My research explores the governance of land and labour rights issues in the palm oil industry, and I’m currently in the first phase of my fieldwork in Malaysia. One week in, this trip has already opened my eyes and ears to many other perspectives.
The trip started with a four-day conference on sustainable palm oil, during which I needed to network with potential contacts relevant for my research. I was nervous about putting myself on the line like that, but the response was encouraging, and practically everyone I approached was eager (or at least willing) to help. I have been able to conduct several in-depth interviews, which have been highly valuable for my research. Faith in humanity restored! My personal lesson is that it’s good to get outside my comfort zone. After a year of sitting at my desk reading literature and considering various theories, I feel that my work is now coming to life – and that’s incredibly energising.
These interviews, and the dozens of other conversations with those working in this field, really motivate and inspire me. But it’s also the informal conversations and observations that add other dimensions to this learning experience: the chat with the taxi driver about how palm oil saved his family from poverty, the scale and pace of consumption in the local shopping centre (with its very own indoor theme park),and the bemused look I receive when I explain why I’m here, and that I’m travelling alone.
Then in the evenings, my family in the UK are starting to get up, so I can talk to them from my hotel room. I write up my transcripts, and contact more people for my research as it starts to take a snowball effect. I’ve made a few new Malaysian friends from the conference this week, and I have had dinner with them a couple of times. They have been so kind and welcoming, and are (or at least pretend to be) interested when I won’t stop talking about my research.
Even though it’s exhausting, sleeping during fieldwork is a struggle: it’s a mixture of jetlag and being so far from home, as well as intense excitement about my work, and a healthy dose of nervousness. There are many thoughts running through my mind of what I’ve done, the conversations I’ve had, what I need to do, and how I will need to connect everything to construct something coherent by the end. For now though, even though I’m not in a field covered in mud, it’s messy…and I’m excited about everything to come.
A bit about today’s blogger: Izabela Stacewicz is a PhD student at the University of Reading examining the governance of land and labour rights issues in the palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia. Izabela is supervised by Dr Chukwumerije Okereke and Professor Emily Boyd. Izabela is also a member of the SAGES Gender and Fieldwork Steering Group