Self-reflection on fieldwork (and beyond)

Dear Denise,

I am writing this email to share some thoughts that I have been thinking about my role, first as a researcher with a focus in family business, and second as a doctoral student in the University of Luxembourg.

Luxembourg is a small country and the University of Luxembourg is the only university in the country. And within this only university, there is only one professor that has a focus in family business—that is you. When the country needs an academic insight on Luxembourgish family businesses, there is certainly not much of an option. With around 70% of SMEs in Luxembourg is family business, it would be hard to ignore the importance of this type of business in the national economy. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, most of family business-related research in Luxembourg are done by consultants. Arguably, we need more research (and researchers) to tackle the Luxembourgish context.

The advantage of operating in a small country is the level of impact that we may have. As I observed, the university has been in close collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce. We certainly have a bargaining power for policy recommendations that we can offer to the government (as an outcome of our research).

Then, from my personal side as a doctoral student, I need to decide where I would do the fieldwork. I have been discussing with my wife about this. Quite frankly, the practicalities really concern us—mainly because it will be quite costly. We will lose our current apartment in Luxembourg, which we found to be very strategic and comfortable. Also there will be some disruptions on the routines that my wife and I are trying to start: my wife will need to cancel her French class which will start in January 2015, and we are also thinking to register our son to the daycare. And if we go to Indonesia and move back again to Luxembourg, we would have to think again about re-settling down in Luxembourg (finding apartment, moving stuffs, etc.). With now we have a little son, there are so much to think about. Now in Luxembourg, we found ourselves to be somewhat stable. At least up until the moment I write this email, we are not yet ready to lose all those. In fact, I even considering to have a career in the University of Luxembourg.

I am still approaching the Indonesian family firm as we agreed before. But with this thought, I am now a bit hesitant.

Considering the points above, I came to the conclusions that:

  1. It would be a strategic choice to choose Luxembourgish family business as a context. Not only because in this way I will be able to stay in Luxembourg, but I will also have a better relevance and impact for the policy-makers (in this case for Luxembourgish government).
  2. I could cultivate the relationship that we have with the Chamber of Commerce. The RENT Conference that we held together was a great starting point for me. By being involved in that event, I was slowly acquiring the social capital. Pragmatically speaking, their help could facilitate access to some family businesses in the country.
  3. If I think about starting a career in the University of Luxembourg, it would add to my profile if I maintain a close contact and relevance on Luxembourgish context.

Of course, as there are some drawbacks that I need to think of, and act quickly:

  1. Language. Or more broadly, my status as a ‘stranger’ in the country. This may be both good and bad. It can be good because as a stranger (totally external to the country), I could be more sensitive towards the cultural issues pertaining to the research subject. At the same time, the language barrier may restrict me on important cultural interpretations. An option to mitigate this is by taking a language course prior to and in parallel to the research. Or, by approaching family businesses that are able to speak English.
  2. Access to the firms. At the moment, I simply don’t have the connection. I imagine it’s going to be a cold call (and email) to the Luxembourgish family firms. Or at best, I could ask for help from the Chamber of Commerce to get me in touch with potential family firms as my research context.

So, these are more or less my reflection on the direction of my fieldwork (and beyond). I admit that the experience that I had during the last couple of weeks—meeting and talking with Andrew Pettigrew, Bengt Johannisson, Robert Blackburn, Daniel Hjorth, etc.—really got me thinking. I hope that the thought written above is not just merely a reactive response of their inputs, but more of an informed decision with contextual relevance.