Sam Berlin is a PhD Student in the School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol. His research focuses on class, aspiration, and subjectivity in China. His current project is about small traders and futurity in a small Shandong city.

On Becoming a ‘Blue-eyed, Blond American Friend’

Difficult Fieldwork, Positionality, and Being a Participant-researcher

For researchers working in China, particularly foreigners, the problems of doing fieldwork as an ‘outsider’ often feel acute. However, the frustrations felt while setting up and carrying out fieldwork can distract from the more complex social dynamics that researchers are enmeshed within in the field. In particular, the ways that issues of ‘positionality’ have been theorised in feminist social science can help clarify how the impossibility of full understanding and transparency between researchers and research participants is not just limiting but also creates opportunities for knowledge production.

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