Exploring gender, age, time and space in research with older Pakistani Muslims in the United Kingdom: Formalised research ‘ethics’ and performances of the public/private divide in ‘the field’
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In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in researching ageing ethnic minority populations in the West. However, older people from such minority communities have received comparatively little attention in wide-ranging discussions on appropriate research methodologies. By a process of critically reflecting on our experiences of undertaking fieldwork for our Economic and Social Research Council New Dynamics of Ageing study of ‘Families and Caring in South Asian Communities', this paper maps out the key methodological and ethical challenges we faced and, in the process, highlights the importance of developing socially appropriate research methodologies and ethical frameworks for research with such populations. With a reflexive approach, we specifically explore the significance of gender, age, time and space to the fieldwork processes and the ‘field’ relationships formed at various stages of the research process. In particular, we explore three key emergent issues which conflicted with our formal research protocols and presented particular challenges for us and our older Pakistani Muslim participants: (a) structuring of time in daily life; (b) gendered use of public and private spaces; and (c) orality of informal social contexts and relationships. Using illustrations from our fieldwork which reveal the particular significance of these issues to our fieldwork experiences and performativities of public/private identities, we highlight important tensions between formalised ethical and methodological dimensions of conducting funded research and the realities of being in ‘the field’. We conclude the paper by emphasising the need to explore further not only the ways in which researchers can adopt more socially and culturally sensitive data collection processes and methodologies at the micro level of their interactions with research participants, but also contextualising the particular challenges experienced by researchers and their participants in terms of the wider research frameworks and agendas as well as the broader social contexts within which they live and work.