Dealing with complicity in fieldwork: Reflections on studying genetic research in Pakistan

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Health-related ethnography undertaken in a context marked by social inequalities and colonial legacies requires critical attention to power imbalances in the fieldwork. In this paper, I draw on my own experiences from studying genetic research in Pakistan. As a Danish-born female researcher with roots in Pakistan, I have followed genetic researchers and families dealing with genetic conditions in Pakistan. Through examples I unearth how encounters in the field were shaped by complicities of being in-between the Danish and the Pakistani, of studying and doing international research at the same time, and of my inaction towards suffering families. I base my analysis on the notion that complicity manifests in a generative, and unavoidable, engagement with both complex structures of inequality and interlocutors. We can never fully understand the specificities or consequences of complicity—whether moral or epistemic—when entering, engaging with or representing our fields. However, by staying constructively with the tensions, instead of attempting to move beyond the discomfort that they might create, we can learn how to deal with the consequences and in that, build further the value of ethnographic activity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue numberSupplement 1
Pages (from-to)41-56
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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