The challenges of fieldwork: researchers, clothing manufacturers, and migrant workers



Publication Details

Crinis, V. 2012, 'The challenges of fieldwork: researchers, clothing manufacturers, and migrant workers', Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 168-189.


This paper highlights the unique challenges faced by researchers conducting a multi-sited study of the clothing industry in Malaysia. The study involves workers and manufacturers in multiple sites in industrial suburbs across Malaysia. The workers in the study, mostly female migrant workers, are considered to be a vulnerable group because they are subjected to harsh discipline under company contract conditions and state immigration laws, as well as difficulties faced within an industrial urban environment. Feminist principles were adopted in the multi-sited ethnography with the aim of facilitating connections among different subjects and a more equal and caring relationship between ethnographer and the subjects being researched. Stacey (1988) asserts that generic ethnographic research should follow feminist methodological principles such as egalitarianism, reciprocity, and reflectivity, although simultaneously she argues that the closer the relationship between ethnographer and subjects, the greater the likelihood of exploitation. In the case of the author's research, applying feminist principles was for the most part successful although it was difficult to develop close personal relationships with the migrant workers studied because of the multiplicity of sites, the difficulties in locating a migrant worker community, coupled with the short time workers spent away from the factory. In terms of the manufacturers interviewed in this study, the author developed relationships of trust with some, but maintaining trust and transparency with others within a corporatist network of manufacturers became more challenging as the fieldwork progressed. Moreover, the paper raises some of the tensions specific to feminist principles and some relevant to "multi-sited" ethnographic research.

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