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Fieldwork and Ethnography
 Based on the simple idea that in order to understand
what people are up to, it is best to observe them by
interacting with them intimately and over an extended
period of time.
 fieldwork & field techniques developed in the study of
smaller scale societies with greater cultural uniformity
compared to large-scale industrial societies
the concept of holism
Bajau Laut…adaptation to environment
Before Fieldwork
 schooling & training
 language acquisition (at school & in the field)
 research proposal
 visa, government bureaucracies &
permissions to do fieldwork
Entering the Field
 expatriots (missionaries, other anthropologists,
international development people)
going “native” types
exceptional locals
culture shock
refuge from the “natives”
Field Techniques: The Ethnographic Method
 participant-observation - defining characteristic of
cultural anthropology & its methods of research
 first-hand observation of daily behavior; immersed in
daily life
no other human science does this
 what people say & what they do
(Kottak), "The common humanity of the
student and the studied, the ethnographer and
the researched community, makes participant
observation inevitable."
 Malinowski… “…, in this type of
work, it is good for the
ethnographer sometimes to put
aside camera, note book and
pencil, and to join in himself in
what is going on."
Surveys & Interviews
 2 techniques of asking questions & eliciting
 quantitative vs. qualitative methods
descriptive/ interpretive
 structured closed-ended questionnaires
 genealogical method/genealogies
 statistical analysis
 objectivity
 who administers
 structured open-ended
 unstructured
 spontaneous & planned
Ethnographic vs. Survey Research
 study whole functioning community vs. a
develop rapport
totality of an informant's life-context
context & thick description
adds depth to survey data (i.e. kinship
Life History
 recollections of lifetime experiences
 identify important life stages for a culture
 indicates the diversity of experience within
what appears to be a society of cultural
 problem with remembering in the present
 Notions of narrative and history
 what is a "well informed informant"?
 compared to who?
 the relationships between ethnographer &
relations of power
 trust, friendship, economic contract,
learning, adopted as family member, prestige
for both
 Emic – local knowledge: how people think, perceive,
categorize the world; what has meaning in their worldthe natives point of view
 Etic -- shift focus from the native's point of view to
that of the anthropologist
 Type of knowledge – intersubjective
 A self consciousness about the impact on the data
produced in the context of doing fieldwork and
writing culture
 how the anthropologist effects the thoughts,
actions of informants
 how the ethnocentrism of the anthropologist
colors the interpretation and final
representation of others thinking & actions
Paul Rabinow on Reflexive Knowledge
 Field data are constructs of the process by which
we acquire them -- intersubjective
 The problem is a “hermeneutical one”
hermeneutic – interpretation ... “as the comprehension of
self by the detour of the comprehension of the other”
 Fieldwork is dialectic
Reflexive Knowledge and Doing
Anthropology as Negotiated Reality
 a mutually constructed ground of experience
and understanding
 an acknowledgement of the dialogue
between the anthropologist and the
informant in the experience of fieldwork
Negotiated Reality
 anthropologists are historically situated
through the questions we ask and the manner
we seek to understand and experience the
 anthropologists receive from our informants
their interpretations that are also mediated by
culture and history
 the data is doubly mediated
first by presence of the anthropologist
 Then by a second order self-reflection of our
Anthropology and the Ethics of
 Anthropological researchers, teachers and
practitioners are members of many different
communities, each with its own moral rules or
codes of ethics
 In both proposing and carrying out research,
anthropological researchers must be open
about the purpose(s), potential impacts, and
source(s) of support for research projects with
funders, colleagues, persons studied or
providing information, and with relevant
parties affected by the research.
Ethics and Informant Relationships
 Anthropological researchers have primary ethical
obligations to the people, species, and materials they
study and to the people with whom they work
avoid harm or wrong
respect the well-being
consult actively with the affected individuals or group(s)
Fieldwork and Informed Consent
 Anthropological researchers should obtain in
advance the informed consent of persons being
studied, providing information, owning or
controlling access to material being studied, or
otherwise identified as having interests which might
be impacted by the research
Ethics Beyond the Field
 Responsibility to scholarship and science
 Responsibility to the public
 Responsibility to students and trainees