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20 April 2021 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo istock
The Faculty of the Humanities webinar series will provide opportunities for future research collaboration.

How does an anthropologist, a linguist, and a health systems researcher collect data during COVID-19 when human interaction is limited? Speaking at the first webinar hosted by the Faculty of the Humanities on Fieldwork in the time of COVID-19, Prof Deborah Posel, Research Professor in Sociology, said, “Lockdown impacted social sciences just as much. For us it was a lockout from people, libraries, and field research.” 

“The benefits (of the webinar) for Humanities research are obvious. Research in the Humanities differs a lot from research in other disciplines such as Natural Sciences; it happens in silos and not as a group focused,” said Prof Heidi Hudson, Dean of the Faculty of the Humanities. This webinar series will provide a platform to engage, but also for inter-departmental and inter-disciplinary research in the faculty. “Using this platform to engage and talk about our shared experiences will help bring researchers together and to reflect on our own experiences,” Prof Hudson said. 

Academics from different departments in the faculty shared how the COVID-19 lockdown affected their research projects. They were Dr Gladys Kigozi, Senior Researcher in the Centre for Health Systems Research and Development (CHSR&D), Dr Kristina Riedel from the Department of Linguistics and Language Practice, and Prof Joy Owen from the Department of Anthropology

Different approaches implemented 

Centre for Health Systems Research and Development
Research in the CHSR&D focuses mainly on in-person research. “COVID-19 has diminished the interaction between researchers and participants, and it threatened the quality of data gathering,” Dr Kigozi said. Field activities were thus suspended for six months, which compromised the timeline of projects.  

The CHSR&D aligned their projects with COVID-19 regulations and had virtual consolidations with the Free State Department of Health, while advertising research through health-care workers and social media.

Listen to a recording of the webinar here: 

Faculty of the Humanities webinar on Fieldwork in the time of COVID-19

Department of Linguistics and Language Practice 
For Dr Kristina Riedel, COVID-19 was not the proverbial nail in the coffin of linguistics research. There is great body of spoken, signed or written language that has been transcribed. “Linguists may also study public or private online data or printed texts such as newspapers, social media, and Bible translations,” Dr Riedel said. 

Language documentation usually happens with a researcher interacting with a speaker or group of speakers, which is then recorded in a high-quality, low-noise environment. Just like Anthropology, the best form of understanding data comes from in-person documentation. “We often need to work with people who are not connected to online spaces, such as the elderly and marginalised communities,” Dr Riedel said. Researchers sometimes need to be immersed in the community when recording takes place.

Department of Anthropology 
Prof Joy Owen provided perspective on how Anthropology as a discipline and anthropologists have been impacted by the lack of human interaction, which is what Anthropology is essentially about. “Anthropology, as founded in the early 20th century, is a fully immersive experience. Body, mind, psyche, and spirt were employed to understand the other (people),” Prof Owen said in her opening remarks. The anthropological encounter could thus not be socially and physically distant. 

The continuous shift to virtual interaction is not an ideal practice. “A video call, however initiated, cannot provide access to the daily nuances of life,” Prof Owen said. The video call/interview cannot replace the in-person ‘hanging out.'

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