Balancing research goals and community expectations
The affordances of body cameras and participant observation in the study of wildlife conservation
Keywords:body cameras, researcher participation, ethnography, research ethics, wildlife conservation
This article explores the possibilities that arise from combining participant observation with body camera recording, through the analysis of the use of a GoPro to study communication at a Cameroonian wildlife sanctuary. The original goal of this research project was to use both video recording and participant observation as separate methodologies in order to understand how Cameroonian animal keepers and European volunteers at the Limbe Wildlife Centre worked across linguistic and ideological barriers to rehabilitate chimpanzees. However, increased participant observation became necessary due both to research participants’ expectations that the researcher contribute to daily work activities, as well as the logistical difficulties of recording highly-mobile work in a loud, wet, and potentially dangerous environment. To negotiate these expectations and constraints, the researcher wore a body camera while working alongside research participants, allowing her to capture a first-person perspective as she assisted animal keepers and volunteers in cleaning enclosures and caring for animals. Although the use of a body camera posed certain complications in terms of both audio quality and camera placement, participating while recording provided a unique window into participants’ daily work experiences, and helped the researcher build strong, mutually beneficial relationships at the field site. For these reasons, this article argues that body cameras create new possibilities for both capturing first-person perspectives in mobile settings, and for allowing researchers to more fully collaborate with their participants.
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