Doing Ethnographic Research in Chinese Families - Reflections on Methodological Concerns from Two Asian Cities

Esther Chor Leng Goh, Kristina Göransson


This paper compares and contrasts the ethnographic practices of two non-native researchers – a Singaporean researcher studying families in mainland China and a Swedish researcher studying Chinese families in Singapore. A novel conceptual frame of ‘radius of observation positions’ has been proposed to explicate the extent of intrusion and intimacy to which researchers may venture in the private family domain. The opportunities and challenges of two positions of observation within this radius are discussed. The choice of position is largely influenced by the interacting forces of the contextual and cultural factors as well as the personhood of the researcher. The authors call for special attention to cultural sensitivity in conducting Chinese family research. Families are embedded in culture, and the possibility of accessing family spaces hinges on one’s awareness of the intricacies of family cultures and realistic assessment of one’s strengths and limitations in handling complex family dynamics.

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