Waiting, power and time in ethnographic and community-based research

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Journal Article
Qualitative Research, 2018, 18 (4), pp. 416 - 432
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© The Author(s) 2017. Waiting is one of the most common phenomena in ethnographic and other community-based research. Nevertheless, it remains under-explored in academic writing about the theoretical and methodological aspects of fieldwork. While waiting time often allows new data or information to emerge, we argue that such times have a significance independent of knowledge outcomes. We review various conceptions of waiting: as a time for self-awareness; the use of enforced waiting to exert power over the disadvantaged; and its obverse, the choice by the more powerful to ‘wait upon’ another’s needs and priorities. We use stories from our own fieldwork experience to suggest that in the particular context of ethnographic or community-based research, the choice to ‘wait upon’ others is a form of researcher reflexivity that can partially redress historical or current power imbalances.
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