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2017 Conference - Methodological Meta-Reflections on Relationship-building and Reciprocity
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Applied linguists have drawn on ethnographic methods (e.g., observations, participant observation, interviews, focus groups) to investigate the processes, practices and experiences of transnationalism and transnational migrants for some time. As Warriner & Wyman (2013) observe, “sociolinguists have made considerable headway in identifying and describing the relationship between mobility, linguistic resources, and forms of inequality” (p. 2). Yet we seldom reflect on the ethical or epistemological dimensions of that work or complicated emotional demands involved in building the relationships needed to move that work forward and/or sustain it. In this presentation, I describe and examine the role of ethnographic methods in fostering the relationships needed to pursue a cross-institutional, transdisciplinary, collaborative research project between university researchers, health care professionals, and members of refugee communities. I analyze how university researchers called upon their ethnographic sensibilities and expertise to access research sites, prepare for site visits, communicate and build trust with collaborators, engage in reciprocity, and obtain ongoing informed consent. With a focus on the complicated ethical dimensions of conducting research with/for/among vulnerable groups, I reflect on the value of flexibility (in research design, data collection processes, and approaches to data analysis); the dangers of trying to interpret our emic experiences in terms of etic categories; and the opportunities and demands of cross-disciplinary, cross-institutional collaborations. This presentation contributes insights about relationship-building, "ethics in practice" (Guillemin & Gillam, 2004), knowledge production and the changing contexts of research that should be of interest to applied linguists working collaboratively with community-based groups to investigate processes of transnationalism, contestation, and transformation.
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