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Anthropologists in the Field

Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

Lynne Hume
Jane Mulcock
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Anthropologists in the Field
    Book Description:

    All too often anthropologists and other social scientists go into the field with unrealistic expectations. Different cultural milieus are prime ground for misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and interrelational problems. This book is an excellent introduction to real-world ethnography, using familiar and not-so-familiar cultures as cases. The book covers participant observation and ethnographic interviewing, both short and long term. These methodologies are open to problems such as lack of communication, depression, hostility, danger, and moral and ethical dilemmas -- problems that are usually sanitized for publication and ignored in the curriculum. Among the intriguing topics covered are sexualized and violent environments, secrecy and disclosure, multiple roles and allegiances, insider/outsider issues, and negotiating friendship and objectivity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50922-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Awkward Spaces, Productive Places
    (pp. xi-xxviii)
    Lynne Hume and Jane Mulcock

    Ethnographic research involves the use of a variety of techniques for collecting data on human beliefs, values, and practices. The ethnographer’s core methodology, participant observation, requires that researchers simultaneously observe and participate (as much as possible) in the social action they are attempting to document. The rationale for this approach is that; by “being there” and actively taking part in the interactions at hand, the researcher can come closer to experiencing and understanding the “insider’s” point of view.¹ At the same time, the practice of ethnography also assumes the importance of maintaining enough intellectual distance to ensure that researchers are...


    • CHAPTER 1 Awkward Intimacies: Prostitution, Politics, and Fieldwork in Urban Mexico
      (pp. 3-17)
      Patty Kelly

      In the early spring of 1999 the people of the ejido¹ Francisco I. Madero were seeking to reclaim their land—four hectares located at the end of a lonely dirt road, eight kilometers east of the bustling city center of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas, Mexico. Since 1991, however, the once communally held agricultural lands had been occupied by nearly one hundred and fifty female prostitutes selling their services from within eighteen módulos, or barracks-style buildings, to men of the laboring classes. The land, now called the Zona Galáctica (Galactic Zone), is a “tolerance zone,” a legal brothel zone...

    • CHAPTER 2 Disclosure and Interaction in a Monastery
      (pp. 18-31)
      Michael V. Angrosino

      I am a cultural anthropologist/oral historian, and this essay is a reflection on a project I conducted for the centennial of Cassian Abbey (a pseudonym), a Benedictine monastery. During the period of research (one month of intensive interviewing, plus several short follow-up visits), I lived at the monastery and adhered to the monastic rule. I am a practicing Roman Catholic who has tended to look on monasticism as a revered but increasingly irrelevant anachronism. Living briefly at the monastery was a welcome spiritual and emotional respite from the racket of the “real world,” and the research allowed me to interact...

    • CHAPTER 3 Going Beyond “The West” and “The Rest”: Conducting Non-Western, Non-native Ethnography in Northern Thailand
      (pp. 32-45)
      Ida Fadzillah

      One reason for the disappearance of “the savage” is that he (or in this case “she”) is now taking on the role of anthropologist and assuming multiple levels of familiarity that are transforming the relationship(s) of the observer to the observed. The ethnographer is no longer obviously distinguishable from her subjects, having emerged herself from the colonial, political, and historical morass that has come to define the non-West. In my experience as a Malaysian ethnographer of rural Thailand, fieldwork created certain moments of intellectual and social tension that served both to underscore the “savageness” of my own identity and to...

    • CHAPTER 4 Multiple Roles, Statuses, and Allegiances: Exploring the Ethnographic Process in Disability Culture
      (pp. 46-58)
      Russell Shuttleworth

      Recent critiques of ethnographic practice have challenged the ability of traditional fieldwork narratives to adequately represent the fragmented nature of contemporary social settings. In response to such challenges anthropologists have begun to engage new approaches to conducting ethnography. The idea of “multi-sited” research (Marcus 1998; Clifford 1997b), for example, has become increasingly common, fieldwork “at home” is more widely pursued (Gupta & Ferguson 1997b), and innovative sites such as the Internet (e.g., Edwards 1994; Gold 2001) and business and research organizations (Forsythe 1993; Mouly & Sankaran 1995) are being identified. It is now not unusual for an anthropologist to be...

    • CHAPTER 5 “He’s Not a Spy; He’s One of Us”: Ethnographic Positioning in a Middle-Class Setting
      (pp. 59-70)
      Martin Forsey

      Ravina High, the Western Australian government secondary school where I conducted ethnographic research during the 1998 and 1999 school years, erupted into serious conflict toward the middle of my fieldwork there. Throughout the course of my research after this situation arose, I was committed to documenting as many different perspectives on this breakdown of relations between staff and management as possible. This approach created a number of difficulties and significant challenges, particularly when it came to comprehending the views put forward by the school leader, the Principal of Ravina High.

      An incident following a feisty union meeting is etched firmly...

    • CHAPTER 6 Dissent and Consent: Negotiating the Adoption Triangle
      (pp. 71-81)
      Jonathan Telfer

      This chapter considers various dimensions of undertaking ethnographic research within the conflictual, politicized, and feminized field of adoption in South Australia during 1994 and 1995. While my study clearly characterizes the domain of adoption as a site of contestation, this fact, minimally reported in the relevant literature, only became apparent to me as I attempted to move among the various interest groups within my field. I quickly came to recognize how voluntary and state-sponsored organizations constituted around adoption occupy not only different but also antipathetic positions (Bourdieu & Wacquant 1992) on the rights of adoptees, adoptive parents, and relinquishing parents....

    • CHAPTER 7 Doing Ethnography in “One’s Own Ethnic Community”: The Experience of an Awkward Insider
      (pp. 82-94)
      Val Colic-Peisker

      I finally succumbed to my “Croatianness” upon arrival in Australia. This was an unexpected development, as I left my country to escape—among other calamities of postcommunism—the high tide of nationalism. In the face of war, the politics of identity had become unbearably simple: we were divided into “good Croatians” and “enemies.” I did not feel I belonged to either of these categories. In Australia, however, my Croatianness was imposed on me in a novel way. I became a person who speaks “with an accent” and was repeatedly asked where I had come from. I soon realized that my...

    • CHAPTER 8 “And I Can’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”: Fieldwork in Two Settings
      (pp. 95-108)
      Jim Birckhead

      Ordinary everyday life is full of awkward moments: misunderstandings, conflict, pain, sorrow, feelings of unease and dread, boredom and ennui, depression, and even despair. This is the human condition, given the basic dialectic between self and other(s), the tension between precept and practice, the “state of the world,” the uncertainty and brevity of life, and the ultimate existential problem of what it all means. If existence in one’s home lifeworld is not challenge enough to endure, doing ethnographic fieldwork serves to heighten the vagaries, contradictions, and pleasures of “normal” life as we attempt to absorb others’ experiential worlds and deepest...


    • CHAPTER 9 “Yo, Bitch . . . ” and Other Challenges: Bringing High-Risk Ethnography into the Discourse
      (pp. 111-126)
      Sylvie C. Tourigny

      The tapping noise of the shotgun muzzle against my window, or maybe the sudden set of Chuckie Dog’s jaw, or the changing light pattern over my left shoulder, got my attention. As I rolled down the car window, a sawn-off gun barrel rose and pointed unhesitatingly at Chuckie Dog, who was sipping coffee in my passenger seat. Dark eyes appeared through a black ski mask and a voice mumbled¹ inches from my ear:

      “You think you can fuck with me and not die, punk?”

      Chuckie Dog’s eyes looked icy. His right hand stayed in his pocket, suggesting it also held...

  7. CHAPTER 10 Reflections on Fieldwork Among Kenyan Heroin Users
    (pp. 127-139)
    Susan Beckerleg and Gillian Lewando Hundt

    Our reflections on fieldwork derive from 2000–2001, when we undertook research on the lives and health needs of women heroin users living in a Kenyan coastal town. Susan had been working there for some years with the Omari Project, a community-based rehabilitation program for heroin users. We had also worked together previously in the Middle East and knew that collaboration suited us. In this earlier study Gillian had been familiar with the setting and led the study. In Kenya, Susan was on home turf and Gillian took more of a supporting role. Susan’s involvement with the Omari Project gave...


    • CHAPTER 14 Not Quite at Home: Field Envy and New Age Ethnographic Dis-ease
      (pp. 185-200)
      Stewart Muir

      My field notes from the event described above conclude with the reflection that this was “one of the most ridiculous experiences of my life.” I would like to think that such a response to fieldwork does not make me a bad anthropologist, but I am wary of admitting my ambivalence to colleagues nonetheless. After all, ethnographic fieldwork is what anthropologists do (Stocking 1992:13), and many continue to believe that personalizing field accounts with angst-ridden “confessional tales” (Van Maanen 1988:73) risks undermining the validity of the ethnographic endeavor (Howell 1990). If negative experiences in the field are discussed, they are usually...

    • CHAPTER 15 Multi-sited Transnational Ethnography and the Shifting Construction of Fieldwork
      (pp. 201-215)
      Sawa Kurotani

      In this essay, I explore issues of anthropological practice in the increasingly deterritorialized social reality of the late-capitalist world, in which a fieldworker must negotiate her way between the limits of ethnographic method and transnational spaces. As Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (1997b) outline, the disciplinary origin of anthropology as a “field science” has led to much of its theoretical and methodological development being centered around the assumption of a well-defined physical site as the appropriate focus for ethnographic fieldwork. Rapid globalization has disrupted this and other associated fundamental assumptions. Increased mobility in the late twentieth century made it difficult...

    • CHAPTER 16 Multi-sited Methodologies: “Homework” in Australia, Fiji, and Kiribati
      (pp. 216-234)
      Katerina Martina Teaiwa

      As a master’s degree student at the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai’i (UH), I was driven by one central purpose—to decolonize Banaban history.¹ This meant, among other things, letting Banaban voices speak (mine most loudly), and critiquing every piece of writing on Banaban history or culture produced by white scholars. I believed that the role of the “native” in the academy was to centralize cultural identity and to personalize and politicize our scholarship (cf. T. Teaiwa 1995; Trask 1999). My experiences as a doctoral student at The Australian National University (ANU) complicated that idea,...

    (pp. 235-258)
    (pp. 259-262)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 263-268)