A Reflection From Fieldwork in Colombia, by Amanda Browne
From June through August, I joined forces with the THRIVE Colombia project to explore perceptions of violence and safety within the family as well as the community. Through a series of individual interviews, we explored different themes such as gender roles, conflict resolution, decision-making, and potential solutions to improve family safety and well-being with our participants. While the focus of my master’s thesis will focus on adolescent boys, I found myself conducting more interviews with adult women as I stepped into more of a team coordinator role, delegating the vast majority of interviews to my four Colombian colleagues on the interview team. In the true nature of field work, unforeseen events called upon the THRIVE Project Manager to spend more time resolving and troubleshooting these issues, leaving me in charge of the day-to-day logistics and coordination of the data collection activities.
There were many pros and cons to this turn of events. While I did not conduct the interviews that I will be analyzing, as planned, two Colombian colleagues, one male and one female, did conduct the majority of them. Having interviewers with a lifetime of exposure and expertise in the culture, history, and slang opened the door to certain conversations that some participants, especially teenage boys, might not be comfortable talking about with the white, American lady. My concern was the ever-present qualitative research challenge of subjectivity, and whether my colleagues’ innate cultural literacy would preclude digging deeper into some of the issues I was trying to understand as an outsider.
The team and I worked closely, reviewing notes and debriefing different issues and themes that were coming up. The working relationship we developed helped us all ensure that we were staying focused and probing on the issues we were really hoping to learn about. By the last few weeks of our field work, one teenage girl thought my four Colombian colleagues were my children. While we operated very much like a family, with me acting as coordinator and caretaker, but being similar in age, we had to wonder how old the girl thought us all to be.
Author: Amanda Browne is a 2017 Fellow, pursuing a dual-Master’s degree in Social Work and Public Health with a concentration on international social welfare and population and family health. This summer she travelled to Colombia to conduct qualitative research on the dynamics of household violence in certain urban communities.
Photos: Taken and provided by author.