FRAUGHT FIELDSITES: Studying Community Decline and Heritage Food Revival in Rural Japan
This article examines the conundrums of encounter and interpretation that animated the author's ethnographic research in an economically and demographically distressed region of rural Japan. The author's interest in local revitalization strategies led her to focus on a company spearheading a regional heritage foods initiative as a fertile research site. The company - a dynamic grassroots forum - ultimately failed to control deteriorating local circumstances by creating a new farm industry and reversing the town's sagging image. As the author became immersed in the optimistic visions of the region promoted by the company, she also grew entangled in local goals to further tourism and resettlement. This article shows that tensions between the author's support of grassroots renewal efforts and her skepticism about their potential to reverse local decline gave rise to ethical dilemmas that confound Institutional Review Board conceptions of field sites as places of controlled encounter. Exploring the author's attempts to navigate local agendas while pursuing her own research objectives, this article assesses dilemmas of ethnographic engagement in a politicized fieldsite where academic inquiries confront sensitive questions of community survival.