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Abstract This paper provides a reflexive account of conducting fieldwork as a graduate student in the Sunderban area of West Bengal state, India, in the mid-1990s. Reflecting on my personal experiences of research in a setting that was simultaneously familiar and foreign, I use frames of positionality to understand the impact of explicit and implied power structures on the research process, the relationships between the researcher and those researched, and the transfer of knowledge. This paper argues that the multiple subject positions and identities of both scholar and subjects as presented in the field vary with setting, and that these positionalities affect access to informants, the tenor and outcomes of encounters, and knowledge production. While self-reflexivity is endorsed as a strategy for critically informed research, active measures such as openness about the agenda and activities undertaken, self-disclosure, making conscious accommodations for the research subject's work schedule and time constraints, mutual sharing of information, and explicit recognition of the research subjects' expertise through lived experiences are proposed as strategies for equalising the power balance between scholar and subject.