From Qualitative Research to Research as Quality Time: When Being “in the Field” is also “Coming Home”

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Dando la vuelta, author walking on the shore of Lago Villarica/Mallalafquén, Volcán Villarica/Rucapillán in the distance. (Photo courtesy of Marcelo Montalvo.)

By Marcelo Garzo Montalvo

In a paradigm of research as theft (Robbins 2006), research as a dirty word (Smith 1999), or an otherwise extractive imperial process of hurried knowledge production; qualitative research projects are often terribly momentary, fleeting, temporary endeavors – designed to last days, weeks, or perhaps months. In this epistemic context, I reflect on the value of what Dwight Conquergood has referred to as “deep hanging out” (Conquergood 2013), or what I am calling here: a methodology of research as quality time. As an ethnic studies scholar, a young researcher of color, I am intentionally blurring the lines between the researched and researcher, the subject and the object, the field and the home. With my own family as a point of departure for exploring and unpacking research problems – what I have thought of as a familia-based methodology – I seek to build a meaningful qualitative humanistic scientific research agenda. As the son of Chilean exiles, I return to Chile this summer as an outsider within (Collins 2002), un hijo becado, a nepantlerx (Anzaldúa 2009), an inbetweener (Older 2015), a bridge (Anzaldúa 2013). Thus, I am thinking and asking these questions from this space that is in-between, a space that so many activist-scholars occupy.

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Research takes time, energy, space, resources; including profound emotional labor and inner work. As I land in Chile – the home country of my parents and extended family, a home country that my family was forcefully displaced from – I have spent long days sleeping, eating, drinking and connecting with my family members. On an almost daily basis my relatives have mentioned how infrequent this kind of experience is amidst a contemporary culture of consumerism, where everyone is moving too quickly, or estan metido en sus celulares, lost in their smart phones. In this context of consumismo, preoccupied con su mismo, with ourselves, my family laments that they never get to spend this kind of quality time together. We celebrate gathering at the table for once (tea time), for lunch, for dinner, for anything, as a precious and un-lucrative act. It feels almost as an act of resistance, in a culture of neoliberalism (the privatization of everything [Watts 1994]) to sit for hours on end and connect with my family – a family I have been distanced from through political, economic, social and cultural violences; that is, by neoliberalism itself.

I feel as though there is a deep political and methodological weight to the act of processing emotions with my family members, both living in Chile and the United States, working through the personal and collective traumas that we carry as a family, as a people, and as a nation. The feelings of abandonment, deep hurt, sadness and loss are a grief that we must hold together; with love, compassion and understanding. Moving through this process is a humbling act of healing, a transformative process of addressing the trauma of exile itself. While hundreds of thousands of students march on the streets of Santiago and other major cities of Chile, and as indigenous Mapuche activists remain on hunger strike in the nations prisons, tears of grief are resistant offerings to a post-dictatorial, decolonizing world. All of these moments are crucial to my research process, and feel unethical to omit, erase, or silence as I focus on the objective, rational or otherwise positivist aspects of my work.

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In this culture of lament, I am reminded of how building relationships must remain at the center of all of my work: as a researcher, activist, educator, and artist. I am also moved to ask: Why do we not honor these aspects of our work as such? That is, why hasn’t building relationships ever been mentioned in the countless methodologies classes I have taken? Why is this labor not understood as the work itself?

Research entails vulnerability – both for researchers and researched. Being vulnerable with each other requires building and maintaining deep trust, similar to the ways in which loving relationships asks us to honor our vulnerability in order for that love to be possible. Should our research be grounded in similar ethics of love? If so, why? If not, why not? Does this approach compromise our supposed objectivity, or does it ground our work in the integrity and power of love itself? What good does our research do if it is not rooted in this love and understanding?

Lighting a candle with my mother for my childhood neighbor who passed away on Monday. Building an altar to grieve the violent attack on queer and trans people of color in Orlando. Coming out to my family members as queer when they don’t quite understand why I’m so profoundly affected by seeing the faces of other queer brown people who were violently slaughtered in the shooting. Spreading the ashes of my Tio in the waves of Reñaca; himself a figure who represents a whole set of charged histories and controversies within my own family. Cheering on as Chile scores their golazos (pobres Mexicanos). I can’t help but reflect on the amount of time, energy, space and resources we are expected to spend as researchers going to “the field” (to work with Others) – only to produce work that is consumed and discarded as quickly as the next saga of Candy Crush – when we have so much deep, slow work to do at “home.”

Marcelo Garzo Montalvo is an artist, musician, activist, educator and PhD Candidate in Comparative Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.

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Works Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria and AnaLouise Keating. This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. London, UK: Routledge, 2002.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader. Ed. AnaLouise Keating. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002.

Conquergood, Dwight. Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2013.

Older, Daniel José. Half-Resurrection Blues: A Bone Street Rumba Novel. New York, NY: ROC, Published by the Penguin Group, 2015.

Robbins, Paul. “Research is Theft: Environmental Inquiry in a Postcolonial World.” Approaches to Human Geography: Philosophies, Theories, People and Practices. Ed. Stuart Aitken and Gill Valentine, p. 311-324. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 2006.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London, UK: Zed Books, 1999.

Watts, Michael. “Development II: The Privatization of Everything?” Progress in Human Geography, 18(3), p. 371-384. 1994.

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