June 23, 2016

By Diana Dai

View from AbdounHello everyone! If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in learning more about what kind of human rights research students at Duke are doing. Thanks to the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, I have been able to travel to Amman, Jordan to carry out my senior honors thesis research. While I am here, I will be doing fieldwork and collecting data on a project about the female migrant workers who work here, either as housecleaners, live-in domestics, or freelance cleaners. I am particularly focused on conducting interviews and hanging out with Filipina workers, mostly because Filipina workers speak English more and my limited language skills prohibit me from interviewing non-English speakers. However, keep in mind that there are women of all nationalities who have left their home country and their families to work in Amman, and my research will only be sampling a small portion of that population.


I am writing this first post after conducting my very first interview. Although I have been here for about two weeks already, gaining access to even just one interviewee has been a slow and delicate process. This is my first experience doing any kind of anthropology-esque fieldwork, and it’s really quite amazing how difficult it is to move past my personal insecurities and social anxiety in order to engage in an in-depth conversation with someone about something as intimate as family and work.  Furthermore, the domestic workers’ community here in Amman is hard to spot in most public spaces in Amman. Now and then I’ll see two workers carrying groceries up a hill, or a group of women trying on different perfumes in the grocery store, or I’ll catch a glimpse of a worker in a speeding taxi. These of course are my own presumptions – often times, I myself am assumed to be Filipina by taxi drivers or strangers. It’s not so much a thoughtless incident of profiling as it is a conscious effort to look out for a community that is routinely marginalized and made invisible, politically, socially and physically. My obvious foreign-ness and racial likeness also invites scrutinizing stares from some workers, and I take that as an opportunity to give a nod of acknowledgement.


Streets of AbdounAlthough I cannot divulge much about the actual details of the interview itself, I am able to say that it was quite a breakthrough for me as a student, researcher, and learner. I have had conversations with some domestic workers in Jordan before, but this time I was highly cognizant of the fact that this conversation would be used as “data” for my own, independent research. There is a lot of pressure in that – which is both good and bad. Feeling too much pressure has made me incredibly nervous and self-doubting, but at the same time, I think exhibiting some self-reflexivity and caution when approaching someone as a researcher is an important task. In my ICS methods class with Professor Mathers, we read a lot of material about the politics of research, of certain methods but also of the entire logic of Western-style research as a whole. Questions that would usually be considered a “waste of time” so to speak by traditional go-getters – “Why am I here? Who is this for? Is this ethical? Will this ever be ethical?” – are questions that I am training myself to ask more and more.


View from the CitadelA final revelation about my first two weeks in Jordan: research is hard. It is dawning on me more and more how much of research, particularly qualitative research, requires skills that one can’t learn in the classroom. It is difficult for me to conceive someone doing (good) qualitative research without the traits of compassion, patience, and cleverness. Being a good listener, a quiet but astute observer, a good question-asker – these things are absolutely essential to fundamental qualitative methods like interviewing (and they are surprisingly things that one has to go into the field already equipped with). Furthermore, accessing hard-to-reach communities that you do not have a particular language expertise in can be a very slow, tedious process. I spent the first two weeks collecting phone numbers and asking around about any possible connections that I could get into contact with. Even after my first interview, I had to stumble through the awkward process of asking if they would be willing to call me up whenever they planned to hang out with their friends next Friday, or if they had any other people in mind I could interview. Perhaps best known as “networking”, the task of creating a network of contacts begins slow, but will hopefully yield some fruitful results once I create a solid circle of acquaintances. Lovely to see the age-old skill of “making friends” and “being sociable” usefully reproduce itself in my research process.