You might imagine I use ethnography as my research methodology because I’m an anthropologist and it’s the default methodology for anthropological research, but the truth is rather more complex than that.
Although popularized by anthropology, ethnography can be also used effectively in development studies, public health research, and humanities and because of this flexibility, has been the thread which has run through my professional and educational development from a physician to an anthropologist.
After graduating as a physician and working as a public health practitioner in development programs, I realized the limits of institutionalized modern medical and social developmental frameworks in understanding the socio-political factors which affect our wellbeing. Quantitative data and numbers always had the upper hand in deciding prevalence rates of diseases, for example, or securing funding. But numbers concealed life stories and particularities of people, as well as different localities, and it was those I wanted to explore, so I enrolled for an MA in Social Anthropology at the American University in Cairo.
For my MA thesis, I used ethnography to investigate the subjectivities of mothers living with HIV and AIDS. İ entered the field with pre-field concepts that were modified and changed after allowing the narratives of my research interlocutors to flow in safe, clear, natural mutual dialogues. After analyzing my ethnographic data, I wrote a second, different, conceptual framework! The thesis eventually examined the bio-politics of HIV and AIDS in Egypt, and explored the involvement of the Military in developing a "cure" for HIV (later proven to be unsubstantiated and false) as part of its propaganda, after the coup d’état in June 2013.
For me, ethnography is an iterative and inductive research technique that requires the researcher to enter the field of research willing to be surprised, and flexible enough to change her research questions to accommodate the serendipity of the events in the field. I choose ethnography because it allows time for the researcher's full engagement and flexibility in the field. Being in the natural environment of my research interlocutors, and spending time observing, participating, writing, reflecting, learning, speaking, and listening, give me a rich and nuanced understanding of the context and the people I work with. Maintaining a full awareness of my positionality as a researcher and challenging myself in a self-reflective process really enliven the research process for me.