Master’s Research: Methodology, Part 7

Research Design

In order to prepare an accurate account of the GMO moratorium in Peru this project will rely on multi-sited and macro ethnographic research methodologies. These strategies and techniques will each be theoretically informed by the feminist research qualities of reflexivity, positionality and reciprocity. The research goal will be to garner important opinions and perspectives from a myriad of stakeholders who are involved with the moratorium on GMOs—such as farmers, scientists, activists and politicians. These individual (micro) accounts, from multiple positions (this could be geographic, ideological and/or epistemological) in the spectrum of involvement with the moratorium, will then be extended outward or “bumped up a level of generalizability” (Luker 2010) and couched within larger (macro) and theoretical understandings of the production, usage, and governance of GMOs in the global world system. By doing so, this ethnographic project will map the multiple trajectories—their genesis, passageways and destinations—of governance, knowledge production and indigeneity as they occur within the Peruvian neoliberal field.

Multi-Sited & Macro Ethnography

In qualitative research, there are two types of ethnography: single sited and multi-sited. The latter separates itself from the former because it “moves out from the single sites and local situations of conventional ethnographic research designs to examine the circulation of cultural meanings, objects, in diffuse time-space” (Marcus 1995: 96). In other words, it is a mobile ethnography that examines multiple trajectories of socio-cultural phenomena across multiple sites. In doing so, multi-sited ethnographic methodologies complicate and extend the ‘them-us’ dualistic framework of single site ethnography, and work to break down the binary between “individual lifeworlds” and the world system. In short, “multi-sited research is designed around chains, paths, threads, conjunctions or juxtapositions of locations in which the ethnographer established some form of literal, physical presence, with an explicit, posited logic of association or connection among sites (Marcus 1995: 105).

Complimentary to multi-sited ethnography are the tenets of extended or macro-ethnography. In a comparison to canonical and positivistic styles of social research (i.e. survey design), Burawoy (1998) describes reflexive research as “a model of science that embraces not detachment but engagement as the road to knowledge” (p. 5).  Macro-ethnography applies this quality of reflexive social science and works to embed itself within localized peoples, processes and phenomena. The process then expands itself, extends outward, to include macro, external forces and eventually once more to subsume higher echelons of theoretical thinking. Burawoy (1998) describes this process, “reflexive science starts out from dialogue, virtual or real, between observer and participants, embeds such dialogue within a second dialogue between local processes and extralocal forces that in turn can only be comprehended through a third, expanding dialogue of theory with itself” (p. 5). Even more explicitly, Burawoy (1998) explains, “the extended case method applies reflexive science to ethnography in order to extract the general from the unique, to move from the “micro” to the “macro”, and to connect the present to the past in anticipation of the future, all by building on preexisting theory” (p. 5, emphasis in the original).

Garnering Informants & Preserving Consent

            This research project will attempt to replicate the fluid qualities Marcus and Burawoy’s multi-sited and macro-ethnographic research designs. When it comes to sampling Duneier (2011) explains, “one of the most popular ways to gain access in ethnographic research is known as convenience sampling: phenomena are included in a study on the basis of their availability, rather than through random sampling” (p. 1). In other words, this strategy will allow what is occurring in the field to inductively inform who is chosen for interviews and what social phenomena is chosen for observation and analysis. This technique will be combined with Quark’s (2012) sampling strategy. In her study about scientized politics and global governance in the cotton trade, she explains, “my sampling strategy for interviews aimed to capture variation both within different nodes of the commodity chain and across different geographic locations […] to this end, I interviewed actors in each of the key nodes or positions within the cotton trade…” (Quark 2012: 905).

For the present research project, key informants will conveniently be chosen from throughout the different levels of involvement with the GMO moratorium. In this case, multi-sited variation will be attained because of the geographic separation between rural areas, where farmers live and work, and urban areas, where politicians and scientists tend to work. Ideological and epistemological variation will also be attained by including various stakeholders with dissimilar beliefs, opinions and ways of knowing—both about the neoliberal political climate and the highly scientific characteristics of biotechnology. Instead of allowing canonical research guidelines to control my sample and sampling size, I will follow Hine’s (2007) advice and focus on diversity as the key insight for good ethnography—allowing saturation of data to be my signal for an appropriate sample size and successful data gathering process. By doing so, this research project—in line with the expansive merits of multi-sited and macro-ethnography—will stretch the notion of conventional single-sited ethnography and other forms of positivistic social science research. Hine (2007) explains, “our methodological instincts are to clean up complexity and tell straightforward linear stories, and thus we tend to exclude descriptions that are faithful to experiences of mess, ambivalence, elusiveness and multiplicity” (p. 663). However, social science research is inherently messy and “fundamentally nonlinear” (Marshall & Rossman 2016: 65). Instead of attempting to purge research of messiness, the research design for this project will embrace the sometimes chaotic and iterative research process as normal and inevitable qualities of social life.

However, it is absolutely crucial to know that the potential disorderliness of this project will not negatively impact the informants who are selected for interviews or the spaces that are chosen for observation. The consent and security of all participants and locations will be preserved according to mandated IRB protocol. In a discussion on feminist ethnography, Stacy (1988) explains the unfortunate reality of ethnographic research, “field work represents an intrusion and intervention into a system of relationships, a system of relationships that the researcher is far freer than the researched to leave” (23). I intend to manage this intrusion by always, first and foremost, obtaining consent from all my informants.  In fact, this project will go one step further in order to protect an informant’s right to non-participation by practicing what Ellis (2007) calls ‘process consent’. She defines process consent as the action of checking at each stage of research whether or not participants still want to be included. By doing so, I am able to hold my research accountable for only including informants—and their highly valued personal stories, thoughts and opinions— who want to be included, and who have some piece of information that advances my research. In addition, and according to IRB protocol, any and all interview transcripts will be electronically filed and password protected. The field notes I create will use codes and pseudonyms to ensure anonymity amongst my informants and the locations I choose to observe. If names of my interview informants are needed in the final written portion of the project, I will encourage the informants to create pseudonyms and name themselves. This will help preserve their humanness, by avoiding identification numbers, and their agency, by being in charge of how they are represented in the final product.


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