(Not) Doing Fieldwork in Times of COVID-19

How does one begin a new research project these days?

It’s difficult to begin a new research project without funding. It’s difficult to get funding without (a lot) of experience in a new field. So the plan was clear: use some of my own funds for a brief, exploratory field trip to the new place of research. I had settled on September, I had made time, did not take any jobs for this month. My partner, who would accompany me, requested vacation from her employers.

And then: what most of us thought to be ‘just a new kind of flew’ spread. COVID-19 spread—still does—around the globe, putting our world(s) on hold. Putting fieldwork on hold.

Ever since I started studying anthropology—actually, even before I started—fieldwork was the most important, the most exciting part of anthropology for me. Getting to know people from different cultures and societies, understanding their lives, participating in their everyday tasks.

At the moment, that is not possible at all. And even if it should be possible to travel again in September, to do some exploratory fieldwork: would it be ethical? Would it be ethical to take the risk of bringing this virus to a country with a health care system that cannot provide free health care to every citizen? I don’t think so.

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