1. bookVolume 21 (2022): Issue 2 (December 2022)
Journal Details
First Published
05 May 2002
Publication timeframe
2 times per year
Open Access

Discomforting Methodologies

Published Online: 22 Dec 2022
Volume & Issue: Volume 21 (2022) - Issue 2 (December 2022)
Page range: 93 - 117
Journal Details
First Published
05 May 2002
Publication timeframe
2 times per year
Introduction and Context

Today is the first day of my second month in this neighborhood. Like yesterday and the day before, when I close the door of my home I breathe a sigh of relief. Tomorrow, like every morning for this last month, I will not want to get up, have breakfast and go back to the field. I feel really guilty. Every day I feel like I am going to war in a dangerous and unsuspecting place and I feel vulnerable. Why do I feel this way? Is it only temporary, and will it end? This is not my life and it shouldn’t affect me so much. I am more and more aware that I spend less time by the tree, with the men and more time with the women chatting in the street or in the hallway of the building… Am I wrong about anthropology? (Excerpt from my field diary)

A few days after writing these words in my field diary, I experienced great emotional discomfort

1The term emotional discomfort is used to refer to that set of “non-positive” emotional responses felt in social interactions both during and in relation to fieldwork.

. I decided to take a break to rethink what was happening to me and how it was affecting my research and me as a person. Bringing these words into the public space has not been easy; showing vulnerability is rarely easy. After going through my diaries I decided that these phrases very accurately introduced how emotions are deeply embedded in the ethnographic method and are therefore a topic that needs to be openly and consciously incorporated at all stages. Anthropology, more than any other of the human sciences, offers a unique analytical space for the discussion of human experience thanks to our empirical methodology. Grounded in social interaction, intimacy and emotionality are inseparable from ethnography.

In line with Feldman and Mandache (2019), discussing the need for emotions to be recognised as an important part of our discipline, ‘we claim that the greatest source of analytic value occurs during what we call the emotional overlap, or those moments during fieldwork when the emotions of both the informant and the ethnographer are shared’ (2019, p. 3).

I begin this article by stating the research question that drives the following analyses: can the anthropologist’s emotionality really be incorporated into fieldwork as a methodological and substantive tool? Can discomfort (emotional or otherwise) be a privileged space in this enterprise?.

In light of this question, the aim of this article is to explore and analyze the presence, forms and consequences at a methodological level of emotional, cognitive and bodily discomfort in fieldwork arising from the different ways of inhabiting masculinity. We will introduce this analysis within the already ‘classic’ debates about how anthropology and ethnography try to ‘objectify’ the world through subjective processes, through which the ethnographer becomes central and is transformed into a knowledge-producing tool that can be ‘refined’ through reflexivity. The many critics and detractors of reflexivity such as Lynch (2000) denounce its apparent vacuous postmodern obligatory nature and its lack of clear results. Nevertheless, as Rosaldo (1989) points out, the question is not so much what reflexivity reveals but who, how and in what context. But we should also note that the narration of events of emotional discomfort make uncomfortable reading for most, but if they are also presented ‘without a discussion of their inter-relationship with the data, they provide little more than an account of [our]own distress in this setting’ (Lee-Treweek, 2000, p. 123): a radical ‘nonsense’ in an academic context of social and human sciences that have privileged knowledge gained from direct and apparently ‘clean’ observation of the ‘object’ of study, as advocated by the positivist empiricist paradigm.

The positivist-rationalist paradigm has been characterized by the claim and quest for greater objectivity. This perspective established and expanded the obligatory use of a methodology based on the hypothetical-deductive method, capable of generalizing and predicting the future. Conscious of human complexity, they created ad hoc tools in order to correct their own prediction errors and thus achieve the longed-for scientific objectivity (Stengers, 2000).

For some decades now, scholars from many different disciplines have raised their voices critically arguing that ‘this point of view […] entails and encourages distance and non-involvement between the researcher and the researched and assumes that the researcher can objectively see, judge and interpret the life and meaning of his subjects’ (Wolf, 1996, p. 4).

Despite the multiple experiences and reflections of some of the founders of anthropology such as Pritchard (1973), Bateson (1972), Mead (1983) or Merlau Ponty (1956), who opened the door to a sensory and emotional ethnography by placing at the center of the anthropologist’s experience his corporealities and subjectivities (Csordas, 2002), Academia has not been able to avoid the temptation to construct the researcher as a dual subject. The researcher adopts an identity fiction with the appearance of neutrality, totally alien to the context to be researched, who when returning home is detached from the context and subjects under investigation. This is a remnant of old-school research in Western anthropology, where the researcher undertook long journeys to exotic lands with exotic inhabitants, only to return to civilisation at the end of the research and resume a ‘normal’ life (Malinowski, 1967).

It seems evident that the mere presence of the researcher in the field implies a participation, a modification of the context, adds a variable that was not there before, creates strangeness, attracts attention and modifies behavior as the subjects of study feel themselves observed. The researcher themselves is a symbol, issuing verbal and non-verbal statements, which contain signs and symbols that are processed by the subjects under study, and which interfere in their cognitive systems and their subjectivities. But as Berreman (1968) argues, the researcher is shown as an entity who enters the context, who asks questions, who knows and who touches the subject of study. However, their reality seems to disappear under this idea of obligatory scientific neutrality. Hymes argues that ‘there is no way to avoid the fact that the ethnographer [researcher] is theyself a factor in the research. Apart from the general ability of men [and non-men too] to learn culture, research would be impossible. In this sense, the particular characteristics of the ethnographer [a,e] are, for better and for worse, an instrument of research’ (Hymes, 1993, p. 187).

Moreover, for me as anthropologist and scientists to try to ignore our constitutive parameters is a failed attempt at masquerade. We must learn how to recognize and consciously examine these aspects of ethnographic research. If we repress and hide them, rather than moving away from objectivity we are misrepresenting the data or failing to gain a deep understanding of the meaning of the data. (Humphreys et al., 2003). In particular, that which is lived from pain, such as experiences of lgtbiqphobia, poverty or deprivation, gender identity, racism and, in general, the multiple forms of violence, are an intrinsic part of our personhood. (Sullivan, 2003), All this is so central to the life of contemporary human beings that to ignore it would result in a totally unacceptable distortion of reality.

Feminist, post-structuralist and decolonial theorists (Carroll, 2012; Davies & Spencer, 2010; DeVault, 1996; Jaggar, 1989; Grosz, 1987; Haraway, 1988; Harding, 1987, 1991, 2002; Ramazanoglu & Holland, 2002; Lather, 1991) have precisely addressed both the issue that Wolf points to in her critique of the creation of hierarchies and the reproduction of forms of oppression and power, and the part of knowledge of reality that is lost in the prioritisation of objective knowledge. This critique of the subject-object dichotomy as the foundation of objective knowledge is precisely what brought about the epistemological transformations that are the basis of these critical theoretical perspectives. In this line, suspicion is often used as a practice in relation to all those paradoxes represented by objectivism and relativism.

What do I want to tell?

It is this quest for objectivity that eliminates the researcher and their emotions, and ends up resulting in a more biased knowledge. Knowledge is always mediated by the context, personal coordinates and experiences of the subject who produces it, of which the anthropologist’s emotional universe is central (Harding, 1991). Therefore, to consciously incorporate our differentiated vital coordinates into research practices can be thought of not only as an act of honesty and fidelity to oneself and the research practice, but also as an act of enriching the research practice itself (Esteban, 2000; Ellis and Bochner, 2006).

Certainly, and against the grain of positivist academicism, if we draw on peripheral or marginal spaces of thought such as the anthropology of emotions, critical feminist theory and other multiple spaces of critical analysis, we might think that the emotions felt by ethnographers in the research environment should perhaps be incorporated into the research process in the same way as field notes, interviews, etc. It is precisely the situated nature of emotions that supports this proposition.

Emotions emerge at a specific moment in time, associated with a set of interrelated and co-constitutive variables, and are not simply another product or conjunctural factor of a particular ethnographic episode (Abu-Lughod & Lutz, 1990; Lutz, 1988; Myers, 1986). Emotions define the position of subjects in interaction with other subjects and the stakes of the encounter; they function as social signs. As Hymes argues, all this leads to the conclusion that ‘there is no way to avoid the fact that the ethnographer is himself a factor in the research. Both the research subject and the researcher become mutually constitutive in this new relationship. In this sense, the particular characteristics of the ethnographer are, for better and for worse, an instrument of the research’ (Hymes, 1993, p. 187). Given this, research implies a continuous process of construction that is always unfinished, embedded in new forms of interaction between the actors involved. That is to say, the relationship between researcher/subject of study is bidirectional, where each ends up constituting the other, turning research into a practice of subjectivation.

In fact, as Caduff (2011) and Fassin (2008, 2011) point out, in anthropological practice there is no longer only a moral hierarchy of legitimate objects of research per se. Along with the ‘what’ we need to think morally about the ‘how’ of research. And this ‘how’ implies explicit clarification of the methodology to be used and, based on our proposal, an incorporation of the researcher’s defining coordinates, among which the researcher’s own emotional responses are central. Not to incorporate felt emotions leads us to ignore an important part of the elements that come into play in the ethnographic process. Certain feminist approaches will draw attention to how the choice of subject, the location and the reality of the researcher in the ethnographic process frame the bias of the research development and, indeed, the resulting data and analysis. (Harding, 1987; Smith, 1987; Hawkesworth, 1989; Haraway, 1989) These approaches will propose the positioning and situation of the researcher at all times, as we have been discussing.

For all these reasons, opting for this methodological proposal implies a clear and explicit renunciation of the more normative academic positivist approaches (Rosaldo, 1989). The researchers themselves, their emotional and vital reality, become inseparable at the analytical level from their own data. Objectivity, scientific authority and validity are relativised and re-situated. The artificial separation between ethnographers and subjects/communities of study gives way to a relational and intersubjective methodological approach in which researchers are expected to absorb and participate in the dynamics of the field in their very emotions and bodies. Ball (1990) refers to this as the ‘incorporation of subjective experience’, and situates it as one of the most remarkable cornerstones of contemporary research in anthropology. Csordas, emphasizing the inseparability of corporeality and subjectivity, speaks of ‘the existential condition in which the body is the subjective source or the intersubjective foundation of experience […]’ (1999, p. 143) approaching it from the perspective of embodiment. For the author, the understanding of this reality can only be understood from the point of view of being-in-the-body-world’ (p. 143).

Social research reveals itself as an inherently social and political process in which personal experience and its reflexivity oppose the grand narratives of truth (Haraway, 1991; Harding, 1987, 1991; Smith, 1987; Gaskell, 1988; Punch, 1986), exchanging them for partiality, positionality and relationality (Britzman, 2000). Lather (1993) in this sense warned of the danger of betting on the ‘false total consciousness’ and full rationality assumed of natives and their practices.

In this article I specifically aim to examine the tensions, developments and methodological consequences of the emotional discomfort felt around my masculinity and male identity in my fieldwork with roma/gypsy communities in the Spanish Levant in various research projects over recent decades. As an anthropologist trained and aligned in feminist, queer and decolonial critical theories, my discomfort with the positivist dictates of academic research has been very present. I have always been suspicious of ethnographic materials in which the ethnographers’ emotions were either absent or downplayed in favor of objective data.

However, the lack of training, experience and tools for the incorporation of emotions into the research process resulted in a problem at the methodological level. This absence made it very difficult to incorporate the sense of difference that comes from the process of emotional estrangement and its subsequent analytical management. Thinking of the research space as an emotional environment where my subjectivity and emotionality met and dialogued with those of the native population required an effective methodological development. Given the ignorance of how to do this, I decided to document what I felt, linked to the practices and relationships I observed in the field.

In this article I show how becoming aware of my emotional discomforts around masculinity placed me in a privileged space of observation and reflection on the construction of ethnic and gender identities, and at the same time brought greater attention to the practices of the population. So, I start from what could be considered the end: I assert, justify and analyze that a proper incorporation of emotions as a methodological tool enriches the research process. And secondly, I argue for the necessary development of a framework that allows us this incorporation without falling into the dangers of excessive self-reflexivity that can end up monopolizing the whole research process (Pillow, 2003).

The how: Methodology

The analytical proposal presented in this work is the result of anthropological field research carried out over the last decade. The subjects of study were Spanish gypsy communities settled in a re-housing neighborhood at the end of the 1990s.

The initial objective was to address the processes of articulation and resistance of these communities to the demolition of their houses by the administration in a context of exclusion and ethnic hierarchization. As the research progressed, and as reported in this article, other objectives were gradually revealed as central, highlighting the analysis of the construction of ethnic identities at the intersection with gender norms and the processes of exclusion and resistance.

The communities and individuals included in this project were selected according to their representativeness, accessibility and possibility. The fieldwork was conducted both online and offline and used participant observation, ethnographic writing/field diary, semi-structured ‘extended’ interviews and focus groups as the main tools for data collection. The duration of the project was 18 months, with different stages and different forms of presence and coexistence. In this article I will primarily use self-reflective information that refers to my emotions in relation to my masculinity. I will prioritize anything that has to do with emotional discomfort, giving it the same legitimacy that I would give to observed practices as defended by Du Preez (2008). I have used two methods of selection and search around the categories of self-reflection, masculinity and discomfort: a traditional one for the paper-based field diaries, and the use of Atlas-TI software for the digital field notes and diaries.

From where? Knowledge and emotions in the fieldwork. Stop controlling the uncontrollable.

The starting point is the consensus that fieldwork is emotion just as it is sociability or data (Levy, 2016), and that data collection or models of establishing relationships with informants are inevitably influenced and determined by the emotional responses of the researcher. Below I attempt to justify this statement, which will later be shown in the reflections on the field.

My emotional reactions were never within my control, either inside or outside the fieldwork. All emotions are set in the specific interaction, in the face to face and in some field situations, as previously noted.

Assuming this reality consciously from the beginning would have led to less emotional discomfort. Instead, I spent a long time denying my emotions and dealing with them as something shameful that undermined both my capacity as an anthropologist and my masculine identity. Years of accumulated violence and the development of survival strategies have made me an expert in the avoidance of pain and discomfort (Sedgwick, 2008[1990]).

Fortunately, something happened a few months into the fieldwork: while leaving the neighborhood gave me a great feeling of relief and lightness, coming back the next day was very hard. These sensations were so intense that I could not avoid the problem and I forced myself to seriously consider the issue. I could either quit, or seriously face the discomfort. On that occasion, I delayed my return to the field for a few days and made myself go through my diaries to find out the reasons for my feelings.

As happened to Levy (Ibid.) during her fieldwork in an isolated American feminist neo-rural community, discovering how emotions were present in the field in such an intense way was not an easy task. For me, facing my own demons along with the insecurities I already had related to Academia made me feel the task highly complex. This posed relevant emotional and ethical dilemmas. I didn’t know whether to tell or not to tell. I especially did not know who to tell and in what terms, so as not to be judged. I had not considered this in my research design, so I was faced with what I felt was a clear lack of planning. In the initial research stages, formal methodological concerns occupied most of my time. I knew my difficulties with masculine spaces and I was also in line with theoretical approaches in favor of ‘situating’ knowledge, so I felt that I could have acted with greater expertise. Methodologically, this was both a mistake and an opportunity that urged me to incorporate emotions and their management from the outset. This is where the first big learning came to light: in the design and planning of fieldwork, emotional discomfort and emotions in general have to be present at all times. This is not to say that unforeseen ethical dilemmas cannot arise. Now I know that careful and thorough pre-planning is essential. The very nature of the field means that these issues are likely to arise very early on, especially if you bring with you a biography marked by violence.

To continue with the narrative, the point is that it was too late to turn around and start from scratch. Therefore, the solution was to deal with it by ‘situating’ (Haraway, 1988; Ahmed, 2006) my personal coordinates in the research process. In those days I focused on the creation of a recording and analysis tool that would allow me to identify emotional discomfort, the moments when it occurred, its possible influence on my methodological decisions and its possible influence on my social interactions and those of the other informants with me.

This tool

2Due to format constraints, it was not possible to include the described tool in the present text. I am currently working on a specific article on this diagram, with the purpose of providing a deep, understandable and practical description of its genesis, its development and possible forms of use with ethnographic examples.

, designed as a simple diagram, allowed me to both emotionally distance myself from, and relate to, what was happening in the field. It was precisely at that moment that another of my methodological learnings became apparent. It was necessary to know in detail the reasons that conditioned my methodological design and the development of techniques day by day. I had to know whether these were ethical, political, academic or emotional, but also how they were conditioning the development of the research.

The design and use of the simple tool which I called the ‘emotional diagram’ came about after a crisis arising from emotional discomfort. From the very first moment I began to experience in my research work an awareness and serenity that I had never experienced before. It was not magic. Until that moment I had tried to deny or keep that emotional discomfort under control. With the use of this tool, negative emotions became conscious. This resulted in a reduction in the intensity of those emotions, allowing some detachment from them and, therefore, a greater clarity in identifying them and integrating them consciously into my analysis. In addition, little by little I became aware of other uses that emerged from its use and from the active awareness of my emotional reality, so from that moment on it meant a methodological redesign in which they could occupy an appropriate position.

Along these lines, and according to Lee-Treweek (2000) and Pollard (2009), my proposal went beyond the existing methodological consensus as to what reflexivity is and how to incorporate it to the practice. Even when it is argued that more than the ‘what’ we study we need to incorporate the ‘how’ (Hertz, 1997), incorporating the defining parameters of the researcher (such as social class, ethnicity, sexual or gender identity, etc.) and their position and interests (Callaway, 1992), emotions are often overlooked.

The identification and analysis of emotions generates knowledge both about the conditions of production of knowledge itself and about the emotional rules of the place being studied (Lee-Treweek, 2000). And here, we open another window in our methodological proposal by inserting emotion in the communication flows that occur between the researcher and the subjects to be investigated, as we pointed out in the first pages.

With this proposal, in addition to questioning our own interpretations and being reflective about our own generation of knowledge with the aim of producing better and less distorted research accounts (Hertz, 1997), we incorporate a language that is absolutely present at every step of the human being and that has traditionally been erased in pursuit of an objective, masculine and heterosexual modern scientific production: the language of emotions (Carroll, 2012).

Therefore, we join the definition of reflexivity that is usually understood as a continuous self-awareness, a turning back on oneself and not a mere self-reference, during the research process that helps to make visible the practice and construction of knowledge within the research to produce more accurate analyses as pointed out by Aull Davies (2007).

The next part of the text addresses concretely how the emotional discomfort felt in my fieldwork opened three opportunity-spaces that, beyond situating the production of my knowledge, multiplied it: emotional discomfort and its presence in the design and redesign of the methodology; emotional discomfort felt consciously and how this makes me pay attention and connect to realities that had not previously occupied a central position in my thought; and emotional discomfort that reveals symbolic and normative structures of the field in the reactions and forms of interaction of gypsies and roma with the researcher.

Discomfort in the field and its possible methodological contributions

Arriving to the field may be one of the most important moments in ethnographic research. It is in those first days that the community’s impressions of the anthropologist and the anthropologist’s impressions of the community are set. The fears and expectations of a young and very inexperienced anthropologist appear with great power. Anthropological research, in its procedure, has important differences in relation to other qualitative approaches (Kleinman & Copp, 1993). Qualitative methodologies are multiple and modulated in many different ways. However, within the anthropological discipline there seems to be a certain consensus. For example, with regard to participant observation as

the practice of living among the people being studied, getting to know them, their language and their ways of life through intense and continuous interaction with them in their daily lives. This means that the ethnographer converses with the people, works with them, attends their social functions and rituals, visits their homes and invites them into his own, that is, he is present in as many situations as possible, learning to know them in as many settings and from as many facets as he can (Berreman, 1968, p. 337 in Jociles, 1999, p. 11).

This definition has much to do with what I am trying to show with the work presented here and the constant nature of interaction and emotional exposure.

In the following lines I introduce ‘the almond tree’ as one of the paradigmatic and central spaces of the neighborhood, that also became central to my fieldwork and in my methodological apprenticeship.

Space, power and emotion. ‘The tree of men’ as a battlefield.

Every afternoon, when the sun began to set, that almond tree came to life. Like the meeting and council trees

3Historically the places of council in Spain are large and old significant trees, atriums and porches of churches, crossroads, etc. Until less than a century ago they were a legal institution created from the provisions of the Catholic Monarchs that recognized them as places for neighbors to meet and make decisions. These spaces have continued to have a symbolic and social importance despite the loss of their social status with the arrival of the late nineteenth century. Within these places, the council trees have occupied a primordial place among all of the above.(García Grinda, 2002)

that have existed as a place for meeting and local government throughout the centuries in many small towns and villages in Spain, in this resettlement neighborhood now in demolition, an old almond tree, older than the neighborhood itself, had become a central place in its symbolic and social universe. Shade, a multitude of rickety chairs, old fruit crates and a lot of dust made up the elements of that place. From the first moment, when I saw its location and signs of use, I felt that the tree had become a semiotic-material device articulating social relations in the neighborhood. There was always someone sitting there, alone or in company, but generally ready to start a chat in the shade if the weather was hot or in the sun if it started to cool down in the mild Mediterranean winter. The almond tree was located at the entrance to the neighborhood along the road that connected it to the village. The neighborhood had no stores or basic services, apart from the school and the two places of worship, the Catholic and Evangelical churches, so leaving the neighborhood was essential for almost everything.

The almond tree was a male-coded tree. Occasionally I met an older woman accompanied by a relative, but generally it was an exclusively masculine place. And not for everyone, but rather exclusively for the gypsies. The few ‘gadje/payos’

4Gadje is a romani concept used to refer to non-Roma people and their actions. In Spain, it is more common to use “payo”, “gacho”, “gachi” or “gache”, but these are historical variations of the same concept.

who lived in the neighborhood (mostly migrants of Algerian origin) never stood or sat there. The gypsies of Spanish nationality—compared to a larger population often in an irregular migratory situation—longer-established in the neighborhood and more numerous, constantly flaunted their superiority. That almond tree was a masculine, gypsy, and adult space, producer and reproducer of the logics of power in the neighborhood.

As all this unraveled, ‘the almond tree’ became for me one of the most emotionally complex places. After a rural childhood and adolescence marked by homophobia and violent questioning of my masculine identity, I had great difficulties in social interaction with men, especially when they were in groups and formed a small society. For me, the feminine space was a space of safety and care, as opposed to the masculine space of risk and danger. Every time I went to that place my whole body became tense and a certain discomfort arose within me.

In my personal development I had learned to develop avoidance strategies: I was an expert in these strategies in my personal life, but in the fieldwork I could not do the same, or at least not consciously. Besides, the scientific paradigm urged me to get rid of them in the quest for objectivity. The symbolic and social importance of that meeting space obliged me to visit it frequently, and I also possessed some kind of stoic spirit that forced me to resist in the face of difficulties. What kind of anthropologist would I be if I gave up or avoided spaces of observation? Abandoning that ship was not an option, no matter how much emotional discomfort it meant for me.

Entering and staying in that space was indispensable for the development of my work. And so it was, wrongly, until I experienced the ethnographic crisis mentioned above, when I decided to actively incorporate my discomfort into the research process at the methodological level. Although this reduced my feeling of discomfort, it did not make it disappear, so every afternoon I joined those gatherings under the tree or simply remained quietly in the shade together with one of the ‘gypsy uncles’ of the neighborhood. In that way, that landscape became a more and more strangely commonplace one.

Methodological contributions

What did this emotional discomfort of moving through the spaces of masculinity mean at the methodological level?

Emotions in the field do not necessarily imply a positive contribution beyond a self-referential exercise. These snippets of my fieldwork and the emotional discomfort felt alone do not express anything beyond my own neuroses and a biography marked by homophobia. Below we focus specifically on the ways in which this emotional discomfort has enriched my research.

Zoom out to focus

From the moment I entered the field, I felt that I was occupying a space of permanent otherness. An otherness that was no longer solely ethnic, but also one of gender and sexual identity. Gypsy men had a language and performativity resulting from the intersection of race, class and gender identity expressed with great theatricality and intensity that gave the question a great centrality in every interaction. Feeling that otherness was relatively easy in this context and, thus, translated into a sense of constant discomfort. And, thus, inhabiting this otherness translated into a sense of constant discomfort. Dorinne Kondo (1986), as a Japanese-American anthropologist, manifested in her fieldwork in Japan a constant emotional discomfort with otherness, which permeated any space, because she was and was not Japanese at the same time. Like her, I felt the same as a constantly-outside-the-norm man. In this case, being othered did not mean ceasing to interact, but rather meant a kind of partitioning of consciousness, in which one could continue to interact, but somehow with a conscious over-attention.

Today with hindsight I realize that for me, the male public space, that tree, was a theater of war in which I felt in real danger because I did not have the right weapons. It seemed that my anxiety had to do with the fear of being judged for not ‘measuring up’ as a man and, therefore, of not being respected, not being listened to, and that this would prevent me from accessing the field for breaking the norms of the community itself.

Such emotional responses meant that my alertness levels were highly elevated. My body and mind only relaxed when I was no longer in those spaces of socialization, when I locked myself in at home or left the neighborhood and returned to the spaces I had marked as safe throughout my life.

Involuntarily, by identifying masculinity with danger and discomfort, I developed an over-attention to anything to do with gender. This meant occupying a privileged position of estrangement, as it produced a more intense interaction with the group while at the same time a necessary distance in observation. That is to say, it allowed me to feel with great intensity, while at the same time recording a large number of practices and discourses around gypsy sex-gender politics that were genuinely alien to me. Therefore, every night when I sat down in front of the field diary to record what I had seen, spoken and felt, everything related to sexual identity and masculinity came to my emotional and corporal memory with much more force and detail than other field data.

However, my relationships with gyspy women were characterized by a sense of simplicity and confidence. With those women, trust arose very quickly. It was not until I became aware of the centrality of gender normativity in my discomfort with men that I began to pay particular attention to it in my interactions with women. In consequence, this ‘embodied memory’ allowed me perceiving it in the bodies of others or at least ask myself if their bodies, gestures and words, silences express similar or different feelings and emotions

In fact, in this research, gender and identity politics were not originally the central object of study. The focus was on the resistance strategies developed by the population of an economically and ethnically excluded neighborhood in the context of imminent destruction and eviction. Gender could be a variable to be considered, but it had not been defined as central to the research, as for example economic dynamics, supportive relationships within and beyond kinship relations, etc.

Therefore, from that moment on, I introduced the politics of gender and sexuality among the gypsies as a central axis of their practices and strategies of resistance into my hypotheses and objectives. This revelation meant that this topic became central to my research work over the next decade, as little by little reality showed that the dynamics of secular otherness, crossed with a modern capitalist system, had placed gender roles and identities at the center of human life. For gypsies, their cultural ethos as an ethnic minority was inextricably linked to their politics of gender and sexuality, and these were inextricably linked to the dynamics of creating otherness (Berna, 2013, 2015).

This involved two important developments in my practice as an anthropologist. On the one hand, through the incorporation of emotional discomfort in the form of privileged estrangement in participant observation. On the other, the awareness of the importance of sex-gender politics in the context of secular and capitalist ethnic otherness.

Emotional understanding

Every day by that tree, I observed the gypsy men who were there and those who were not. Those who spoke, but especially those who did not. That tree was now a privileged place where the norms of masculinity were reproduced, where hierarchies and alliances were displayed. Those who did not meet certain variables (age, marital status, descent, family group) spoke much less, were listened to much less or interrupted much more. For their part, they sought to be recognised by other gypsy men with a certain anxiety and persistence. Being gypsy in this context meant to be forced to dialogue with the normativity it entailed: heterosexuality, reproductive capacity, and capacity to exercise violence and/or the capacity to manage negotiation in conflictive situations that involve potential violence and finally respect in their relationship with other gypsy men and women. This, together with having to continually show themselves, was articulated on the basis of negative logics, in total opposition to the so-called ‘Payo’ (Berna, 2016). gypsy was the opposite of ‘payo’. The space of good, beauty, the pure and the healthy, was on the gypsy side and the impure, the sick, the evil and the ugliness, on the Payo side (Berna, 2016). All of this occurred in a context of a powerful threat from the dominant society, producing a tension in the strategies of semiotic-material resistance and survival that resulted in identity processes based on their own homogenisation and essentialization.

Levy (2016) began her article by recounting the claustrophobia she felt during her time living in the ecofeminist community in the forest. Feeling this made her wonder if she was ‘crazy’ and if she was the only one who felt this, or if other subjects, specifically some of her informants, also felt it. Something similar happened to me in my fieldwork. As I progressed in the research and became aware of my emotions and discomfort, I was able to pull back the veil that made me a participant in the homogenizing and essentialist gaze on gypsy men. Gypsy gender normativity, although rigid, had a center and a periphery that resulted in a truly heterogeneous and diverse panorama. And the awareness of my homogenizing gaze, as well as the estrangement and otherness felt, ended up creating a special sensitivity towards those gypsy male subjects who were on the margins of the mandates of gypsy masculinity. Little by little I perfected a kind of ‘specialized radar gaze’ in the detection of what I called the ‘strange men’ who could also feel something similar to the otherness I felt. Thus, my own embodied sensations gave way to a self-reflexive gaze that facilitated me to realize that some gypsy men also felt uncomfortable with gender normativity was revelatory. Incorporating this cultural phenomenology of corporeality (Csordas, 1999) into the research process placed the body at the center of a network of symbols and meanings that constitute it as a source of existence and social experience.

At the same time, emotional discomfort facilitated the emergence of a channel of communication with other discomforts in a much simpler way. The awareness of my discomfort and its introduction at a methodological level in the research opened up the option and need to communicate with them and to place emotions at the center of such communication as much as possible. Also, being a ‘payo’ and occupying a non-normative model of masculinity made it easier for them to communicate with me on many occasions.

Reading Rosaldo (1989) in ‘Culture and Truth, when he relates that it was only after the accidental death of his wife in the fieldwork that he began to connect with and analyze the practice of cutting off Ilongot heads, spoke to me of what I was experiencing myself. It was not a mere emotional transference, in which I projected what I felt onto those gypsy men. In fact, it can be easy to fall into this temptation, but our training as anthropologists especially warns us against it. As an anthropologist, it would be extremely difficult for me to ignore the particularities of cultural difference and dare to universalise my emotional experiences, believing that I am capable of understanding and sharing all the parameters of their emotionality. But it is true that, as Jociles (2006) reflects paraphrasing Catani (1990), there are many occasions in which the researcher, despite being in this critical position, ends up merely obtaining different versions of their own discourses from the subjects. In other words, they end up transferring their vision and position in relation to the issue under study. This risk existed but, on the other hand, my own experience allowed me to measure the importance of a certain emotional experience in the life of a subject and to make an emotional approach to their experience from my own. This approach meant the opening of a new means of communication that transcended the merely discursive. This allowed those gypsies who also inhabited an uncomfortable space in relation to masculinity to reveal themselves to my gaze. As the archetype of gypsy men was broken down, I gradually built relationships of trust with these ‘other’ gypsies with other ways of being away from gender norms.


Hammers and Brown (2004) stress that in the search for ‘Other’ methodologies it is not enough to aim for the creation of a non-hierarchical, equitable and respectful researcher-researched relationship. Those ‘Other’ methodologies that Comaroff and Comaroff (2003) also talk about need to be both ‘reflective and reflexive, both imaginative and empirical’ (p.156). Therefore, it is no longer only a matter of changing power relations in research, but it is also necessary to introduce reflexivity as a practice that ‘situates’ (Haraway, 1988) the researcher as an active participant. But if we acknowledge, as Jociles (1999) points out, that research practice is the result of a set of forms of perception, feelings, bodies, academic training, life experiences and practices that the researcher embodies and that guide their research, making explicit and incorporating or not all these variables, emotions will determine both the development and the results of the research. And here, hand in hand with emotional discomfort in the field, emotions are revealed as an essential and productive part both at a political and methodological level.

The incorporation of emotions, with the appropriate tools and methods, can mean much more than a mere reflexivity in which the anthropologist’s self is at the center. Incorporation implies a political commitment that vindicates the values of transparency and honesty and, at the same time, a methodological proposal that enriches the research process.

Emotions take on special methodological relevance when we take into account their effects in the field and, subsequently, in methodological decision-making and in the analysis and subsequent interpretation of the data.

I have defended emotional discomfort as a privileged space for analysis. As it involves an intense and unpleasant emotional response, it is not easy to avoid. The researchers themselves, somehow, feeling high levels of emotional discomfort, are forced to reflect on their response and its consequences in the field.

Frequently, the only way to bring emotions into fieldwork is the ethical interest in the emotional repercussions that the presence and action of the researcher may have on informants. But it is not so common to introduce the researcher and their emotionality into the field as an active sentient subject.

In addition to its political and methodological usefulness, we have defended the necessary incorporation of strategies for becoming aware and dealing with possible emotional issues that may arise. The anthropologist, as a sentient subject, may feel some of their emotions magnified by the change of location, new interactions, loneliness and their own traumas and insecurities. Not addressing all this can indeed negatively affect the research process and the researcher. I therefore defend the need to articulate and introduce self-care mechanisms into the design and planning of fieldwork from the outset.

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