Recording the Personal: The Benefits in Maintaining Research Diaries for Documenting the Emotional and Practical Challenges of Fieldwork in Unfamiliar Settings

Brendan Ciaran Browne

Abstract


Through an analysis of personal research diaries maintained during a prolonged period spent working in Palestine, this article analyses the importance of maintaining research diaries when on fieldwork. The evidence produced stems from a content analysis of fieldwork diaries kept while researching commemorative events in the West Bank, Palestine, during a period of global uncertainty and at a time of much change in the region. In espousing the benefits of the fieldwork diary it is shown that diaries assume a more important role than acting as a mere logging device; they have the capacity to allow for personal reflection and to help with the development of strategic responses to the inevitable challenges one would expect to face when working far from the relative comfort of home. The research diary as a cathartic tool for researchers to record fears and shortcomings in their work is discussed and personal insights into some of the challenges this researcher faced when engaged in ethnographic work in Ramallah, Palestine are provided. In summarising the benefits of maintaining research diaries, the author, lamenting the lack of transparency in the literature to date on the practicalities of fieldwork, calls for more open and honest reflection on the challenges associated with conducting fieldwork, particularly that which takes place in volatile or unstable regions.

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