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Networking the field : fuzzy groups, fieldwork and the value of comparison


Meissner,  Franziska
Socio-Cultural Diversity, MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Max Planck Society;

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Meissner, F. (2011). Networking the field: fuzzy groups, fieldwork and the value of comparison. Talk presented at SIEF2011: People make places. Nuevo Universidade do Lisboa. Lisbon, Portugal. 2011-04-17 - 2011-04-21.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-000F-4D86-0
Commencing research with a fuzzy definition of the population to be studied makes it possible to trace different perceptions of who respondents consider to be part of that population. While this can be extremely insightful and moves away from traditional notions of 'the group', it also poses a number of challenges for the researcher, both in the field and during data analysis. This paper focuses on a research project carried out in two geographically defined field sites, London and Toronto, but for which the relevant field was identified through participant observation and personal network interviews. The field is thus demarcated through social contacts and places of interaction but also through respondents' perceptions of the city. Focussing broadly on people who have moved to these cities from the South Pacific, with the aim of better understanding super-diversity in both cities, during fieldwork one main challenge has been identified: If 'the field' is not pre-assumed and!defining its parameters is integral to fieldwork itself, then how can unanticipated differences in the 'emergence' of the field in multiple field-sites be dealt with? This question fits squarely within the discussion on cross-national research. Relevant aspects of this literature will be reviewed, and drawing on the above-mentioned study it will be argued that there is a need to more critically assess the value of multi-site comparative research, not only for its potential to cross-verify findings but also for its scope to aid understanding of the complexities of the social settings being studied.