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A Research Broker for a Third-Culture Researcher: Experiences Conducting Field Research in Urban Pakistan

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Siddiqui, Hafsah 


Although much debate has been undertaken about the insider-outsider and in-betweener positionalities within social science research, the third-culture researcher (TCR) represents an under-researched identity which demands greater attention. Conducting doctoral fieldwork in Islamabad as a TCR gave rise to challenges that were navigated through the use of a research broker. The TCR positionality represents one who visits their country of ethnicity for the purposes of conducting research having mostly lived abroad, or as one who conducts research in a country where they have mostly lived but do not share ethnicity. I argue that research brokers are particularly important for TCRs — and in-betweener researchers more generally — because they provide contextual grounding, protection, and access to people and places where TCRs have partial familiarity with local conditions and where all actors involved are embedded within a context of risk. Research brokers also supplement TCRs’ in-between status by negotiating and managing their own positionality and skillset to facilitate interaction between the researcher and participants. This process can be challenging and has its limitations. I assert this by drawing on joint reflections and an interview with my research broker, as well as personal anecdotes. The TCR-broker relationship transforms knowledge production in multiple ways. Firstly, working with an actor with a unique positionality and skillset offers insight into how different identities interact and engage to shape research relations and outcomes. Secondly, it highlights how the research site is experienced differently and carries various meanings, significance, and consequences for those involved. Finally, the TCR-broker relationship offers the opportunity to engage in candid discussions about the benefits and limitations involved in working with others. The broker creates a significant impression on the research during fieldwork and beyond. Highlighting their voices adds to our scholarly understanding of the impact of positionality on qualitative social science methodological research.



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Gates Cambridge Trust; Department of Geography, University of Cambridge