People Studying People

People Studying People: The Human Element in Fieldwork

Robert A. Georges
Michael O. Jones
Copyright Date: 1980
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppmmw
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  • Book Info
    People Studying People
    Book Description:

    The authors of this book demonstrate that fieldwork is first and foremost a human pursuit. They draw upon published and unpublished accounts of fieldworkers' personal experiences to develop the thesis that an appreciation of fieldwork as a unique mode of inquiry depends upon an understanding of the role the human element plays in it. They analyze the processes involved when people study people firsthand, focusing upon the recurrent human problems that arise and must be solved. The human processes and problems, they argue, are common to all fieldwork, regardless of the disciplinary backgrounds or the specific interests of individual researchers.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90649-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    The meaning of the wordfieldworkis changing. Once referring to laborious agricultural tasks performed by hand, it has come to designate the act of inquiring into the nature of phenomena by studying them at first hand in the environments in which they naturally exist or occur. It is this meaning that is most often implied or intended whenfieldworkis used by those who make human beings the subjects of their investigaitions.

    Long associated with the activities of the folklorist, anthropologist, linguist, and sociologist, field work now attracts the psychologist, artist, ethnomusicologist, educator, historian, and student of dance and...

  4. 1 Dilemmas
    (pp. 5-22)

    One morning... the old chief appeared graver and more affectionate toward me than usual,” notes a fieldworker in a report of his experiences trying to document customs. “He told me the ‘Ho-mah-tchiwas coming—a verysa-mu(ill-natured) dance,’ and suggested that ‘it would be well for me not to sketch it.’” Unaware that a council had ordered the Knife Dance to put an end to his objectionable behavior, the researcher persisted. Vexed, the man who had befriended him exclaimed, “‘Oh, well, of course, a fool always makes a fool of himself.’” The warning was shrugged off.¹

    “When the great...

  5. 2 Alternative Means, Many Ends
    (pp. 23-42)

    Fieldwork involving people studying people is an experience during which the participants learn by observing and querying each other at first hand. Parties to the act may be strangers, friends, or relatives, may be similar or different in physical appearance and social mores, and may be familiar or unfamiliar with the environments in which they encounter each other. The success of the endeavor, like that of any interaction, is dependent upon the willingness and ability of those involved to establish a meaningful basis for communicating.

    Yet fieldwork is also a one-sided and a selfish act. Every fieldwork project has its...

  6. 3 Confrontation
    (pp. 43-64)

    Prophetically, my collecting of slave reminiscences began in an old house on a cold and dreary Halloween night in Bloomington, Indiana,” writes Gladys Fry in the preface to her bookNight Riders in Black Folk History(Knoxville, 1975). “As a graduate student beginning the research for my dissertation,” she continues, “I had an uneasy feeling about the venture which the long walk from Indiana University’s campus had not helped to erase.” Fry enumerates her concerns. “I felt I should do more library research; I had qualms about the number of people I had invited to my first group session; I...

  7. 4 Clorification and Compromise
    (pp. 65-106)

    Implicit throughout the preceding chapter are two facts about the nature of fieldwork that are seldom recognized, acknowledged, or discussed. First, as individuals move from the planning to the implementation stages of their field research, they discover that they must engage continuously in a process of clarifying for others and for themselves just who they are, what it is they want to find out, and why they wish to obtain the information they seek from the individuals they choose as subjects. Second, as fieldworkers interact with their selected subjects, they are confronted with the necessity of being willing and able...

  8. 5 Reflection and Introspection
    (pp. 107-134)

    Robert read the book slowly and with feeling, pausing only occasionally to take a swig of gin and chase it quickly with some beer,” writes Elliot Liebow. “Lonny listened quietly and watched with blinking eyes as Robert changed his voice for each of the characters, assuming a falsetto for Snow White. But my own interest started to wander, probably because I had already read the book and seen the movie,” notes Liebow, describing a memorable moment during his fieldwork among blacks in a poor neighborhood of Washington, D.C., early in the 1960s.¹

    “Suddenly Robert raised his voice and startled me...

  9. 6 Results
    (pp. 135-152)

    From the moment individuals first contemplate fieldwork, they consider also the probable results of their efforts. As was noted in earlier chapters of this book, fieldwork is a purposive act in which people engage to achieve predetermined ends. The principal objective for doing fieldwork may be to fulfill a requirement for a class, to generate data that can serve as the basis for a thesis or dissertation, to satisfy a prerequisite for admission to certain disciplinary-based communities of scholars, to enhance relative social or professional status, to gain or maintain peer or public recognition, or to obtain financial reward. Rarely,...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 153-156)

    In this book we have attempted to counter the view, widely held and generally reinforced by conventional fieldwork guides or manuals, that individuals can conduct fieldwork involving people studying people without being human. To be a good and successful fieldworker, it is often felt and stated, one must learn to be detached and objective and to suppress human feelings and concerns that can only interfere with the task at hand. This view, which can be termed the tabula rasa approach to fieldwork, is rooted in good intentions. It makes the neophyte aware that fieldwork is serious business and that the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 157-170)
  12. Index
    (pp. 171-178)