Even though the working title of my thesis talks about immigrants, the informants in my case study are immigrant women. There are two reasons for this choice.
Firstly, immigrant women stay more often at home taking care of the children compared with men (and compared with the Finnish women too). Therefore they also spend more time in the housing area than men. This has been described in the case of Finnish women in Matti Kortteinen’s groundbreaking work ”Life in a suburb: A study about the change of lifestyles” already at the turn of the 70’s and 80’s. Length of time spent in any activity or place correlates with the knowledge about it. This fact makes immigrant women experiential experts of the housing area under study.
Secondly, in the beginning of my case study I thought that immigrant women are in a more vulnerable position in a new country surrounded by a different culture than men. Immigrant men (and Finnish men too) work more often than women and thus get supportive social networks through work. Thus I presumed that immigrant women would need more support for their integration in the new society. This was also the ultimate objective of my whole research: To let their voice be heard more properly through my research than in usual city planning processes.
Because I did not know any immigrant woman in Suvela beforehand, I had to start recruiting informants for my case study from the scratch. The first contact was a project manager of the city of Espoo, who was responsible for coordinating the different projects included in the suburb and housing area programs. He gave me some Finnish names, which had all some kind of connection to Suvela. One of them was a woman, who had just established a multicultural society for immigrant women. Through her I was able to get my first informants.
From that on I used several different ways when trying to reach immigrant women, some successively and some simultaneously, in the course of my research (here in the order of appearance):
- I searched for the key persons
- I took contact with different immigrant societies
- I tracked people with the snowball method (that is: going from one person to another with the help of contact information each person has given)
- I utilized public information boards
- I spent time in public places like residential parks, shopping centres and international meeting places
- I joined language courses and groups and
- I arranged a multicultural event, the Suvela Bazaar.
Some of the contact chains were long, some were shorter. All in all, this was the hardest part in the case study: how to get immigrants participated, the core question of the whole research.
The informant groups were partly overlapping in the first three phases of my case study: in the structured interviews, mental maps and walking interviews. In indirect observation I did not see anyone, whom I had met in earlier phases. Photovoice and planning workshops had also both a totally different informant group.