Stories from the field

Avilasa Sengupta: leaving the field

You will recall Avilasa’s story from the field in Section 1. On entering the field, Avilasa [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , a researcher on the project team, identified her ethical dilemmas and noted down self-reflexive questions in her diary in the early stages of her research. As you will see from the diary excerpts below, Avilasa quickly went from questioning her place, her positionality, and her methods, to feeling as if she was part of the women’s group she studied and gaining a sense of empowerment as a woman from her research encounters. Here are two extracts from Avilasa’s research diary:

8 March 2019

It was my first ever bonfire today. Who would have thought that something I so cherish, something I so badly wanted to do, would be with a bunch of strangers, all of different cultures, castes, and backgrounds[?] It was all so similar yet we were all so different.

I wonder what was going through their minds. Each one of them. Those who sang and danced their hearts out with the ‘foreigners’, those who shied away stacking up in a corner, those who were there yet were lost. What were they thinking? How did they feel?

For an hour today, I forgot I was here for a purpose. I wanted to know them for who they really were.

And what a beautiful feeling this was.

10 March 2019

Leaving feels bad somehow.

It might be the relaxed environment here, or it might be the great weather. It might be the fear of going back to the mundane or it might be the love I got here.

I sit in the train today with a feeling in my heart of having ‘data’, of being a ‘researcher’[,] and it feels good. It feels very good. But parting ways, looking at all those farmers I would never meet again, I feel connected. I feel expanded, I feel shared.

In our experience of being a woman, we all juggle still. But in our experience of being a woman, here we are cherishing it, loving it and supporting each other move a little forward one step at a time.

Because no matter how difficult, no matter how troubling, it is a beautiful feeling to be a woman.


Avilasa’s diary

Read the extracts from Avliasa’s fieldnotes above and make your own notes in response to the following questions:

  • Based on her diary entries, how and why do you think Avilasa’s positionality changed over the four days she spent conducting her research?
  • How do you think the research participants enabled Avilasa to feel so welcome?
  • What words would you use to describe how Avilasa benefited from her encounters?

We recommend that you keep notes of your answers to these questions so you can return to them during the course.

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From Avilasa’s closing statement, it could even be inferred that Avilasa felt enlivened by the research. Her four days of research was a learning experience that not only enabled her to observe and document participants’ ecofeminist practices, but also to participate in those practices. Being invited to participate with and learn from research participants meant that Avilasa felt empowered through her embodied and lively learning encounters.

As you learned from the short film by Avilasa in Section 3 and the slideshow of Avilasa’s images of Earth Day in Section 4, the NGO she studied made space for equality and for voices to be heard. In Film Focus 10, Nirmal Puwar discusses this as ‘projecting it out there’. Using Spivak’s terminology, space is made for the subaltern to be heard. So whilst in everyday life young Indian women might feel disempowered by dominant and problematic patriarchal logics, in her research Avilasa discovered a space that had been created to empower and embolden women to lead new initiatives. Avilasa clearly left the field feeling more vital and motivated than when she first entered it.

Avilasa’s project is indicative of the spirit of empowering methodologies, which, when conducted ethically and equitably, can provide transformative experiences that open up new ways of seeing, sensing and feeling, or offer inspiration to take radical actions that can enable significant change. 

Recommended reading

Back, L. and Puwar, N. (2012) ‘A manifesto for live methods: provocations and capacities’, The Sociological Review, 60: 6–17. Available at: permalink/ f/ gvehrt/ TN_wj10.1111/ j.1467-954X.2012.02114.x (accessed 1 October 2019).

Fox, N.J. and Alldred, P. (2017) Sociology and the New Materialism: Theory, Research, Action, London: Sage. Available at: permalink/ f/ gvehrt/ TN_sageknowb10.4135/ 9781526401915 (accessed 1 October 2019).

Gherardi, S. (2019) How to Conduct a Practice-based Study: Problems and Methods, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Available at: shop/ how-to-conduct-a-practice-based-study?___website=uk_warehouse (accessed 1 October 2019).

Visual participatory research, and creative methods in studying memory and change