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Minding my privilege (Uncomfortable reflexivity)

- Boikanyo Moloto, Researcher

A month after joining CLEAR-AA, I was assigned to an evaluation project focusing on the work of civil society organisations. My involvement entailed conducting fieldwork in a township in rural Mpumalanga. My fieldwork experience was eye-opening and brought about uncomfortable reflexivity. Having been born and bred in a township myself, I presumed I was up for the challenge; fully equipped with a rental car, an allowance, a laptop, the ability to speak multiple languages and a passion for people. Although the fieldwork was relatively easy as I was able to build rapport and connect with the participants, I was, however, reintroduced to the daily struggles of the citizens who live outside of the metropolitan areas in South Africa. I was re-exposed to the reality that people could have little yet have the unwavering desire to do more, and be more, for themselves and their communities. It is easy to repress the trauma of your own poverty when you are in fast-paced Johannesburg, especially when you have no particular desire to face that part of yourself. Simply put, my positionality does not afford me the time for that. Muningi um’sebenzi (there is still much work to be done).

No one teaches you about the role of emotion in evaluation. I found myself face to face with the opportunities that Johannesburg had afforded me, the social networks it came with. It became paramount to incorporate those epiphanies into the execution of my fieldwork - most importantly, to actively conduct an evaluation in a manner that protects the dignity of marginalised groups. It was important for me to show that I SEE and HEAR them when beginning to attempt to pay homage to the participants and my background. Understanding emotion is a crucial part of the evaluation experience and I argue that ‘emotionally sensed’ knowledge is an essential part of the evaluation process.

As black Africans, we are expected to act in a certain way towards elders and to convey respect. Of course, those rules are also heavily rooted in patriarchy and tradition. In the field, however, I am the evaluator, who is mainly rooted in western cultural systems. I find myself in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance caused by uncomfortable reflexivity. Yet, I found that to be a better African evaluator, I need not abandon one or the other, but instead, acknowledge and appreciate the position those two experiences bring forth. Recognising that even though I am there to collect data, the participants are humans and that should be at the forefront of the entire evaluation process. Recognising that my role, in that instance, is a privileged one that gives me the power to represent my participants and perhaps contribute towards demystifying or reinforcing perceptions about them. By doing so, I could use my privilege for good.