“Did I Just Get Caught Being Stupid?” Experiencing and Managing the Emotional Labor of Fieldwork
Ethnographic fieldwork can come with many risks for the ethnographer. This is especially true for researchers who study drug using populations. It is easy to see the potential legal and physical risks associated with such studies. However, there are also emotional risks involved. In this chapter, I tell a story about my experiences studying people in rural Alabama who use methamphetamine. I describe how I “got caught being stupid” by failing to recognize the intense emotional labor that came with the project. I describe some of the tragic events I witnessed and how this shaped my perceptions of those around me. While the events made me want to quit the project, I decided to stay and to become more emotionally open to people (both participants and others in my life). Ultimately, I believe doing so allowed me to collect authentic and emotionally meaningful data and to give me better insights into the lives of those I studied.