in: Ronaldo Munck / Tanja Kleibl / Maria Do Carmo Dos Santos Gonçalves (eds.), Migration and social transformation: Engaged perspectives, Dublin: Machdohnil Ltd, 37-51
Culture’s mediation of the research interface has not received much attention; yet it is integral to ethnographic research. Culture shapes worldviews; yet in many instances of research with mobile populations, the tendency is to treat mobility as stripping people of their cultural backgrounds, leading to a corresponding imposition on them of a homogenizing, legalistic identity, conveyed through terms such as ‘refugees’ or ‘migrants’. This tendency is particularly salient in research with African migrants, whose study is normatively subsumed under historical epistemological discourses that exoticize and pathologize Africa. Cultural values play an important role, not only for the researchers in their choices and paradigmatic construction of reality, knowledge, and truth, but also for the research participants who perceive their choices, mobility, and circumstances through a cultural prism. Ethnographers of the reflexive persuasion are increasingly opening the window wider into how they position themselves or are positioned by research participants in the field. However, research with migrants, who epitomize culture in motion, calls for even more articulation of the nuances of both inter‐and intra‐cultural research interfaces. This chapter discusses the relevance of cultural sensitivity in ethnographic research with migrants, paying particular attention to its practical and epistemological implications. It argues that culture‐sensitive ethnographic research provides the researcher with a channel to restore migrants’ subjectivity at a time when disaffection with the researcher’s gaze is growing and potentially raising ethical questions. Migrants had other identities before they moved, and these identities constitute a core component of their subjectivities. Failure to acknowledge these identities and cultures feeds into the customary homogenization of diverse populations, whose commonalities may not involve much beyond the act of moving. It is only through the integration of cultural sensitivity into research that ethnographers can better interpret narratives in both inter‐and intra‐cultural research encounters.