Friday, May 04, 2007

A good question is the key

Suddenly things began to go well. What has happened?

I switched the question I stubbornly tried to answer to another one. “WHY do they live here?” seemed to be a good starting point for my interest in this place, but it hasn’t seemed to be helpful in understanding of people’s life. One day I started to ask (also myself): HOW do they live? What a trick, right? :) I was astonished by how this extremely simple change has improved my work! Suddenly I experienced a deluge of information that I’ve dreamt about during last 4 months.

I’ve realized that I’ve been looking for an answer that my informants would never give me (I don’t mean the verbal explication). The subject I’ve chosen to investigate on isn’t interesting for them at all so I couldn’t get any information in a “natural” way. The feeling that ”I have no data” is a plague among all fieldwork greenhorns and I’m surely not an exception. Of course I didn’t want to join the group and was racking my brains over some strategy that could help me somehow in gathering more, important in my opinion, data. And I got a brainwave: why am actually asking one of the most ethnocentric questions in the world and why I am locking myself in this trap? Why should they actually even try to convince me of the reasons to live here?! So I’ve started to watch more carefully HOW they live. What is important for them? What consumes their energy? [thanks to my supervisor for this hint :)] What kind of decisions do they take every day? Small, simple questions… Our life is after all nothing more than this…

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t ask about the reasons for any kind of activity that seems surprising or strange to us. It’s human nature to ask and we can’t escape from the feeling of burning curiosity. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t start with looking for “the big answer” if we aren’t familiar with the small, everyday ones…