Doing Urban Development Fieldwork: Motorbike Ethnography in Hanoi


Doing fieldwork in countries and cultures different from your own comes with a host of challenges and rewards. This case discusses parts of the research behind my PhD thesis on development, consumption, and mobility in Vietnam’s capital city, Hanoi. I focus on the “messiness” of fieldwork and champion the need for researchers and students to adopt a flexible approach to the field. This includes being open to changing research strategies and to questioning theories and other preconceptions. In this case, I also explain how one vehicle, the motorbike, came to play a crucial role in my research, to the extent that I ended up calling my approach a “motorbike ethnography.” The case discusses challenges concerning entering the field, collecting data, and dealing with the data, in addition to less commonly treated topics, such as field loneliness. In sum, the case aims not only to inspire students to go out and study the world with an open mind but also to encourage them to keep a structured approach, take notes, and spend much time getting to know local contexts. Real life is immensely complex, and we need to keep this in mind when trying to create better understanding of some small parts of it.

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