Researchers often forget that while we conduct ﬁeldwork, we are ourselves the object of other people’s research. A variety of actors are constantly gathering diﬀerent types of information on us. Most directly, the people we interact with in the course of our research activities, such as interviewees and archivists, form an opinion of us that can inﬂuence our access to information. As researchers we are highly dependent on people’s goodwill and voluntary cooperation; how we present ourselves to them can thus have a signiﬁcant impact on our research opportunities. At the same time, other people also collect information on us, out of professional interest or simply curiosity, ranging from fellow passengers in a mini-bus or a waiter at a restaurant to secret police. This information can circulate informally and sometimes formally, through gossip networks and possibly paid informants, in ways that we cannot control – or even track. Not all of this has a direct impact on our research, but the way we interact with people – and the way we represent ourselves – often has a signiﬁcant indirect inﬂuence on our work, including on our emotional well-being. When the tables are turned on researchers and we become the object of
interest, we might prefer to remain vague about our own opinions or hide our own beliefs, not to mention aspects of our personal lives. Likewise, when conducting extended ﬁeldwork in one place, the behaviour and information we reveal outside the research context, including in our spare time, can have an impact on our ability to conduct research. In environments where information spreads quickly, being seen, for instance, socializing with one particular group of actors or having a more intimate relationship with an individual can compromise our ‘reputation’ as a serious and unbiased (or sympathetic) researcher. Not socializing at all might not be sustainable and moreover projects another image that can be interpreted negatively as well. Furthermore, what we reveal in a seemingly innocent or private context can circulate, at times inaccurately, and do harm to our research relationships and even our sense of security. Examples include cohabitation or having children out of wedlock; being gay, lesbian or bisexual; or belonging to a speciﬁc
religious group or being an atheist. Dissimulation or lying about these issues may avoid some problems, but raise other ones, such as internal conﬂict and ethical concerns. To what extent does our personal conduct matter when in the ﬁeld, espe-
cially when ‘oﬀ duty’? When asked about personal issues that may reveal a controversial answer, how should we respond? Using examples drawn in part from my own experiences, this chapter explores the issues of self-representation and conduct in research situations and sites. It addresses a series of dilemmas upon which other researchers may wish to reﬂect before being placed in similar situations. I try to avoid being normative and recommending a speciﬁc course of action, preferring to promote awareness and invite reﬂexivity on the part of the researcher. Thinking through these issues ahead of time can help prevent awkward situations and other problems that can handicap and sometimes even abort eﬀective ﬁeldwork. It will also help researchers choose a course of action that is based on the particularities of their research method and site, as well as their own personal situation, most likely to lead to productive research.