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Emotions, encounters and expectations : the uncertain ethics of ‘the field’.

Darling, Jonathan (2014) 'Emotions, encounters and expectations : the uncertain ethics of ‘the field’.', Journal of human rights practice., 6 (2). pp. 201-212.


Entering ‘the field’ can be a daunting, demanding and at times bewildering experience, with researchers negotiating a myriad of assumptions, expectations and motivations. Whilst early career researchers and doctoral students may be trained in theories of research practice, research design and ethical conduct, the realities of actually doing research often test the limits of such formal training and knowledge. In this practice note, I draw upon my experience of fieldwork in the UK working with dispersed asylum seekers and refugees in order to discuss the challenges faced in encountering ‘the field’. The note discusses how ethnographic research with asylum seekers and refugees produced a series of entanglements of emotional connection and expectation, as research in practice demanded the dissolution of fixed categories of the researcher, the volunteer, the advocate and the friend. In tracing a path through the messy realities of working with asylum seekers in this way, I argue that encountering ‘the field’ cannot be parcelled off into distinct chunks of time, but demands a constant attentiveness to context and constant work to develop skills of listening, observing, questioning and perseverance. The note concludes by asserting the need to take seriously the ways in which fieldwork produces more than simply ‘data’. Rather, fieldwork produces sensibilities and dispositions, it alters researchers and those they encounter in often unpredictable ways.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in Journal of Human Rights Practice following peer review. The version of record Darling, Jonathan (2014). Emotions, Encounters and Expectations: The Uncertain Ethics of ‘The Field’. Journal of Human Rights Practice 6(2): 201-212 is available online at:
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:05 July 2018
Date of first online publication:17 July 2014
Date first made open access:No date available

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