Academics examining the global South who engage in informal politics to understand social and political issues should be prepared to diversify their methods toolkit. Informal ties and politics are where one learns about social and economic exclusion. The paper aims to discuss these issues.
Mixed qualitative methods – such as individual interviews, surveys, and focus groups – provide an understanding of the people’s perspective, enabling the researcher to truly know what is going on.
Fieldwork in the downtown communities of Kingston, Jamaica, has an element of danger because violence and politics are very much a part of the daily reality of the people being interviewed. In this paper, the author argues that studying how financial resources are allocated to low-income people and understanding why some groups purposefully self-exclude themselves from economic development programs require unorthodox field methods. The author thus uses political ethnography to understand the experience of marginalized Jamaican people.
Mixed qualitative methods and political ethnography assisted the author to understand the actual experience of marginalized people and politicized financial programs.
Many thanks go to the hundreds of Jamaicans who advised the author well in the field but a special mention goes to the author’s then-Advisors, John Rapley and Anthony Harriott, University of West Indies at Mona. Five superb community-based assistants helped me to navigate the various areas: they know who they are: Judith Teichman, Louis Pauly, Joe Wong, and Njoki Wane at the University of Toronto helped the author to refine the methods. At the APSA Conference in 2008, Julie Novov at the University of Albany was a terrific discussant and gave a lot of superb feedback. The author is also grateful to Ed Schatz at the University of Toronto who gave the advice about political ethnography and turned the author onto this kind of method for the field. Much gratitude goes to the wonderful Editor Colette Stoeber for making the manuscript readable as well as Sara Promislov for an early edit of this paper for a conference. This research would not have been possible without the funding from the US Fulbright and the University of Toronto’s Frank Peers Award from 2009 to 2011.
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