This class presented a unique research opportunity that was both independent, in that we were individually pursuing different research sites, but also collaborative. Each week, the class came together to discuss that week’s findings, ask questions, give feedback, and help each other when our research and analytic processes were slowing. While we each pursued a different area of the university we were interested in, the class provided a space where common theoretical threads tied our different projects together.
For many of us, this class was the first time we were conducting ethnographic research – the collaborative research method provided a safe space for experiential learning, thoughtful discussions and supportive peer connections.
By Anna Shortly
Within our research collective, I formed a partnership with another student, Alexandre, as we were both interested in the topic of student governance and politics. Working collaboratively and closely with another researcher was immensely beneficial. Since we were studying our peers, our usual anxieties of attending events and meetings with people we didn’t know were present and amplified by the added stress of seeking consent and conducting research. Going together to some of our field sites reduced these anxieties considerably and made for a more comfortable research experience. It also made our data richer and more varied since he would make observations that I had not, and vice versa. At one site, we decided to both write field notes afterwards on our own and then compare; after looking them over, we noticed that we remembered things that the other hadn’t. Having two sets of eyes, ears, and minds at our sites really benefited our individual projects.
When we went to separate sites, sharing our observations and experiences expanded our data and perspectives. Alexandre and I diverged in terms of specific topic—I am focusing on a specific event, whereas he is looking at networks—but through our individual research we had come across pertinent information that was more relevant to the other’s project. Just as having the two of us at the same site was beneficial, going off on our own to many sites benefited our projects, as we were able to cover much more ground over one semester.
Bouncing ideas off of each other, discussing our dilemmas, and trying to understand a site or set of data together strengthened our analyses and made the research experience generally more enjoyable and fruitful. But since we were both so immersed in our project, we sometimes experienced the same roadblocks that we could not fix alone. The bigger research collective of the class then came in to help us with both our shared and individual fieldwork and analyses problems. They contributed observations and theories that neither Alexandre nor I had made or were aware of, broadening the scope of our project and enriching our understandings. Working in this collective in addition to forming a research partnership with one other student cut through many of the isolating aspects of research, providing me with an open and supportive space where I could work through my project’s problems, receive feedback, and improve my project in many ways.
I took this class for practical reasons; I wanted to get more experience conducting ethnographic research. I expected to work hard and to immerse myself in a particular setting for a semester. What I didn’t expect was how wonderful it was to be part of a research collective. After a few false-starts, I partnered with another student, and together we traced how health and wellness programming and initiatives on campus cohere as an assemblage. Our work styles and interests overlapped nicely, and we both benefited from the other person’s input and direction over the course of the semester. I learned how amazing it can be to break out of the isolating position as a single researcher, and to work alongside another person and our research collective as a whole.
Additionally, our three-hour class sessions were engaging, productive, and challenging. When my initial plans for my research project didn’t really fit with the themes of the course (power in the university), the collective pointed this out, and then helped direct me towards a project that would fit. Without their input, I would have floundered.
By Laura Beach
As I thought back and re-traced my own research journey, I also reflected on the patterns of intersection and divergence between all of our projects, our approaches, our questions, our findings and our field sites. I have never worked with a group of people in this particular way – each with projects of our own, but with so much overlap, and with a balanced, measured, supportive, horizontal collaboration. We were/are all implicated in each other’s work; we all have a stake, and a say. The particular approach I took is a product of all of our theoretical/personal proclivities combined, and I feel it is immeasurably richer for so being. Additionally, I have felt supported and encouraged throughout this process, which has been a welcome change from the somewhat isolating experience of individual research, analysis and writing (as I experienced while writing my Master’s Research Paper). This level of community and support has been especially welcome in light of the somewhat emotionally-taxing experimental approach I have taken.
Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed the relatively low-stakes nature of chiming in on my colleague’s projects, of informally brainstorming, of being encouraged and allowed to switch gears, of drawing comparisons and making connections. This has led me to think about collaborative and community-based research as a source of (inter)personal sustainability and empowerment – and to connect this to the power of the individual versus the collective in transforming power relations and enacting change.
Instead of feeling like we were competing against each other for the best personal research, our class was arranged as a research collective. Week after week during the seminar we strove to make the best use of our time in order to actively share information with classmates in order to help each other. In the end, everyone benefited from a better understanding of our next steps after these discussions as our subjects actively overlapped even though they were very different as we all studied the university.
However, contrary to most students in the classroom, I worked closely with Anna as a research partner as we both studied the topic of student governance. Our intimate partnership really kicked off when we attended the October AGM together. We both shared the mutual experience of having assisted at such a crazy event while feeling the same confusion as to how to theorize it. What seemed to be the hallmark of student democracy was at the same time characterized with chaos as most attendees seemed to take every possible moment to cause anti-hegemonic behavior. Our research partnership then expanded.
On and off, we ended up doing more collaborative fieldwork in order to make sense of the universe we were exploring. Even though our lines of inquiry and our analysis of the events greatly diverged, we benefited each other through our different styles and ways of looking at things. Our partnership extended outside of the field and class as we were constantly sharing our feelings and observations with constant communication. “How did your fieldwork go?”, “Did you see what just happened in the student newspaper?”, “I am stuck, do you know what I should do?” We kept each other updated on our work, anxieties, about newsworthy information and what was going on within the field of student governance. In my personal view, my constant exchanges with Anna were essential to the shaping of my reflexivity and my take on the data as it actively shaped the final product of my research.