At the borderline

“At any given moment you have the power to say: this is not how the story is going to end.”

During the course ‘Doing ethnography’ (September till November 2012) we had several assignments focusing on the ethics of fieldwork. It was good to think about these while preparing for fieldwork, because we could already brainstorm about which steps to take when faced with certain specific situations. We came up with some specific situations we could find ourselves in, and then the main question was asked: what do you do?

Now I am at a point in my research where I ask myself this question again. I have visited approximately fifteen different Roma settlements and I have met people whose living conditions can easily be compared to the sad pictures that are shown on television when talking about the so-called Third World. Roma in Slovenia tend to be surprised that someone is actually coming to their settlements and asking them about their lives. But they also see this as an opportunity to ask for help. People have begged me to do something with this research; they have had enough of municipalities, committees and others who just talk, but never actually change something for the better.

And now, here I am, asking myself where the barrier between professional and personal is.
I know I am an anthropologist, and not a development worker. But I chose to do the study of Cultural Anthropology especially because of its combination with Development Sociology. That still does not make me a development worker, but – as I wrote in my research proposal – anthropologists have an important role in defining, analyzing and communicating obstacles for development to all parties involved, especially because they can do this from both an emic and an etic perspective at the same time.

Maybe I tend to be in the field of public anthropology and applied research. My fieldwork is ‘only’ for writing a master thesis, but I had several people asking me if they could read it when it is finished. And some people even asked me to cooperate with them, to present it not only in the Netherlands but also in Slovenia, etcetera.
I am not sure yet about the answer on the ‘What-do-you-do-question’, but one thing is for sure: despite all professional codes, I need to know that I can be human.
I cannot change the world. But maybe – in cooperation with other people and institutions – I could take some small steps to change the lives of just a few people. It would be worth the cost.

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