Reflections on the Point of No Return: Participant Observation as an “Antimethod” in the Study of а Migrant Community

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Anton Sadyrin


Migration, Migrants, Ethics of Anthropological Research, Participant Observation, Labor Migrants


Ethical issues in anthropology have been a key concern for a long time. However, approaches
to professional and, specifically, research ethics in Russia and the West differ dramatically. There are no Code of Ethics and ethics committees or review boards in Russia. Meanwhile, in the West researchers constantly reflect on and discuss issues of research ethics; one of such issues is about relationship boundaries and friendships between researchers and their informants. In these field notes I examine how the method of participant observation shapes the relationship between the anthropologist and the people they study. Is there “soft” field research, or does participant observation by definition result in a harsh penetration into informants’ lives? My participation in the project “The Use and Creation by Migrants of the Urban Infrastructure of Siberian Regional Capitals” allowed me to take a fresh look at the role of the researcher in the process of studying labor migrants.
Participant observation as a research method destroys the initial researcher-subject dichotomy. On the one hand, this is this method’s main advantage. On the other hand, this can lead to an ethical impasse for the researcher. In addition to social and economic insecurities, migrants experience hardships caused by leaving their home—not just their home country, but also familiar everyday life: people, places, things, feelings. They look for ways to find emotional substitutions in their relationship with the researcher— me in this case, calling me “friend” and “brother” and sharing with me intimate information that is beyond the scope of my research topic.

Text in Russian

DOI: 10.25285/2078-1938-2020-12-1-183-194

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