A set of school kids engaged in making quill greetingcards post school hours to raise funds for their community work. Location: Agra slums, 2013
Field visits (of sociological nature) , from my limited understanding, were a part of Masters in Social Work (MSW) courses alone in the past. Nowadays its mandated for program that study Development, Public Policy and others dealing with matters of public or social nature.
The whole idea of field visit and exposures is to help people see from real close quarters what it means to – live under certain conditions, do a particular job, and understand many aspects of their lives. It is to de-number the identity of the people whom we statistically study from census data or quantitative reports. It is to see them as peolpe like you and me. When I started to do these field visits it was as a part of my Master’s theisis to understand the impacts of a marine engineering project on lives of fisher community. Since then I have been learning and absorbing everytime I go into the field. These visits have helped me bridge the knowledge gap I have due to irregular readings. More than this, they have helped me stay more rooted, human and reminded me about the values like humility (Not that I claim to be humble all the time, I do tend to have my own streaks of arrogance now and then, 😉 ). A field visit can be to a village, surban slum, a factory floor, a manufacturing unit, some local organization or school or any place that is relevant to study that one is engaged in.
As a part of this course there was a mandatory month long field visit in the first year.In the second year of the course few electives have field visit as part of thier curriculum. I am writing this post to just reflect on the attitudes some of us have towards these visits, and how it is uselesss for people with certain attitudes to make such visits.
During the first visit of mine as a part of this course, the attitude certain members of the team visiting exhibited was that of entitlement. It is as if, just because you are from a city ( which in the heads of the visitors is a proxy for developed) the vilagers should be obilidged to share information about all the things we vistors question. This is pretty evident from the way we sat, questioned and interacted with people. It is amazing how we would want to pay and stand in quess to go to some places and act all civilized and nice, for instance a famous pub in a city. At the same time when we are recived with warmth and given the space to interact, we act all bossy and cocky. The villagers/laborers or slum dwellers have no reason to spend their valuabel time in talking and providing information to you. Our research and study is useless to their lives, if anything they are doing favour on us by sharing about their lives.
Similarly when few of the classmates came back after visiting a labor union organization, their remark about the life of an indiviudal shared is – “it sounds like a hindi soap opera” or mock at the fact that, now they may be assigned a project to write a biography of the live of the lady who shared her life story with them. Another set of smart alec from the class want to practice their ability to argue and debate with these poeple by asking “smart theoritcal” questions on gender discrimination – about not having a “single” male members on the organization board. This is being asked to a woman who has just shared her life story on the kind of discriminations done to her by men all her life.
I have felt quite sad seeing the way these people go about doing their field visits. I dont mind if one doesnt like to do field visits. Its ok to not like it. But when engaging with it , the attitudes that these folks carry is not right. The attitudes of – carelessness, of disregard, of disrespect and of lack of sensitivity. This is sad, utterly sad. I am not excluding myself from this. There have been times when I have also been careless, I have my share of faultlines too! I am taking an opprtunity to reflect on myself and other in this program with respect to these attitudes.
Why is their experience of life, be it difficulty or struggle less valuable than our own struggle to study late nights to get good grades? Why is their life less important than our lives? If we all cannot appreciate an individual sharing their lifestory with us and if we can not respect them just like we will want anyone else to do to us, what policies will we create? What public policy professional will we become?
The idea of these visits and interactions is to atleast have a peak into the lives of those individuals differnt than us. We most of the times visit people who have lesser social and economic capital than us. Experineces shared usually are about their struggles-matters that are quite close to their hearts and minds. Fieldworks of social orientation are sledom on rich lives. Just because these people are weaker, should we be careless about it? Simply asking.
No point being a gold medalist or knowing all the books. By the end of the day experience of our lives is enrichened not by our shopping experineces, or moments of arogance or ruthlessness but by the number of moments of gratidue, happiness and humility.