Methodological Difficulties in Studying non-Western Populations in European Societies
Research Institute for Innovation in Education Hebrew University of Jerusalem Jerusalem, Israel
The difficulties of studying non-Western populations in European societies and the appropriate qualtative methods to utilise have pre-occupied sociologists during the last two decades as a result of increased globalisation and migration. The question is raised whether an "outsider" can collect valid information or whether an "insider" can better understand the material, despite the obvious biases of his/her affiliations within the community. However, employing a "native" research assistant, who may often be second-generation European, may bring to the fore other problems. Furthermore, the intentional use of ambiguities in communication among certain migrant populations may produce an extreme situation in which the collection of "basic data" may be impeded. Indeed, there may be no common understanding of what "basic data" constitutes, and the interview session, ,or administration of an alternative qualitative methodological tool, may represent a negotiated reality between the researcher and the Other. There may be misunderstanding about the meaning of a simple questionnaire, which may take a full day to complete. In this paper, the difficulties encountered in the field with non-Western populations are revisited and exemplified with special reference to Ethiopian migrants in Israel. In fieldwork carried out in 2009, respondents conceptualized differently from this researcher questions that they were asked; observations were sometimes perceived as acceptance of socially stigmatic situations. These difficulties went over and beyond language barriers and cultural misconceptions about meanings of words, and tended to challenge qualitative methods traditionally used by researchers.