Strangers asking strange questions? A methodological narrative of researching belonging and identity in English rural communities
Neal, S. | Walters, S.
This paper emerges from a current research project that examines the relationship between contemporary English rurality and notions of identity and belonging. While this is primarily a methodological narrative we argue that this narrative speaks to an analysis of current rural relations. The paper concerns itself with two key methodological issues that have arisen during the 'doing' of the research. First, it examines our own relationship, as 'outsider', urban-based researchers, to the rural and the use and/or relevance of our biographies as resources for making ourselves seem less 'strange' and for accessing, and being in, rural environments. At the same time as providing us with a map into our micro rural worlds the paper draws on this biographic-research relation in order to problematize notions of homogenous rural identities and polarized rural/urban identities. The second part of the paper argues that who we were/how we were perceived had a relation to what 'truths' and accounts we were told by our respondents. More particularly, we show how our use of focus group interviews had a direct role in the rehearsal and presentation of these 'truths'. Given the current contestations and tensions over what and who 'the rural' is, it was clear that those involved in the focus group discussions wanted to give us particular stories that often fell into a consensus pattern of either 'rural idyll' or 'rural crisis' narratives. Drawing on Simmel's notion of the stranger and focus group data we argue that for these narratives to be told we, as researchers, were ascribed by the group members to shifting positions of intimacy and remoteness.Show more [+] Less [-]