Currently in my thesis work, I’m working on a thick description of the facility in which I conducted my field research in 2003-04. This is going to be a ‘case study’, if you will, that will try as best as possible to paint a picture of how hikikomori, those suffering social withdrawal, are rehabilitated; at least in this facility anyway.
Due to legal reasons and concerns by my university about protecting the anonymity of my interview subjects, I conducted my interviews with a coding system and will assign pseudonyms to the individuals when referring to them in my thesis or here in this blog; I’m going to fictionalize the names and places where I did my field research. However, the stories and experiences I relate from my field research will be true, even if the names are pseudonyms to protect the subjects’ privacy.
I do this because my University demands it, and because it wouldn’t be fair to the staff and kids at the center where I did my research. Also, in the course of my interviews, the knowledge that I wouldn’t be using their real identities made the subjects more likely to answer with sincere honne rather than the more guarded tatemae that is prevalent in Japanese culture.
I’m going to call the rehab center I did my research Takeyama Gakkoh, 竹山学校、or TG for short. For the curious, that’s ‘Bamboo Mountain School’. For the name of the proprietor and his wife, who helps him run Takeyama, let’s call them Mr. Kazu Ishida and Mrs. Mizuho Ishida. “Ishida’、石田、 is ‘rock field’, Kazu is a pretty common male name in Japan, and Mizu-ho is ‘water child’. For the rest of the staff and students there, I’ll name them as the need arises.
For those academics, even armchair ones, reading this entry I’m curious about your opinion on this choice to use pseudonyms for the location of my research. Input from veteran field researchers would be most welcome.
I have no problem with anonymity for my research subjects, that was always my intention from the beginning, but I am a bit torn in so far as fictionalizing the name and place (only) of where I conducted my research. It makes me feel that my thesis will be on less concrete foundations than if I provided a easily verifiable place where others can also go if they choose to conduct further research on the topic. However, I am cognizant of the fact that fictionalizing peoples names while keeping name and location where they live and work factual makes it very easy to trace them back and therefore jeopardizes the promise I made, not to mention the trust they placed in me as a researcher. What do you think?