"Sister Akua, they say you should dance": negotiating roles in participant observation


  • Elizabeth Graveling University of Bath




Relationships, and specifically the relationship between the fieldworker and the research subjects, are at the core of the process of all anthropological and ethnographic research and to a very large extent determine the outcomes of the research. In addressing the question of how far a participant observer should attempt to "become" a member of the group she is studying, we must also recognise the complexity of individual and social identities assumed or attributed to her. When the distinction between aspects of "self" and "other" is blurred, the fieldworker can be simultaneously (but not fully) "insider" and "outsider" in different facets of her identity and in different relationships. Drawing on experiences of recent ethnographic fieldwork among members of churches in a village in southern Ghana, this paper explores aspects of identity that contribute to this ambivalent status of the fieldworker. It considers the extent to which the researcher has control over her research roles and the implications of this in terms of access, acceptance, data collection, and obligations and responsibilities of the researcher to her informants.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Graveling, University of Bath

Elizabeth Graveling completed her PhD at the University of Bath in 2008. Her thesis is entitled "Negotiating the Powers: Everyday Religion in Ghanaian Society". She currently lectures in the field of Development Studies within the Department of Economics and International Development at the University of Bath and can be contacted at E.Graveling(AT)bath.ac.uk