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When to Intervene? Ethnographic Research With Costa Rican Banana Workers Experiencing Various Forms of Violence

By: Edited by: Published: 2018 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 1
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The case discussed here reflects the ethical dilemma of whether or not to intervene when witnessing forms of violence during ethnographic field research. Drawing upon my experience of fieldwork, I reflect on the different problems I encountered when I intervened and when I abstained from interfering in participants’ affairs. Such considerations demonstrate that interventions may have unexpected and uncontrollable consequences. The fieldwork, which took place from August 2015 to August 2016, consisted of a comparative ethnographic study of two banana farms—a conventional and a Fairtrade certified farm—and analyzed the conditions through which the two farms operate in terms of their respective labor regimes. The field research involved me working as a regular employee in both farms. Such immersion in the field resulted in a close relationship between myself and the research participants. Many of the women I worked alongside were subjected to some form of sexual violence. As a result of particular events, I had to decide whether or not to intervene with regards to the different forms of harassment my research participants—who were, at that point, also my friends—were suffering. To resolve this ethical dilemma, I had to understand the “social distance” that ultimately existed between myself and my research participants, and be aware of my own limitations in terms of foreseeing the consequences of these interventions.

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