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

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Abstract / Description of output

My fieldwork takes place in my home country, Azerbaijan. It draws on family visits, living journals 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 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 analyse 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?

Vygotsky’s (1978) cultural-historical theory in relation with Cole’s (1996) notion of prolepsis will inform the theoretical framework of this study. While explaining the role of culture in children’s development, Cole (1996) highlights how parents, beginning from their children’s birth, start planning their children’s present, and future, based on their own cultural experiences and assumptions. This concept will help me reveal the influences of parents on their children’s use of digital technologies at home.

Method
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. Purposive sampling method has been applied to identify cases to gain insights into families’ practices in a natural setting (Creswell, 2012). In line with Vygotsky (1962), children participate in the activities they observe at home or within larger communities, thus, I have conducted family visits that included observations, interviews and creating life and family trajectories with parents, and house tours with children. Also, I took my toddler son with me to a family visit due to unavailability of my family members. On these occasions family members were inclined to show him what they were doing, for example children would share their toys and teach him their games providing data for my research that were not easily available for me otherwise.

Expected Outcomes
In the visits I was i) a guest – a fellow citizen visiting their home, ii) a researcher from abroad, iii) an expert – somebody they assumed, mistakenly, could offer advice on child psychology, iv) a mother with a toddler son, exposed to revered methods of child rearing within a Western culture and v) a foreigner and vi) a native Azerbaijani. These multiple identities were confusing for both sides: they wanted to share intimate details of their daily lives and discuss their children’s behavioural changes, but also they wanted me to return to the university with positive images of the family practices of Azerbaijanis. I fathomed the data are collected together/with/despite these affects and they should be acknowledged in research findings. I had planned to conduct intergenerational focus group discussions with mothers, mothers-in-law and children, because in Azerbaijan, extended families tend to live together. However, participant mothers dissuaded me from involving their mothers-in-law, saying that complications could arise from the involvement of elders, therefore I respected their affects, withdrawing from last family visits. I later realized that, rather than an inconvenience, thinking about these social encounters as affective engagements can provide valuable research insights. Expanding on the notions 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

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