February 25, 2016: Professional Development Seminar
Juanita Sundberg

IRES Seminar Series

Time: 12:30-1:30 pm

Location: AERL Theatre (room 120), 2202 Main Mall

Homework, fieldwork & community research

Juanita Sundberg: Associate Professor, Department of Geography at UBC

Please note: A significant portion of this seminar will be discussion based. Therefore, please come prepared with your thoughts, experiences, and questions regarding fieldwork with unknown communities. You are also invited to read Dr. Sundberg’s recent paper on this topic, which she will draw on in her presentation.


Fieldwork in communities framed as “different” and “distant” may spark various research questions along with many ethical dilemmas. Research ethics review boards tend to frame ethics as a set of guidelines to direct behavior towards research subjects. Especially in relation to fieldwork when the researcher is in direct contact with research subjects. In this framing, the primary goal of ethics is to minimize direct harm to research subjects while continuing to pursue research wherever, whenever, with whomever, and about whatever the researcher chooses. Ultimately, this conception of research ethics safeguards the researcher’s position of distance in relation to research subjects. And, home remains safely detached from the ethical dilemmas encountered in the field. In this seminar, I argue for a concept of ethics that shifts from being primarily about fieldwork to one that includes homework or the work one undertakes long before leaving for the field. Homework entails a self-reflexive analysis of one’s own epistemological and ontological assumptions; in other words, an examination of how these have been naturalized in academic practices in relation to the geopolitical and institutional power relations that constitute research. Shifting our focus from ethical behavior in the field to homework obliges us to take a much more explicit stance regarding the why, where, when, and how of our political agendas, research engagements, and practices.


I bring the insights of feminist political ecology and the sensibilities of an ethnographer to bear on nature conservation, border security, and militarization. My work seeks to foster conversations between feminist geopolitics, critical race theory, posthumanism, political ecology, and Latin American Studies. My current project examines the environmental dimensions of United States’ border security policies in the United States-Mexico borderlands, with a specific focus on protected areas like national wildlife refuges.