When being uncomfortable is important: reflections on power and privilege when conducting research in a foreign country and a second language

Ashley Rogers, Adam Talbot*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


While positionality and language are central to the practices, processes and ethics of knowledge production, this is especially the case with foreign researchers in other countries. As two UK researchers, we both learned a second language (Portuguese and Spanish) in order to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in urban sociology in Brazil and Bolivia. Learning and working in an additional language is often an integral aspect of ethnographic work, with proficiency and competencies affecting everyday life in the field, as well as analysis and writing of data. Our positions as minority world researchers in the majority world, and our feelings of deep unease about this that emerged prior to, during, and after our respective projects, cannot be separated out from these (in)competencies. This paper therefore reflects on aspects of power, inequality and privilege that filtered through our research processes. We reflect on these in terms of our own personal and ethical challenges in the field, as well as writing about it. It has stemmed from the numerous conversations we have had with regards to our reflections on positionality, imperialism, representation and knowledge. While these are all large and highly loaded concepts, what we hope to do is initiate further thought and discussion in an academic context where we are under increased pressure to conduct research in, with, and on other countries. Rarely explored in depth, due to exposure and vulnerability, we emphasise the importance of addressing the uncomfortable feelings we have in doing the work we do.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2019
EventBSA Annual Conference 2019: Challenging Social Hierarchies and Inequalities - Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Apr 201926 Apr 2019


ConferenceBSA Annual Conference 2019
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


Cite this