EQUIMOB: Inclusive Cities through Equitable Access to Urban Mobility


30 January 2020
Lecture Hall II, Dept Of Geography, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi

Delhi City Lab Workshop: How to conduct research with people on the move?

The city as a field: mapping mobilities through observation, ethnography and visual storytelling


On 30th January 2020, The Delhi CityLab of EQUIMOB presented a one-day interactive workshop to learn how fieldwork can be done effectively in mobile, urban settings. It focused on ways in which researchers can use observation, ethnography, and visual methods such as photo-elicitation and photo-voice to conduct research when participants are on the move in cities. This workshop is the first in a series of planned events by the EQUIMOB Delhi CityLab.

The one-day workshop organised by Dr. Anindita Datta and her colleagues at the Department of Geography, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, began with the introduction of Dr. Ranjita Mohanty to the participating researchers. The lecture hall comprised a motley cohort of 25 individuals at different stages of their research journeys – from Masters to Post-Doctoral Research. Dr. Mohanty conversed with the delegates regarding their disciplines and their experience with conducting field-based research, sharing her own experiences simultaneously.

This was followed by Dr. Datta welcoming the Head of Department, Prof. R.B. Singh to formally announce the workshop open. Prof. Singh is the first Indian elected as the Secretary General and Treasurer of the International Geographical Union (2018-22). He has over 200 papers, 13 books, and 34 edited volumes in national and global publications. Prof. Singh’s areas of focus include Environment and Disaster Management, Urban Environment, Remote Sensing & GIS, Climate Change. Announcing the workshop open, he emphasised inter-disciplinary interaction, stressed on the importance and scope of qualitative research within geography.

Prof. Singh welcomed Dr. Mohanty to lead the interactive workshop. He stressed upon the importance of qualitative research in geography, encouraging the present cohort to undertake qualitative enquiry in geography, for which the workshop would be beneficial. Concluding the opening address, he turned towards the participants and asked them to question the understanding of emerging cities within Asia which are growing at a fast rate and retain several ‘traditional’ characteristics. Dr. Mohanty began her session with an explanation around why we conduct qualitative research. She offered that it provides a deeper understanding of the issues which are context specific. To further elaborate upon this, she introduced the participants to few qualitative research methods such as observation, participant observation, and ethnography. Dr. Mohanty explained the method of observation as a way of data gathering which is different from interviews. Where the latter – through closed or open-ended questions involves an interaction between the researcher and the participants, observation is a form of data collection through watching people, or events, or noting physical infrastructures and / or characteristics as they are, in their natural setting. These observations are systematic, linked to the research objectives. Participant observation, on the other hand, is carried out for a deeper understanding of everyday life in a particular setting. Dr. Mohanty further explained that the researcher, in this qualitative method, would become a participant of the context being observed.

From the different types of observations, she progressed to explaining ethnography. In the simplest of ways, this refers to writing about/of a people. It is a long-term study which is far more culturally embedded than other research methods. Dr. Mohanty gave examples of market researches done by corporations and brands before the launch of a product being based on short-term ethnographic research to gain a deeper understanding of user perceptions and behaviours. Following this, she discussed conducting qualitative research in the urban context. She stressed upon the heterogeneity of the cities where research is conducted, and that this diversity is crucial when considering and finalising research methods. Heterogeneity in urban areas comprises of socio-economic composition, occupations, access to services, migrant / floating populations, social history, infrastructure, and governance. All such factors shape research in urban as well as rural areas. Dr. Mohanty also discussed with the participants how doing fieldwork is a negotiation of power. She pointed out that one needs to be cautious of their own positionality in the whole process – the researcher asserts power through this position, and has power exerted upon them by the locals through their positions as participants and / or collaborators. Through a discussion on power negotiations, she also touched upon the ethics of research – especially the use and dissemination of audio-visual data such as photographs, social media data, digital recordings, and who to assign the credit to. These issues were discussed again in the following session with Prof. Ajay Bailey. Dr. Mohanty concluded her first session with aspects such as the framing of questions, situations of conflict which might be connected to issues of ethics and power negotiations, reciprocation in the field which is dependent on how a researcher establishes contact and rapport, verification of the research being conducted through triangulation to understand if there is a discrepancy or not in the data being collected and what the existing literature says. Finally, the session concluded with a brief introduction to writing fieldnotes.

The second session of the one-day workshop was conducted by Prof. Bailey from Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Using smart classroom tools, this session began with a photo-story done in Prof. Bailey’s voice. This photo-story led the participants through different types of visual methods and their applications in qualitative research. Photo-elicitation is a visual method used to elicit information from the participants. Photo-voice is a method where the participants take photographs and then start discussing the research questions. Where photo-elicitation is a researcher-driven approach, photo-voice focuses on the participants and what they consider important. This introduction was followed by examples from Prof. Bailey’s research experiences. These included photographs of the home and material possessions taken by diasporic ageing participants which acted as reminders of the past, and of memories. Through these photographs the researchers improvised the in-depth interview tools, connecting individuals to the surrounding context. Through another example of photo-voice involving Indian nurse education, Prof. Bailey explained how the meaning and importance of the photographs emanate from the participants. This helps researchers identify further probes which enrich in-depth interviews.

With the conclusion of this workshop, key takeaways for the participants included:
– Understanding of different qualitative research methods
– Use and application of visual methods in qualitative research
– Nuances of conducting fieldwork and its importance
– Issues around ethics and consent in research
– Importance of conducting qualitative research

The research group attending the Delhi City Lab Workshop, University of Delhi