Returning to Azerbaijan as a researcher: The role of affective engagement

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My fieldwork takes place in my home country, Azerbaijan. It draws on family visits, living journalsvisual diaries [SS1] and online meetings to explore five-year-old children’s interactions with digital technologies at home and their influences on family dynamics. The case study research method is adapted to explore a “phenomenon within its real-life context” (Yin, 2009, p. 18) and each of the five families represents a case. I am currently pursuing a PhD degree in a UK university and I returned home with a new identity – still an “insider”, but additionally a mother and a researcher, immersed in Western culture.
Research has addressed dilemmas arising from exploring one’s own community as an insider (e.g. Zavella, 1996), but here I aim to reveal how data collection can be influenced and shaped during fieldwork through the relationships between researcher and researched in their shared culture. In common with Stodulka et. al (2018, p.2), I aim to work “with and through, not against our subjectivities and related affects, feelings and emotions in the endeavour [SS1] to understand what matters to the people we study” [original emphasis]. They go on to explain that researchers are always part of the social encounters that we wish to analysze[SS2] and so it is “methodologically careless” not to pay more attention to our own affective engagements. They go on to explain that researchers are always part of the social encounters that we wish to analyze and so it is “methodologically careless” not to pay more attention to our own affective engagements. They define affects as “sensorial phenomena that emerge from and influence encounters ... with informants, spaces, environments, events, memories, images, and texts” (Ibid. p.3) and affective scholarship as a systematic exploration of researchers’ involvement with people, culture and processes.
I reflect on my fieldwork using their concepts of epistemic affect and affective scholarship to consider the following questions
1)How do the affects of the researcher and the researched influence their interactions and relationships in home-based fieldwork?
2)In what ways do the multiple identities of an “insider” researcher shape data collection?
During family visits, I often found myself facing questions about the nature of my relationship with the participants who were parents, other relatives and children in domestic contexts. For them I was i) a guest [SS1] – a fellow citizen visiting their home for a short while, ii) a researcher [SS2] – gathering data for my research abroad, iii) an [SS3] expert [SS4] – somebody they assumed, mistakenly, could offer advice on child psychology, iv) a[SS5] mother – with a young son who was a similar age to their children, but also a mother who was exposed to revered methods of child rearing within a Western culture and v) both a foreigner and vi) a native Azerbaijani. These multiple identities were confusing for me and the participants: they wanted to share intimate details of their daily lives and discuss their children’s behavioural[SS6] changes, but at the same time they wanted me to leave their homes and return to the university [SS7] with positive images of Azerbaijani family practices.
I realised [SS1] the data are collected together/with/despite these affects and they should be acknowledged in research findings. For example, in the fourth round of family visits, I had planned to conduct intergenerational focus group discussions with mothers, mothers-in-law and children
because extended families tend to live together in Azerbaijan and may have different perspectives on digital technologies. However, participant mothers dissuaded me from involving their mothers-in-law, saying I had grown estranged from local customs and forgotten what complications could arise from the involvement of elders. This cultural aspect led me to respect the affects of my participants and I had to change my plans for the last round of visits. I later came to see that, rather than being an inconvenience, thinking about these social encounters as affective engagements can provide valuable research insights.
Expanding on the notions proposed by Stodulka et. al (2018), I will highlight the importance of recognizing how an awareness of affective scholarship can be valuable in collecting and interpreting the data. Rather than the researcher as participant being a methodological problem to be dismissed or overlooked by some researchers, it can provide a rich, if challenging, resource.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • affects and emotions
  • digital media
  • living journals
  • Azerbaijan
  • reflexivity


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