The panel I organized on doing fieldwork in contemporary China has been accepted by next year’s ICQI (International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry). Here are the abstracts of the panel and the paper that I am going to present in the panel.
Panel title: Doing Fieldwork in China Reconsidered: Reflexivity, State Power and Inbetweenness
This panel reflects upon how qualitative fieldwork as a form of knowledge production is mediated and shaped by the state power in contemporary China. It is often taken for granted that the late-socialist regime imposes strict censorship on researchers’ fieldwork, yet what is needed is a systematic discussion of the methodological and ethical challenges brought forward by the censorship and structural constraints. The papers in this panel investigate the effect of the state power on knowledge production and researchers’ responses from three aspects: the formulation of a research proposal (Duan), access to the field site (Ye), and researcher/research participant interactions (Zhao). Furthermore, existing literature foregrounds a narrative of western researchers entering field sites in China as outsiders of the society. All the authors in this panel are originally from the country and now work/study in western institutions. Together, we present a perspective of inbetweenness and challenge the western-centric narrative.
Paper title: Working the Hyphens in an Authoritarian State: Positionality, Intersubjectivity and Structural Constraints
This paper explores the methodological and ethical challenges of doing ethnographic fieldwork in an authoritarian state. Drawing from a long-term project conducted in North China, I discuss how a normalized idea of “political appropriateness” mediated the communication between me and my research participants of different genders and social statuses. This phenomenon adds a new layer to the old question of “can the subaltern speak” and calls for a refined understanding of the intricate power relationship between researchers and their research participants. Borrowing insights from Abrams’s state effect theory, I propose to treat the state as a core ideological construction, of which researchers and research participants work collaboratively to make sense. In this way, researchers can intentionally work against “political appropriateness” and still work with their research participants. This approach can, in turn, foster a more deliberate reflection of the process of knowledge production when doing fieldwork in an authoritarian state.