Methods: Run-alongs

One for the methods side of the course, Making space on the run: exercising the right to move in Jerusalem, by Dr Una McGahern, provides an insight into the intersection of politics, the body, and contested spaces.

In her study, McGahern draws on the go-along method, which in the case of her study, involved participating in eight ‘run-alongs’ with a running group, two training sessions in East Jerusalem, and the Palestine half-Marathon in Bethlehem.

[Image via: Right to Movement/Signe Vest]

As well as offering a fascinating analysis of running as “an ongoing political claim and exercise [emphasis in original]”, McGahern highlights the opportunity to do methods in an fresh way:

The ability of the researcher to hold a ‘conversational pace’ of running (or not!) allows local runners the opportunity to initiate, or close, conversation with relative ease. The option to accelerate or slow down the pace of running to run on with others or continue alone provided a safe and non-pressurised atmosphere to participate, observe and gauge perceptions while responding to the different needs, moods, preferences and comfort levels of runners, a key ethical benefit of the run-along method.

Una McGahern, 2019. ‘Making space on the run: exercising the right to move in Jerusalem’, Mobilities. p. 8.

For more on the go-along method, see Margarethe Kusenbach’s 2003 article, Street Phenomenology: The Go-Along as Ethnographic Research Tool; on walking, you can read Tim Edensor’s 2010 study, Walking in rhythms: place, regulation, style and the flow of experience, and Jo Vergunst’s Rhythms of Walking: History and Presence in a City Street (2010), and in the context of Palestine, Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape (2008).

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Methods Tip: Positionality and Reflection

Looking to the dissertation, which runs from April to August, this marvellous piece by Sarah Lagot, an MA student in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response at HCRI, provides an excellent example of reflective writing.

In Unbroken Silences – Musings of a Novice Field Researcher, Lagot considers the ways that her multifaceted positionality affects her negotiation of what it means to be an insider and an outsider,

There are many layers to my experience as a novice researcher in post-conflict Northern Uganda. On the one hand, I assume an insider banner. I am a survivor of the LRA war with a lived experience of conflict. Yet, I am never completely able to wear the hat of insider. On the other hand, I am an “outsider” looking in, as a postgraduate student researcher from the University of Manchester.

This duality posed problems in my interactions with interviewees. Some interviewees were initially hesitant to share information as they assumed I was just a chaperone for the research group. They only divulged information upon confirmation of my student status through repeated showcase of my student identity card. Some also treated me with suspicion especially when I asked questions about male survivors of wartime sexual violence.

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Lagot’s piece demonstrates the power and importance of critical reflection during the data-gathering process, as well as journaling, the emotional impact of fieldwork, and how this can be addressed in conjunction with the broader methodological literature.