This article discusses how closeness and distance affected my ethnographic research in two Brazilian cities. I first address the pitfalls I encountered researching Luz, a run-down transportation hub and residential area in São Paulo’s city centre, also known as Crackland for its drug trade and consumption. In Luz, I was confronted with everyday hostility in an environment of unknown others and an ever-changing cityscape: users of cultural offerings, temporary residents and by-passers, police removal of drug users, house evictions and demolition in deteriorated buildings, and contentious and short-lived state policies with regard to the area. The second part of the article contrasts this experience with living and conducting research in Ouro Preto, a Brazilian UNESCO World heritage site where residents have a strong sense of social cohesion. While, for me, the violence and disorder of Luz made conducting research there impossible, the strong networks and familiarity in Ouro Preto created its own challenges. Drawing on 15 months of fieldwork in these two distinct contexts, I discuss how researchers can face intimidation brought about by both distance from informants and excessive closeness, and how research questions and findings are often limited by such personal possibilities and positions.
De Souza Santos, A. A. (2018) Risky closeness and distance in two fieldwork sites in Brazil, Contemporary Social Science; DOI: 10.1080/21582041.2017.1418524
First Published 4 Jan 2018