Ande Reisman, Ph.D. candidate in Sociology and QUAL Concentration student, collected data during five home stays while on a Fulbright-funded research trip to Nepal in 2016. She experienced a child’s first rice ritual, participated in the rice harvest, and unwillingly displaced a grandmother from her bed, among other intimate and demanding moments during stays with her host families. In this talk, Reisman illuminated the many strengths and opportunities of home stay data and also candidly discussed the unexpected or even difficult situations a researcher may encounter while living as part of the family.
Reisman combined her five home stays with 78 interviews and several focus groups to address the question of how, in the context of Nepal’s high gender inequality, does labor change when men migrate? Under this broader question of gender, labor, and migration, Reisman was particularly interested in how labor is divided and shared in households. And, how does migration and the division of labor affect the use of time and the opportunities for leisure activities?
While during interviews respondents stressed the sharing of labor between men and women, home stays showed Reisman a more nuanced picture of labor in daily life. While both men and women work, women tended to have many shorter tasks throughout the day and men had just a few tasks taking up larger blocks of time. The result is that for the way women must make arrange their work tasks, they have less time for leisure activities and those opportunities for leisure may show up at inconvenient times of the day. Through Reisman’s firsthand experience of the non-mechanized, multi-step process of harvesting, processing, and milling rice, home stays revealed the motivation of ‘duty’ for intensive labor, which also not specifically articulated in interviews.
Home stays provided Reisman the chance to observe how families move through and work in space, yet also generated issues concerning the generalization of individual families’ situations and dynamics. For example, through her own challenging participation in the rice harvest, she saw up close the tension between the female members of one host family. Before she could fully explore the dynamics of these strained relationships and how they were affecting the family’s approach to labor, an injury incurred during the harvest meant that Reisman could not complete this home stay. The situation raised the question of what to do with the data from this home stay. The dynamics in this family were different even than the neighbors harvesting rice alongside Reisman. In the end, she made the difficult decision to set the data aside as an anomaly, and instead taking from the experience a greater, even visceral, understanding of the harvest process, if not of the dynamics of gender and labor. As a sociologist, Reisman is interested in understanding the generalizable processes of labor division, not the exceptionally unusual experiences of one family.
As both a family member (Reisman was regularly introduced as a ‘daughter’ or ‘sister’) but also an outsider, the home stay researcher may find themselves in unexpected or even difficult situations, among facing other challenges. Reisman described having to be ‘on’ all the time, an exhausting experience that nevertheless yields data so rich that it more than makes up for its necessarily somewhat uneven collection. The talk was peppered with Reisman’s vivid anecdotes, one in particular revealed her unique position as a home stay researcher. During the celebration of a child’s first rice, Reisman’s male host relatives invited her continue the party, drinking and dancing in an empty chicken coop, a portion of the celebration usually reserved for men. Because she was a temporary family member, the researcher was invited to participate in the intimate celebration, but it was only because she was an ‘outsider’ that she was not forbidden as a woman. Under a ‘spell that lasted only for one night,’ Reisman’s position as both family and researcher allowed her to observe this intimate moment. When in such a privileged position, she encourages researchers to think about their relationship with their respondents as one that’s based on reciprocity and cultural exchange.
During data analysis, Reisman struggled with how to incorporate both interview and home stay data, in the end deciding that the rich descriptions of her first hand observations and experiences were the ‘sinew’ connecting together the analytical points arising from her more systematically collected interview data. Suggestions and questions from faculty in the audience included the idea that future projects beyond the dissertation may be able to incorporate more of the home stay data.
To see Ande Reisman’s presentation from this QUAL Speaker Series talk, click here.