After graduating in anthropology I participated in various studies using different social research methodologies which I had only learned about in theory as an undergraduate. But these were always conducted within rigid frameworks and it left me frustrated.
Then earlier this year I was introduced to RCA. For the first time I enjoyed the freedom to explore with people and understand their contexts. The immersion provided more time to relax with my research participants and by taking part in their daily activities it helped me to become an insider within the community.
My last immersion in Bangladesh was with a farming family. It was their paddy harvest time. On the first evening the sky suddenly became dark and I saw every member of the family and their neighbours panic because they were worried that heavy rain would ruin their crops. We all ran out to the fields to bring the paddy sheaves home and under shelter. As we ate together later the father thanked me and said ‘see! This is how we live; rain for just a few hours can ruin our future’. His sons added, ‘That’s why we are keen to leave farming’. This sparked a long conversation about the trials of farming, their dreams, aspirations, and future plans.
On the third day the family had a cousin from Dhaka visit. He had left the village a few years before with his parents for better work prospects. We all went to play cricket and returning to the house he shared how he had wanted to become a cricketer but now wants to be a good son who can help his family. He asked his cousins what their plans were. This started an argument about different jobs. Just listening, I learned insights from each of them on different jobs. On other days I stayed in the village I had conversations with others on various topics, though those had little to do with the study itself but it helped me to build a comfortable relationship with them and helped me understand their context.
This is the beauty of RCA whereby a researcher has the freedom to go with the flow; he or she has the freedom to act according to the situation and bide their time so that conversations come naturally and spontaneously. There is no preplanned or scheduled format for the study. Before RCA, I used to go to the field with a structured plan for only a very short time and I had to take notes or records during the field work. Often I found myself feeling like a journalist or investigative officer trying to dig fast into something. But RCA liberated me from that feeling of being constrained, following a format. But it is not just the researcher who is liberated- how much freer do study participants feel when they can build a relationship with someone from outside instead of having someone suddenly appearing and digging into their life? I see RCA as a learning process which assures freedom for both the researcher and study participants.