Fieldwork without the field: Navigating the new world as qualitative, fermentation geographers

Authors: Walter Furness, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Geography, Texas State University, Chantal Gailloux*, Postdoctoral fellow, Department of Geography, Texas State University, Colleen Myles, Associate Professor, Department of Geography, Texas State University, Delorean Wiley, Ph.D. student, Department of Geography, Texas State University, Kourtney Collins, Master's student, Department of Geography, Texas State University, Katherine Sturdivant , Master's student, Department of Geography, Texas State University
Topics: Field Methods, Qualitative Methods, Food Systems
Keywords: qualitative, participatory, research, fieldwork, method, fermentation, geography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 19
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the world as we know it; our personal and professional lives and livelihoods have been disturbed in numerous and perhaps innumerable ways. This impact extends into research in myriad ways, making face-to-face and field-based methods challenging or impossible. While the primary mode of adaptation in everyday life has been a move to virtual interactions (“zoom” is perhaps the word of the year for 2020), the kinds of interpersonal interactions necessitated by participatory and other qualitative methods do not easily translate to virtual life. Certain previously taken-for-granted components of in-person interaction or observation are suddenly put into sharp relief: the difficulty of developing a rapport with your interlocutor, an absence of shared sensations, challenges in conveying the nuance of a question or perceiving the full meaning of an answer, and reduced or non-existent opportunities for observing social environments. While some of these hurdles had the potential to disturb research processes and outcomes even prior to the pandemic, they have been amplified by the “new normal” and make certain compensatory strategies (more) difficult to employ. This paper presents several examples from qualitative and participatory projects situated within the Fermented Landscapes Lab at Texas State University. These projects predated the pandemic and required significant revision to their research methodologies in order to be viable in a (post-)pandemic world. This reflective account explores how researchers can and should adapt as they navigate the fermented geographies under study as well as the new world of/for qualitative research.

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