NADRA 2018: Q&A with key note speaker Philip Lalander
5 Apr 2018
Professor Philip Lalander from Malmö University in Sweden is one of the key note speakers at the Nordic Alcohol and Drug Researchers’ Assembly (NADRA) in Oslo in August.
Philip Lalander, what is the theme of your presentation at NADRA 2018?
– It is about long-term ethnography in illegal street economy, how the ethnographer may establish contact with people, and also gain trust as a listener and as a person of meaning. It deals with the complexity in the process from being just a researcher into becoming an “established visitor” in the environments of the research subjects.
Can you tell us something about the development of trust, why are people willing to let the researcher stay present?
– I think it basically depends on how the researcher acts and how the participants interpret and decode the researcher, also emotionally. This may be related to the questions you ask, how you’re dressed, from what phone number you call etcetera. If the researcher knows somebody in ”the field”, this would facilitate the contacts, at least if this somebody has a good reputation in the networks. Besides, it is very important that you show a genuine interest in doing a good research job and that the outcome of the study will result in something worth reading. Then people may feel that they are kind of co-workers in the project – and that will increase their willingness and energy to help the researcher. The process is however complex and I will talk more about this complexity in my presentation.
In what ways can the relationship between the researcher and the participant affect both parties involved?
– The ethnographer may decode and emotionally feel for things happening in a way that is different from how it was in the beginning of the research project. During the research I have, for instance, gradually become more skeptical about how social policy is formed in regard to the use of narcotics. I have also become more aware about how authorities may stigmatize drug users without reflecting about it.
– Some of the people I’ve been in contact with probably really appreciated the contact with me. One guy always let me know when something important had happened in his life, such as getting a driver’s license, completing an education, getting married. I was invited to his wedding and I felt that his invitation was a proof of that I really mean something to him. I think that meeting me, for some has given a kind of support; I was seen as a kind of interlocutor in regard to their ongoing lives and their possible futures. With some people my impact was more limited, of course.
You have been doing this for 16 years. How has your role as a researcher changed over the years?
– Of course, it is difficult to see gradual changes in how one behaves and thinks. I am today more aware when I write, in that I do not try to dramatize situations the way I did in my first book. By doing this, I risked describing people as living in ”another, strange world”. Instead, I try to make it fair to believe that similarities between people surpasses differences. Strange people are not so strange after all. But not meeting them face to face conserves their strangeness.
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