In September 2019, I worked with other students for Professor Pajo on “Environmental Discourse in Urban Setting.” Each team member will collect data across individuals and environment-related organizations in order to find how they practiced their environmental discourses. To find research subjects in this project, I focused on business perspectives, such as environmental-friendly shops. For example, I would look via Airbnb or Tripadvisor for sustainability tours or environmental activities. After I participated in the tours, I would approach the hosts asking if they would like to talk a little bit more about their thoughts on the environment; how they evaluate the relationship between individuals and nature in urban settings like New York City.
In terms of data collection, this research presents more challenging to analyze the data because of its qualitative nature. Conversations were collected with a loose structure, allowing each individual to demonstrate their perspectives in the most applicable pathway. Accordingly, the data is organized by finding common threads of reasoning: what inspires the business owners to do the work they do? What is it about environmental business which creates this sense of dedication?
As a case study, the horticulture community that I discovered in Brooklyn offers an interesting perspective on the relationship of people living in the city and nature. The owner showed great dedication to take care of the plants which decorated the whole apartment; she treated the plants as her equal and full of personalities. In this way, she not only created the sense of family in the space, but also reached the balance of self-care and environmentality. We also talked about how the horticulture community strived in NYC and what problems they faced. For example, since people kept moving around, oftentimes they would abandon the plants and left them to garbage. The community therefore developed their own “plant adoption” and “plant doctor,” as counterparts of “pet adoption or vet”, in order to rescue the plants. For me, this case presents ethnographic details on how individuals develop and adjust their relationships to nature in the urban environment.
Over the past month of February, our research team moved from collecting new data to reassess our current data collection; particularly, we are looking at whether the process of data collection is following the guidelines of Pace Institutional Review Broad. or any materials such as interview consent forms, that we have not submitted to our online database. In order to do so, it helps us re-evaluate the relationship between the researchers and the research participants. Often, we will pick the field site and organizations, contact them for asking permission, see what we have found, and then make an argument about it. When it comes to the last step, we have to think about the accuracy of our portrayal of the discourses among the organizations and cultural groups that we interviewed. We also have to think about the soundness of the methods that we used, as well as reducing the possibility that we might harm our subjects.
Ethical issues not only concerned about the research subjects, but it also should include the researchers themselves. For example, one of my interviewees asked if I could send her a copy of the audio because she wanted to use it for her marketing podcast. In this case, it raises an interesting question about protecting the privacy of the researcher. Will the potential podcast to some extent breach my privacy? Should I worry about that possibility or just let it go entirely? Should the researchers have and use their rights to protect their safety even if it will affect the research? No matter what answers we are looking for, ethical issues around the research should not be a one-way problem.
This semester, our team has discussed the problems and difficulties of the project. First, we talked about how to gain access to the interview with potential research participants. My teammates shared their stories and tips; as for me personally, I found asking permission from individuals was much easier than asking the institutions directly. In the meantime, we realized that maintaining a good relationship with the participant after the interview had been done was equally important. For example, when I completed my interview, the interviewee invited me to join the opening day of her businesses, which on the other hand could also be an opportunity for further research studies in the future. Finally, we also talked about how to overcome our shyness when we reached out to the participants, creating a comfortable space for them as well as us.
The discovery of the horticultural community in New York City has been an exciting study for me on the project. I learned how they developed and practiced their philosophy in this small subculture; having plants in their lives meant maintaining self-care in an urban setting where the power of nature was strictly limited. Moreover, the fast-paced urban life also had an impact on their practice of urban horticulture. For example, many owners had to abandon their plants while moving to new houses. Thus, the community developed the idea of “rescuing plants” or “plant adoption”, similar to animal rescues, to share the responsibility of taking care of the environment.
Compared to my teammates who focus on nonprofit environmental-related institutions, I decided to concentrate on the business aspect of environmental discourse in New York City. I have discovered a few businesses which try to maintain environmentally ethical while gaining profits. I hope I will expand the research data and include more research participants in future studies.
It is more likely for a person from rural areas to engage in environmental sustainability. When they move from a place surrounded by forests to an “urban jungle” in which concrete buildings become normality, it makes sense that they try to restore the loss of “nature.” However, it does not necessarily assume that people living in urban settings detach from environmental practices at all. Even in a highly metropolitan area such as New York City, various individuals articulate, negotiate and execute environmental work with diverse approaches. Thus, our team will continue working on the project titled “Environmental Discourse and Diversity in Urban Settings,” obtaining and analyzing data from various individuals and organizations on their environmental practices in the urban environments.
In September, we had our first group meeting this semester, where all of us reflected the results and personal experiences from the summer research program. While we understand that environment-related organizations might have particular official agendas to the public, the individuals could have different opinions and environmentality compared to the organization they worked in. However, we found it difficult sometimes to approach the potential participants while contacting the organization. Our team had to change research methods to adapt to the situations. In the meantime, we also reflected on the positive sides of the research process. Some stated that they were worried before meeting the participants, that they might not have enough questions to ask about, but they soon practiced interview techniques during the process and the conversations went well in the end. Finally, in attempting to explore the diversity and complexity of practicing environmentality in New York City, we will seek for more potential research subjects and look into expanding our current data collection.
My focus on the research would be on business perspectives, which include environmentally friendly products and relevant business activities. For example, I have been searching on Airbnb websites, whereas locals provide unique experiences for visitors to have a taste of authentic New York life. I have located in locals who offer environmental-related experiences such as thrift shops shopping and house plant conversations. Such events would be ideal places for conducting participant observation; I will record my reflections and observations while participating in the experiences. Furthermore, it will allow me to stay in contact with the individuals and seek further interview opportunities. Moreover, participating in the experiences can open another gate to look for other research subjects. So far, I have exchanged emails with the local guides and made appointments for future interviews; I also encountered several places like environmental social enterprise or shops that I could save for further investigation.
The “Environmental Discourse and Diversity in Urban Setting” is teamwork, which has been a unique experience for me to work with other students on research. Each team member has brought their own perspective and technique into the project, which could benefit me from listening to different research experiences. Meanwhile, working in a team means that we could contribute to and share a vast amount of research data, that individual work could not be able to obtain. Accordingly, every team member will be able to use the data and further their individual projects. I am looking forward to working with my teammates and gaining more research experiences in the future.