Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Knowing my role

What exactly is my role here?  I do not believe that I'm in a position to answer that question fully at this point in time. My brief was to contribute to the work of this organisation, at the same time as I evaluate their activities. Right now I’ve just been more formally recognised as a researcher in the institute. My business cards have been printed, I’m to write a presentation for the executive director, and I’ve been asked to help improve the office lady’s English. My identity here is rather fluid. I am not merely a non-participant observer many times because I’m working both in and on the organisation. I'm asked to complete tasks, directly solicited with questions, or comments about my appearance are made as openings for conversation. The office can be quite chatty, and I am encouraged to join in. Moreover everyone was very supportive during my earlier troubles.

It’s almost as if the fact that I’m here also to evaluate the organisation is on a complete backburner in people’s minds. There doesn’t seem to be any hesitation to tell me things. No announcements of news or tidbits of information intended to give me a favourable impression, or reach the ears of funders etc. Maybe this is a reflection of my status within the organisation. Perhaps their understanding  is that I am not connected to any actors whose approval or disapproval could affect their operations.What could I really do to them if I came away with an unfavourable impression of their work? 

At the same time at least one of my informants reacted to what might have been an incongruence with his perception of my identity. The tone of the conversation certainly felt more formal once he saw me wield my pen to make a note of his comments. Also I can’t help but think I am granted privileges due to my sex and my academic credentials, as the organisational structure I've perceived thus far tends to align with structural inequalities in wider Japanese society. However as I've yet to fathom exactly where I fit in within the organisational structure, I can't be sure that my sense is at all correct. As I am by far the youngest person working in the organisation, a total newcomer, and have no coercive or resource based power over the organisation; I wonder how the final product of my research will be received, and what benefit others, especially the executive director, derive from my presence.

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