Getting Behind the Walls and Fences: Methodological Considerations of Gaining Access to Middle-class Women in Urban India
This article presents and analyzes two cases of ethnographic, topic-driven, fieldwork among upper caste, middle-class women in urban India, which is a field dominated by hierarchical social relations of class, caste and gender. The aim of this article is to discuss the methodological challenges we encountered in delineating, ‘constructing’ (Amit 2000) and getting access to the potential field-sites. Prospective informants lived their everyday lives criss-crossing between different types of social arenas within the city, inducing us to take a multi-sited approach (Marcus 1995). Moreover, these everyday social arenas were clearly demarcated and initially closed to outsiders by physical walls and social distinction, rendering the process of gaining access rather challenging. Here, we discuss these challenges and how we attempted to solve them. A central point is that ‘gaining access’ for most ethnographic researchers is a long process of meticulous planning, serendipitous encounters and ‘deadends’, that in itself is part of the ethnographic material. Furthermore, we discuss the relational aspect of qualitative research, wherein the researcher 'puts his or her own body on the line' (Okely 2012:1). We argue that the manner by which the researcher is being positioned by the people studied – processes characterized by resistance, avoidance or even exclusion – often contain rich ethnographic information which must be taken into consideration. By highlighting this, we aim to demystify challenges often overlooked or under-communicated in ethnographic research.