Reflection on the methodology for empirical research during the Covid-19 pandemic

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by Chandra Esser, Julia Bantouvaki, Jana Pirlein, Santiago Cuervo Escobar,Elena Schmid

The five students of Viadrina University in Frankfurt (Oder) Germany (Jana, Elena, Santiago, Chandra and Julia) have summed up the transition in their collaborative research to a non-physical and digital approach in the following shared reflection. As the strategic modus operandi in anthropological studies has been severely impacted on the course of the C-19 outbreak a careful consideration of alternative research methods is inevitable. Although attending viavideo call the planned conference in Zagreb, which facilitated a dialogue between experts from the Balkan region, the junior researchers were confronted with a new take on empirical data collection.It should be noted that their present state as junior researchers, located in Berlin and Frankfurt (Oder), impacts the following reflections as seen from a “not-physically-present” role. The aim of the research is to focus on two local activist movements in former Yugoslavia/Serbia: No Border Serbia and Women in Black Serbia (“Žene u crnom”).

Instead of face to face interviews in Belgrade, Serbia the plan is now to conduct semi-structured and narrative interviews via the Internet. The tool with which the interlocutor feels most comfortable is the one which we will then prefer to use -that could range from e-mail, video call or phone call to audio messages. The preparation for the interview includes as usual a preparation of topics of interest as well as the writing of a guideline for questions associated with these.Since the formation of the research group, about six weeks have passed and certain challenges as well as highlights have appeared on the surface. Facing the difficulty of organising online research without face to face meetings is certainly a challenge while the sharing of collaborative work and positive group dynamic counts as a reward.It was also noted that the privilege of using networks established through the hybrid workshop in Zagreb is highly productive -without the contact to senior and junior researchers participating in the DAAD project new and trustworthy connections would be much harder to form.

Concerning the interview process, several challenges come to mind: Due to the lack of personal encounters, creating a safe atmosphere can be increasingly difficult. Establishing a good connection (technically, sound-wise as well as socially and topic-wise)is crucial for a successful conduction of questions and answers. We also realize the effects which the C-19 virus has on us as students in Germany is very different from the effects that activists face on a daily basis. This provides a shift in the point of view and new insights but should also be met with respect and the understanding of contrasting challenges. Nonetheless or even for that same reason it is significant not to shy away from the change of circumstance and differences. Rather respect for thework of our fellow researchers and activists, a sincere interest and unbiased approach is called for.It can be concluded, in this unprecedented time of academia and activism flexibility, respect, patience and good communication is needed to avoid misunderstandings which can easily occur when direct physical contact is not possible. All of these attributes are surely helpful in a non digital research. And, as it is often the case in times of disorder, they prove to us as researchers that we are not working with objects or impartial things but instead with real people who have individual stories and feelings.