The fieldwork stage:
theoretical sampling, access to respondents and conducting biographical narrative interviews
After a couple of month of conducting fieldwork in the UK I reflected upon my practice and presented this at the FSSH/FAIR research student seminar series of London Metropolitan University on Monday the 19th of May. These seminars are intended to be a platform where research students can listen to presentations from their peers about various aspects of doing doctoral research.
In the presentation at the research student seminar series I shortly presented the ITN and my research project ‘Migration aspirations & realities: Experiences of female Polish migrant workers in the UK’ and reflected more in depth upon the fieldwork stage. I discussed the implementation of theoretical sampling as described in the grounded theory approach of starting with ideal types and through simultaneous data collection and analysis developing new units of analysis and how I tried to define my sample of respondents so far, which focuses on dominant sectors for female Polish workers, an approximately half-half sampling with trade union membership and otherwise is very diverse in terms of educational background, age, length of stay, occupation level and family status.
For students before their fieldwork stage my experiences with different more and less successful ways of trying to access respondents was hopefully helpful. While I also tried blog, forum and Facebook posts, I actually had the most responses through access via stakeholders and snowballing, although one has to be careful with snowballing to not end up with too similar sample profiles. During the fieldwork stage I have conducted biographical narrative interviews with female Polish migrant workers in Polish, a second language to me. I presented this method and reflected upon specific sensitivities, difficulties and insights. Besides ethical principles of informed consent and anonymity, I also found the interrelation between researcher and interviewee a sensitive area. In some ways I think it worked to the interview's benefit that I was perceived as a young female student from abroad who studied Polish, so I would understand references to being new in the UK as well as to Poland and they would also seem to be able to talk to me about very intimate, sometimes traumatic experiences at eye-to-eye level. I also talked about how important good preparation of an interview is (notebook, time, place, batteries in recorder etc.), how emotional situations during an interview played out and how respondents overcame being initially overwhelmed by the question about their whole life story
Through biographical narrative interviews I was able to get an insight into individual experiences rather than isolated events or un-contextualized reflections. Most questions from the audience had to do with my methodology, but also how I cope with these intimate, sometimes traumatic stories and where this process is taking me.