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My face is more than me. A Nordic researcher in the South: An autoethnographic retrospective perspective

  • Torill Aagot Halvorsen
Original Paper
  • 45 Downloads

Abstract

A white person from the Global North, referred to in Kiswahili as a mzungu, can hardly conduct research anonymously, observe unnoticed or merge with staff and students in the context of African university classrooms. This article builds on the author’s six years of research at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) in Tanzania, examining staff and students’ everyday practices in terms of how they are characterised by linguistic constraints. Using an autoethnographic, self-reflective and retrospective approach, the author discloses some of her experience during fieldwork as a researcher on the university campus. Through this form of qualitative research, she connects her personal experience to the discourse on the language of instruction policy and practices in higher education in Tanzania. The aim of her self-reflection is to understand the wider meanings of how cultural, political and social language practices unfold in staff and students’ daily lives. Using the concepts of insider and outsider, preconception, and theory-ladenness of observation, the author aims to depict the challenges and limits of being a researcher in a totally unfamiliar context. During her fieldwork, using a mixed-methods approach of questionnaires, interviews and participating observation, the author also kept a notebook with her. She made field notes of self-observation, reflecting on her reactions to what she encountered in the research process. While making these notes was not deliberately a part of the data collection, it was an important way of talking to herself. In retrospect, a few years after submitting her doctoral thesis, these notes have become more important to her. The purpose of this article is twofold: on the one hand, the author reveals some of her own experience as a researcher in unaccustomed surroundings, on the other hand, she uses her personal experience to describe, question and shed light on the discrepancies caused by language practices in Tanzanian higher education.

Keywords

African languages higher education Tanzania autoethnography outsider the other 

Résumé

Mon apparence me dépasse. Une chercheuse du Nord dans l’hémisphère Sud: perspective rétrospective autoethnographique – Une personne blanche de l’hémisphère Nord, appelée mzungu en kiswahili, ne peut guère mener un travail de recherche de manière anonyme, procéder à des observations en passant inaperçue ou se mêler au personnel et aux étudiants dans les amphithéâtres universitaires d’Afrique. Cet article découle des six années de recherche que l’auteure a passées à l’université de Dar es Salaam (UDSM) en Tanzanie pour examiner dans quelle mesure les pratiques quotidiennes des personnels et étudiants sont caractérisées par les contraintes linguistiques. Adoptant une approche autoethnographique, introspective et rétrospective, l’auteure dévoile une partie de son expérience de chercheuse lors d’un travail de terrain sur le campus universitaire. À travers cette forme d’étude qualitative, elle relie son expérience personnelle au débat sur la politique et les pratiques en matière de langue d’instruction dans l’enseignement supérieur en Tanzanie. Son auto-réflexion a pour but de cerner les retombées secondaires des pratiques linguistiques en contexte culturel, politique et social sur la vie quotidienne des personnels et étudiants. Au moyen des concepts initié-externe, idées préconçues et anticipation théorique de l’observation, l’auteure tente de décrire les défis et les limites du travail de chercheur dans un contexte entièrement inconnu. Tout au long de son travail de terrain effectué selon une approche de méthodes mixtes combinant questionnaires, interviews et observation participante, l’auteure avait toujours avec elle un carnet de notes. Elle y consignait des notes d’auto-observation, analysant ses réactions à ce qu’elle rencontrait dans le processus de recherche. Si cette prise de notes ne faisait pas délibérément partie de la collecte des données, elle était néanmoins un important moyen d’introspection. Rétrospectivement, quelques années après sa soutenance de thèse, ces notes ont pour elle gagné encore en importance. L’article poursuit un double but : l’auteure révèle une partie de son expérience de chercheuse en situations inhabituelles, d’autre part elle exploite son expérience personnelle pour décrire, questionner et éclairer les disparités dues aux pratiques linguistiques dans l’enseignement supérieur de Tanzanie.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V., and UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South-Eastern NorwayPorsgrunnNorway

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