Written By: Christina Grant
Editor’s note: Throughout the TQ Workshop June 16-20, U of A writing studies instructor, longtime journalist, and Education PhD student Christina Grant blogged about her experiences in “The Lived Experience: A PhD student’s journey through the TQ Workshop.” See: https://iiqm.wordpress.com/
The following is a final feature story on the 13th Annual Advances in Qualitative Methods (AQM) Conference June 23-25 in which she incorporates information and observations from several conference events and speakers—including keynote presenter Dr. Rosaline Barbour.
Micro Keynote Speaker in Participatory Research by Suraya Hudson, Naomi Krogman, and Mary Beckie: Quality Work in the Hills of India
Suraya Hudson is working on her Masters in International Development Policies with the Department of Rural Economy and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. She cares a lot about food insecurity—people who don’t know whether or not they’ll always have enough healthy food to eat. Thus, as part of her Masters program, she found herself conducting qualitative research in the countryside of Nadu, India, which brought her to the AQM and her co-presentation with her supervisors entitled, “Mobilizing Knowledge for Sustainable Food Production: Nutrition Gardening and Fish Farming in the Kolli Hills, India.”
“Being so immersed for almost three months really in the middle of nowhere by myself was so rewarding,” said Suraya in an interview alongside co-supervisor Mary Beckie. “I’ve never felt so welcomed,” Suraya remarked, recalling her participatory work among people of the Malayalis Tribe who continually offered her tea and fruit and were eager to share their lives, concerns, and food with her. “At the end they said ‘thank you,’ but I said, ‘No! Thank you for all your time talking to us.” The community lacked both electricity and contact with “the outside world,” and Suraya said that she “felt honoured” to be able to help them along the path to alleviate malnutrition and explore “alternate methods of income generation.” The region is beset by pressures from the cash crop cassava which is increasingly displacing the minor millets needed for basic nutrition.
Mary Beckie, who, together with Naomi Krogman supervised Suraya, said this project has had genuinely positive effects. “I had been quite skeptical of the notion of interventions in remote villages where they led isolated existences and researchers come in to ‘show them how to do things better,’” she said. But the organizers of the Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC)-funded project, she noted, “really understand the people and culture of the Kolli Hills; they’re very respectful of the culture knowledge the people hold.” She believed that the researchers’ qualitative methods of participatory rural appraisals “empowered” the residents by offering them “new methods” such as cellphones and computers to access information on nutrition gardening and fish farming. “It was all about becoming more self-reliant and building more self-sustaining capacity,” she observed. “It was collaborative, working with the people not on them.”
The results of the study will be published in two journals, helping open eyes to the critical need to address food insecurity concerns of small scale farmers around the world which, Mary pointed out, “account for 80% of the world’s food supply.” The group’s presentation at the AQM generated considerable interest from participants: “There were some really great questions,” Suraya said, “and three people came up afterwards and asked for copies of the presentation” which she feels could lead to more exposure for, and attention to, both their work and the larger surrounding issues.
But connecting with the people might have been one of the best outcomes for the new qualitative researcher. Suraya smiled widely as she related how she’s “still in contact” with some of her study subjects, such as being “included in birth announcements. I’d love to go back,” she beamed.