Gender and Dangers Inherent in Fieldwork

By Fry, Lincoln J. | Gender & Behaviour, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Gender and Dangers Inherent in Fieldwork


Fry, Lincoln J., Gender & Behaviour


Based on 2,400 face-to-face interviews conducted by contract field-staff in South Africa in 2008, this study looks at the way gender affects danger in fieldwork settings. Based on data collected by Afrobarometer in 2008, the research provides an indication of the level of the interviewers' feelings of being threatened as well as their receipt of physical threats. Interviewers collected information about respondent attitude toward the survey process and two additional questions asked whether the interviewer felt threatened or had received actual physical threats. The analysis revealed that interviewer social and demographic characteristics were not predictive of the reported feeling threatened and/or being physically threatened. The findings regarding receipt of physical threats were as expected; female interviewers were the recipients of 25 of 26 physical threats. Contrary to what was expected, about equal numbers of interviewers who had interviewed women had received physical threats. Two other questions asked whether respondents received help from others to answer the questions and whether the interviewer had been approached by community or party representatives. Those two questions, and a respondent attitude scale, emerged as the primary predictors of the receipt of physical threats by these interviewers. These findings pointed to the need for increased safety planning and training, especially for field supervisors. The conclusions of the study are that safety planning should be introduced into interviewer and supervisor training, and should also include planning that attempts to pave the way for interviewers to enter fieldwork sites. This would begin with prior contact with significant community gatekeepers, providing them with a clear understanding of the objectives and logistics of surveys to be conducted in their communities

This paper addresses the issue of the dangers inherent in fieldwork, paying special attention to the role of gender in shaping risk in fieldwork settings. The study will look at one of the fieldwork settings that some suggest is one of the safest for those conducting fieldwork, the structured intensive interview. The interviews which provide the basis of the study were conducted by a largely ignored interviewer subpopulation, contract fieldstaff workers. This paper is based on the self-reports of contract fieldworkers who conducted 2,400 face-to-face interviews in South Africa in 2008. The study looks at instances where interviewers reported feeling threatened while conducting interviews as well as where interviewers reported they had received actual physical threats during the course of conducting the interview process. The study will concentrate on female fieldworkers, in the quest to help identify the way gender affects danger in fieldwork settings. Besides providing some assessment of the threat level interviewers face, the study will also attempt to identify the factors that predict physical threats to female interviewers in similar fieldwork settings.

Literature Review

This paper will continue in the same research tradition as Howell (1990) who presented the first large scale study of dangers to fieldworkers. Based on estimates taken from an anonymous purposeful sample of anthropologists, she used 204 reports sent from the field to calculate the percentage of those who identified specific dangers, like rape, robbery, and other risks either to themselves or others at their research sites. The data was then presented by areas of the world, broken down by North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa, India, and the Pacific; the combined rate for Africa was the highest of all regions.

Fieldwork, Definition and Scope: Fieldwork may be seen as the study of people and their cultures carried out in the real world, away from the desk or the laboratory. One major purpose is to gather information, especially respondent views and opinions about events that occur in their natural environments, on a face-toface basis or through telephone or mail surveys. …

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