Negotiating Expectations in the Field: Gatekeepers, Research Fatigue and Cultural Biases
This paper considers disjunctures between my expectations and experience of doing dissertation fieldwork, which I conducted in Benin between the autumns of 1997 and 1998. The research examined the nature of women's livelihood strategies and their associated outcomes in terms of material well-being. I now believe that my feminist worldview, and my growing exhaustion as the project progressed, resulted in my minimising the importance of key aspects of fieldwork in an African context. Specifically, I downplayed the importance of negotiating with male “gatekeepers” in gaining access to the women with whom I wanted to work. While most of the time I was able to manage this well enough, one day, in particular, stands out as a time when I handled these negotiations very poorly. This paper compares the experiences of that day with another much more productive and fruitful one to examine how and why expectations and experience can diverge. A consideration of some of the issues that resulted in the “lost day” might prove instructive for other researchers.