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Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Dr Jesse Proudfoot

Proudfoot, J. Anxiety and Phantasy in the Field: The Position of the Unconscious in Ethnographic Research. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 2015;33:1135-1152.

Author(s) from Durham


This article contributes to the geographical literature on reflexivity by asking what it means to take the researcher’s unconscious seriously in ethnographic research, and proposes psychoanalysis as a theoretical and methodological resource for researching the unconscious dimensions of fieldwork. I begin by describing three moments from my fieldwork with panhandlers and drug users that evince the operation of the unconscious. I then review psychoanalytic work in the social sciences where the researcher becomes the object of analysis and situate the debate on psychoanalytic methodology as an extension of earlier work on reflexivity by feminist geographers. I outline three methods for investigating the unconscious dimensions of fieldwork: analysis, supervision, and case consultation. Summarizing my experiments with these methods, I discuss: the discovery that key elements of my research were inextricably connected to my own anxieties as a researcher, how analysis of a dream from early in the fieldwork revealed phantasies rooted in childhood and a profoundly ambivalent relationship to my informants, and I propose a dialectical method for incorporating the revelations of psychoanalytic reflexivity into research. I conclude by discussing some of the possibilities and consequences of taking the unconscious dimensions of fieldwork seriously.