By Aidan Craney, PhD candidate at La Trobe University
I have long been an advocate for utilising qualitative research methods.
Statistics and numbers are great at telling us where we are and where we’ve been for given metrics, such as education standards or community sentiment towards marriage equality. But to identify future trends and risks, I believe the best learning takes place at the margins with people who are able to provide colour and context to their feelings and opinions.
On recent fieldwork in Fiji, I interviewed over two dozen people of differing ages, ethnicity, gender, profession and sexuality to try to understand what current social and institutional trends, both positive and negative, are impacting the lives of young Fijians. Unsurprisingly, the answers varied significantly from subject to subject, but the depth of insight astounded me and reaffirmed my faith in the use of narrative methods to understand people and society.
One particular insight from an interview with Kris Prasad, of the Drodrolagi (Rainbow) Movement (Dromo), stands as a highlight.
Dromo works with, supports and advocates for LGBTIQ people and their rights. In a country rich with culture, navigating ways of maintaining tradition while opening itself to global forces and developments, peoples of diverse sexualities and sexual orientations can find it difficult to be accepted.
With regards to transgender communities in Fiji, Kris informed me that a significant portion of individuals move to urban areas to engage in informal economies, including sex work. Push factors include difficulty in finding accepting employers in the formal sector and a lack of tolerance in home communities, where subsistence communal farming acts as the country’s main social safety net. Pull factors include not just the need to generate income, but the sense of community created by a network of individuals who have faced the same difficulties.
The context behind how transgender communities interact with the subsets of society surrounding them paints a picture of nuance and subtlety. With limited information one may view transgender sex workers as victims of oppression or renegades acting out against cultural binaries. With greater information we can understand that they are simply human, adapting to complex situations and environments – vulnerable yet resilient, marginalised yet embraced.
This is just one example amongst countless that demonstrates the complexity of any given society, made known to us through simple qualitative narrative techniques.
Sharing this story with others and gauging their responses tells us more again.