What Is Ethnographic Fieldwork?
Why Do Fieldwork?
The Fieldwork Experience
A Meeting of Cultural Traditions
Ethnographic Fieldwork: How Has Anthropologists’
The Positivist Approach
Was There a Problem with Positivism?
Can the Reflexive Approach Replace
Can Fieldwork Be
What Is the Dialectic of Fieldwork?
How Are Interpretation and
Translation Important Aspects of Fieldwork?
How Can Anthropologists Move beyond the
The Dialectic of Fieldwork: Some
What Happens When There Are Ruptures
The Effects of Fieldwork
How Does Fieldwork
How Does Fieldwork Affect the
Does Fieldwork Have Humanizing
Where Does Anthropological Knowledge Come From?
How Does Knowledge Produce?
Is Anthropological Knowledge Open-Ended?
Anthropological fieldwork traditionally involved participant-observation,
extended periods of close contact at a single site with members of another
society. Anthropologists were expected to carry out research in societies
different from their own, but in recent years increasing numbers have worked in
their own societies. Each setting has its own advantages and drawbacks for
anthropologists who wanted to be scientific tried to remake fieldwork in the
image of controlled laboratory research. According to positivist scientists and
philosophers, laboratory research was the prototype of scientific
investigation. Following this positivist model, anthropologists systematically
collected highly accurate data on societies in many parts of the world.
- When human
beings study other human beings, scientific accuracy requires that they relate to
one another as human beings. Successful fieldwork involves anthropologists who
think about the way they think about other cultures. Informants also must
reflect on the way they and others in their society think, and they must try to
convey their insights to the anthropologist. This is basic to the reflexive
approach to fieldwork, which sees participant-observation as a dialogue about
the meaning of experience in the informant’s culture. Fieldworkers and
informants work together to construct an intersubjective world of meaning.
communication between anthropologist and informant is ruptured, learning about
another culture is often greatest. Ruptures occur when current intersubjective
understandings prove inadequate to account for experience. A rupture always
carries the possibility of bringing research to an end. But when the reasons
for the rupture are explored and explanations for it are constructed, great
insights are possible.
- In recent
years, a number of anthropologists have begun to carry out fieldwork that takes
them to a number of different sites. Such multisited fieldwork is usually the
outcome of following cultural phenomena wherever they lead, often crossing local,
regional, and national boundaries in the process. Such fieldwork allows
anthropologists to understand better many cultural processes that link people,
things, metaphors, plots, and lives that are not confined to a single site.
- Taking part
in ethnographic fieldwork has the potential to change informants and
researchers in sometimes unpredictable ways. In some cases, anthropologists
have worked with their informants to effect social change, although not all
anthropologists agree that this is appropriate. In other cases, anthropologists
argue that their main task is to figure out and explain to others how people in
particular places at particular moments engage with one another and with the
cultural meanings are intersubjectively constructed during fieldwork, cultural
facts do not speak for themselves. Those facts speak only when they are
interpreted and placed in a context of meaning that makes them intelligible.
Multisited fieldwork complicates this because it involves the anthropologist in
cross-cutting commitments in different contexts, where the same cultural facts
may be differently understood or valued.
ethnographic record of anthropological knowledge is perhaps best understood as
a vast, unfinished commentary on human possibility. We may never learn all
there is to know, but we can always learn more.