Journal article Open Access

"You're Asking the Wrong Question": Member-Checking during Fieldwork

Grahame, Alyssa

In February 2014, I’d been living in Reykjavík, Iceland for just a few weeks. I was intending to study “the Icelandic Revolution” of 2008-2009, when a new series of large, public protests changed my plans. Over the course of a few weeks and then months, I met many of my research participants at these events. One such participant was Kristján1, whom I met when he asked me why a “tourist” was interested in Icelandic protests. A few months later, in the run-up to municipal elections in May, he invited me to attend an outreach event associated with the Social Democratic Alliance (SDA), one of Iceland’s four major political parties at the time. There, Kristján introduced me to another party member named Thorvaldur, and we struck up a conversation that turned into an informal interview. Not unlike Kristján, Thorvaldur expressed curiosity about why an útlendingar (foreigner) such as myself would be interested in Iceland’s local politics and asked me to explain the project. Thinking that I had successfully refined my pitch over the past few months, I explained my interest in the various ongoing sovereign debt crises in Europe and the Eurozone, which elicited the question of what the so-called “age of austerity” meant for the future of social democracy in the European Union. Then, Thorvaldur rather abruptly exclaimed that I was “asking the wrong question!” “Instead,” he told me, “you should be asking whether social democracy has a future without the European Union” (personal communication, April 2014).

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