‘Doing’ comparative research in South Asia and positionality of the researcher: Reflections on fieldwork from Dhaka and Mumbai

Authors: Shreyashi Dasgupta*, University of Cambridge
Topics: Field Methods, Asia, Urban Geography
Keywords: Comparative Urban Research, South Asia, Methodology, Positionality, India, Bangladesh
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Proteus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

There is a substantive literature on comparative work from various epistemological standpoints in urban studies (Robinson 2014, Scott and Storper 2015). The idea of comparative urban research seeks to transcend the boundaries of a single-city perspective. But as McFarlane (2010) points out that comparative work has often been understood in relation to cities between the Global North and Global South but a more postcolonial debate considers comparativism as a research and mode of thought. At the core of the ‘doing’ comparative urban research entails the challenge of the researcher. However, scanty literature focuses directly on the process of producing South-South comparability, positionality, methodologies and ethical dilemmas of the ethnographic self.
In this presentation, I will explore two important questions – First, what does it mean to be a South Asian researcher doing comparative contemporary urban research in South Asia? I will elaborate this by unpacking the connections between South Asian cities from two neighbouring nation-states, look at the process of comparative research once the historical place has geographically moved beyond a single city, nation-state or region (Kenny and Magdin 2015). Second, I will address the impact of insider-outsider positionality on collected data. I will elaborate this by highlighting the ethnographic self, issues of intersectionality between caste, religion, migrant and a researcher trained in the UK doing research on South Asia. To advance my arguments, I will make use of interviews and observational data gathered to understand the influences of the identities and geographies of the researcher on their work.

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