Analía Jacob, The Caring of Bonds in Ethnographic Research

In this short contribution about Care as a Method, I would like to reflect on the caring of bonds that we build with people in the field. My research topic focuses on the support networks for caring for young children in low income families. The place I choose for doing fieldwork is a small neighborhood located in the borders of the city where I live, 30 minutes away by car from home. Before the COVID-19 pandemics, I frequently visited the neighborhood and contacted people with whom I worked. And, little by little I started my fieldwork and the “field” emerged as this place to come and go as a part of my weekly routine. This proximity to the field introduces advantages and difficulties in the process of building bonds and for organizing the time and space for doing fieldwork. At the beginning of March 2020 I was getting back in the field for coordinating the visits, and while sharing small talks and mates (traditional beverage) they told me what they did on their holidays. But, suddenly, on the 20th of March a strict quarantine was decreed in my country. It implied to cancel these visits and interviews already scheduled, and figure out how to manage the fieldwork, waiting for the “new normality” to be reestablished in a short time. But it didn’t happen. In November, while this workshop was taking place, we still continued on strict lockdown that restricts movements through the city only to essential workers. The sanitary situation, better than the previous months, still makes the fieldwork risky, not only for me, but also for people in the neighborhood with whom I may have contact.

In this context, I was very concerned about how people from this neighborhood manage the situation as well as the new challenges the pandemics and social isolation posed to their social support for caring. Moreover, I was concerned about how to sustain and care for the bonds we built during the last months. In this regard, I wondered how to balance my need for continuing doing fieldwork by adapting my data collection strategies and, at the same time, not to put people in a difficult situation, by making them feel they have to continue to collaborate with me in such tough circumstances. So, many questions came to my mind:  How to hold those bonds that previously depended on my physical presence in that space? How to transform physical presence into remote, without overloading those people who are exhausted -physically and emotionally- due to the increase in demand at their jobs, both inside and outside their domestic space? How to overcome the difficulties people have as they do not always have guaranteed access to internet and telephone connection, or even to the devices and electricity? Somehow, I was able to balance communication with text messages and calls, trying to maintain a certain frequency with some of those people, being attentive to the activities that the university and community organizations were carrying out to bring aid to them.

However, these concerns are not limited to a critical context such as the pandemics. On the contrary, they are part of any ethnographic fieldwork, as it is always necessary to  reflect on the process of carefully building bonds with the people with whom we do research. This process is known as the “access to the field”, a process that, although essential in our research, can’t be  “counted” as productive time from the neoliberal logics (Mountz et al., 2015). Nevertheless, this instance is not limited to the beginning of the research it goes through all its extension. A sustained ethnographic relationship with people in the field needs much more than to be careful during the “access” to the field. It requires a kind of compromise that makes it possible to sustain our presence there, caring for others.

Analía Jacob is an Argentinian anthropologist. She is Ph.D fellow and graduate assistant at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata (UNLP), Argentina, where she is part of the Laboratorio de Investigaciones en Etnografía Aplicada (LINEA, FCNyM, UNLP-CIC). Her Ph.D project focusses on support networks for child-caring in low income families, combining ethnography and social network analysis.