A bit nervous, full of curiosity and not sure what to expect in the following seven weeks, I set off for my field research on the politicization of female bodies in Nigeria. I had already made a few preparations in Vienna, but I was also aware that I would have to go on this trip with a lot of flexibility and spontaneity. I have been lucky. On the ground, everything was slowly taking shape, my schedule was filling up day by day with interviews and appointments. Worries about people not wanting to share their experiences and expertise with me have been quickly put to rest. I met people who unabashedly told me their life stories, showed me their emotional wounds, shared their expertise, and revealed their experiences and opinions about my research topic. I am grateful for the encounters and experiences that I was privileged to have in the course of my field research in Nigeria, for my master’s thesis, but most of all for my personal enrichment. (I am also grateful that the PROMOS scholarship programme made this possible for me with the help of a research grant!) Every interview is a social experiment. Who understands which question in which way? How do I ask questions in a way that minimizes my influence on the answers? How do I create the most comfortable situation for my interviewees? How can I deal with the power imbalance that an interview situation usually entails? What is my role and responsibility as a researcher? These are all questions that have been familiar to me from classroom theory, but arose anew in a different way in the field. I grow with each day, each observation, each interview.
I was told stories of oppression, stories of liberation, stories of resistance and hope. My interviewees also instilled hope within my person. A hope that my work could be a mouthpiece and bring positive change to the situation about which they harbor such deep anger. It drives me and unsettles me. How can I do justice to it? How can I give all the personal stories and words shared with me a worthy space in an academic thesis? In response to this question, a researcher I met on my journey described fieldwork as „exploitation to some degree,“ since one often relies on the time and openness of interviewees but can give little back. I understand her argument, even if it is painful and does not seem fair to me. I do not want to follow this academic school of thought in my work. In the writing process of my master’s thesis that now follows the fieldwork I will explore this dilemma, and I am curious to see if and how I will find a narrative that gives a worthy place to the stories of my informants while not neglecting the critical analysis of scholarly work.
Janne Teresa Wanner (EMGS student in the 2019-21 cohort conducted seven weeks of fieldwork in Nigeria as part of her master’s thesis, funded by a PROMOS research grant. The topic of her master’s thesis is the Politicization of Female Bodies in Nigeria).