Today marks the first official day I started my fieldwork in Northeastern Nepal. I arrived in the district headquarters, Taplejung, yesterday and had been exploring around. I also met my co-researcher for the first time, who was connected through one of the staff members from my study abroad program. I was extremely anxious to meet him, since I have been thinking perhaps way too much about how I am going to approach my research.
Already upon first meeting, I felt tension between us and I couldn’t help but start worrying about how my fieldwork is going to go. The relationship between a researcher and a co-researcher is an important one, one that can dictate the direction and quality of research. If I cannot get along or be on the same page as my co-researcher, how can I interact with anyone else that requires an even more delicate approach of interaction?
Knowing clearly my position as an Asian woman will make an impact of how I’m perceived here, I suddenly realized I am at a disadvantage in this particular part of the world, especially in this remote area in Nepal. Even more so, after I realised my co-researcher is another local with certain culturally-specific values about women and their place in society.
Fieldwork suddenly became way more difficult, on top of the beyond abstract subject I am trying to explore. For the whole day the next day, my interactions with my co-researcher did not improve as I actively avoided talking to him and only when he asked me where I wanted to go and who I wanted to talk to. Most interactions with locals felt forced and unnatural, which was the last thing I had wanted for my fieldwork to be.
Co-researchers/research assistants in the field really is a selection that needs to be delicately made. Your own relationship with him/her/it will determine your (collective) positionality in your fieldwork and steer the direction of your research. With that being said, it has only been 2 days, so the most important thing to do is critically reflect on my own positionality and what I can do to make the best out of the situation.