What do I wear? Giving voice to questions of affectations of dress and gender in ethnographic research

Year: 2016

Author: O'Brien, Rachel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

As a young researcher, considering the concept of transforming education is daunting, and I felt ill equipped to contribute to such discussions. When I set aside my imposter syndrome, it seems to me what I can offer to this conversation is my story; a journey of becoming a researcher and considering the role of the researcher’s wardrobe in constructing identity. When I commenced planning for my fieldwork, I mused about what I would wear and how I would physically present myself. Though this may appear shallow or superficial, I was starkly aware that my appearance while conducting fieldwork would immediately convey messages about who I am and may affect participant responses. When reviewing the literature, I was seldom able to find a description of what researchers wore and why, in fact attraction and appearance were rarely discussed. Some ethnographic accounts told of attempts to ‘fit in’, but as a female researcher it seemed obvious there would be no way I could appear to ‘fit in’ with Year 10 boys in a boys’ school where uniform was strictly policed. Instead, I tried to consider how to dress and present myself so I didn’t stand out. Literature provided little explicit discussion of dress, appearance and how to deal with potential attraction, leaving me to make speculative decisions. Early in my fieldwork, I attended a ‘manners and style’ session provided to Year 10 boys at the school. The workshops emphasised the importance of physical presentation, with the facilitator suggesting that, “when we look at people we automatically see things”. She was confirming my assumptions about the importance of my appearance and dress, articulating this to the very young men who I was most concerned about giving the ‘right impression’. I again felt aware that my dress, appearance and gender were likely to influence their beliefs about me. I share this vignette as a starting point for considering what it is we do as researchers. In making known my experiences of constructing myself as a researcher I hope to encourage other researchers to share their own stories so that we can continue to develop our understanding of the research process not just the results; perhaps this transparency of method and methodology has transformative potential.