade the field and thereby define key aspects of the researcher’s relationship to it, and vice versa. Not only may these relations affect the way a project is constituted (for example, sold to prospective funders) or justified to participants themselves; but they will affect the terms of access to so-called gatekeepers; the sorts of questions posed to interviewees; their perceptions of the researcher; the types of answers given; and thereby conclusions reached. For all these reasons, and others discussed in the course of this chapter, power relations (also referred to as the politics of research) are of vital significance to both the development of a project and, potentially, its very sustainability. Readers, are therefore invited to think carefully about the implications of entering the field, not so much in the belief that all difficulties can be overcome – indeed the chapter concludes by suggesting the highly contingent nature of research – but in the belief that it is essential to be aware of those contingencies and their poten- tial impacts.

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