How we do our work is as important as what we do. DEED faculty and students participating in fieldwork have, over time, developed the following principles to which we adhere. They serve as steps toward more equitable exchanges with people with different privileges, and also neatly summarize the DEED ethos.
All fieldwork participants refrain from making promises regarding our commitment to the project, and to the people with whom we’re working. We acknowledge that it is natural to become emotionally attached to artisan participants. However, we avoid not following through with promises to send back money, godparent one of the children, or even return the following year. We know that life happens, and, due to the ever-fluctuating nature of the DEED team, once students and faculty are back on campus (and in New York City) other priorities often kick in.
The DEED team approaches all fieldwork experiences as opportunities for learning and self-growth. We are not “just” tourists nor are we engaged in “voluntourism.” Instead, the precise value of traveling is to immerse ourselves in another culture and gain knowledge we can then leverage when co-developing workshops, projects, or ideas. We are traveling as practitioners and make the most of every trip when we approach it through that lens.
Once someone on the DEED team purchases an artisan-made product, the team is no longer perceived and treated as a partner, but as a tourist and buyer – compromising the potential for true collaboration and mutual exchange. To increase the likelihood of collaboration, we instituted this principle which discourages fieldwork participants from purchasing goods directly from our artisan collaborators. We acknowledge the value of labor (and very much support exchanges that include forms of compensation for the artisans’ time), but do not want to perpetuate the seemingly-default model of trying to make a living through the sale of handmade products.
The marketing of artisan-made goods is replete with poverty porn. We strive to balance documenting DEED’s work and partnerships while not exploiting artisan participants. We are mindful and respectful of people's reaction when taking pictures, and refrain from using cameras in the first meeting with artisan participants so as to not disturb group dynamics. We also have experienced the gap between “us” and “them” which is produced by the presence of cameras. Through participatory photography and video projects with artisans and their children, we’ve been able to shift students and faculty from not only observing “the other” but also being observed. The time and place for documentation is arrived at slowly through trust and communication.
The word “help” is banned from our vocabulary when describing our exchanges with people with different privileges. We encourage external partners to also refrain from its use. “Help” is a unidirectional word and assumes we should or can assist someone. Instead, this principle encourages us to, in many more words and details, describe what the work is focused on: collaboration, exchange, sharing, learning, participating, supporting, suggesting, advising, etcetera.
Our on-campus courses are taught with a commitment to horizontal pedagogy. We are inspired by the writings of Paulo Freire and John Dewey, and adhere to their principles of horizontality and learning by doing throughout our work. A commitment to horizontality is challenging but is the basis on which all participants (artisans, students, and faculty) are given the same level of respect and understanding. We also flip traditional academic hierarchies by having our students co-lead the fieldwork portion of our engagements. We’re interested in exploring models that center the teaching with the artisan, as masters of knowledge that many around the world would benefit in learning.
As a research team, we are mindful and thoughtful of our own internal group dynamics. The fieldwork we do can be emotionally taxing and physically exhausting. Gossip between team members about one another is highly discouraged. Instead, if there are issues to address, they are discussed in the daily debriefing sessions (which we have at the end of each work day and have proven to be extremely effective in ensuring the team is working in a brave space).