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Centralizing Fieldwork

Centralizing Fieldwork: Critical Perspectives from Primatology, Biological and Social Anthropology

Jeremy MacClancy
Agustín Fuentes
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 310
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  • Book Info
    Centralizing Fieldwork
    Book Description:

    Fieldwork is a central method of research throughout anthropology, a much-valued, much-vaunted mode of generating information. But its nature and process have been seriously understudied in biological anthropology and primatology. This book is the first ever comparative investigation, across primatology, biological anthropology, and social anthropology, to look critically at this key research practice. It is also an innovative way to further the comparative project within a broadly conceived anthropology, because it does not focus on common theory but on a common method. The questions asked by contributors are: what in the pursuit of fieldwork is common to all three disciplines, what is unique to each, how much is contingent, how much necessary? Can we generate well-grounded cross-disciplinary generalizations about this mutual research method, and are there are any telling differences? Co-edited by a social anthropologist and a primatologist, the book includes a list of distinguished and well-established contributors from primatology and biological anthropology.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-851-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Jeremy MacClancy and Agustín Fuentes
  5. 1 Centralizing Fieldwork
    (pp. 1-26)
    Jeremy MacClancy and Agustín Fuentes

    Fieldwork is a central method of research throughout anthropology, a much-valued, much-vaunted mode of generating information. It is all the more surprising then, that its nature and process have been seriously understudied in several branches of anthropology. One goal of this book is to ameliorate that imbalance.

    Social anthropologists are the exception to this history of neglect. Since the mid-1980s they have made critical scrutiny of their practice a legitimate and revealing topic of study. They have inquired, among other themes, into fieldwork relations and rapport; conflicts, hazards and perils in the field; the continuously negotiated identity of the fieldworker;...

  6. 2 The Dos and Don’ts of Fieldwork
    (pp. 27-31)
    Geoffrey A. Harrison

    Research in the biological anthropology of recent human populations has largely focused on documenting the great variation that occurs within and between such populations and in attempting to explain the causes for it. Where the variation is mainly of genetic origin, as for example in blood groups, the principal cause of similarity between groups is recent common ancestry: so analyses of such characters will therefore tend to reveal evolutionary relationships between populations. Where, however, the variation has a large component of environmental determination and arises directly from the particular conditions under which individuals develop, similarity and differences may have little...

  7. 3 The Anthropologist as a Primatologist: Mental Journeys of a Fieldworker
    (pp. 32-48)
    Volker Sommer

    Experiencing destinations far from home is a dream that feeds the tourism industry. Those who explore foreign scenery, customs, food, nature, wildlife as professionals are called anthropologists. According to Greek etymology, the diversity of humans (anthropos) is the subject of their words and wisdom (logos).

    But anthropologists do not travel. They conduct ‘fieldwork’, a term that rings of wilderness. A German equivalent of the term has a truly poetic tinge to it: ‘Freilandforschung’, meaning ‘research in free land’. For long and intensive periods, far from home and family, these researchers are thoroughly immersed in ‘the other’, taking shelter with natives,...

  8. 4 Primate Fieldwork and its Human Contexts in Southern Madagascar
    (pp. 49-68)
    Robert W. Sussman

    The re-evaluation of fieldwork in social anthropology has been a worthy subject of study and has enriched anthropological understanding, both in the way ethnographic knowledge has been assessed and in the way we train our students. In this book, the authors have been asked to explore whether comparable re-evaluation of experiences in fieldwork in biological anthropology and primatology might not further enrich our understanding of anthropological research generally. In this chapter, I have chosen to reminisce over my past thirty-five years plus of fieldwork experience and, in doing so, I attempt to answer many of the questions posed by the...

  9. 5 Problem Animals or Problem People? Ethics, Politics and Practice or Conflict between Community Perspectives and Fieldwork on Conservation
    (pp. 69-83)
    Phyllis C. Lee

    This chapter sets out to consider one explicit aim of this volume: to critically examine fieldwork practice in the context of outcomes. The specific outcomes explored here are those associated with conservation practices, and I ask whether our fieldwork can inform conservation practices, and whether we can find justifications for fieldwork in terms of conservation outcomes. I also consider ethical issues as applied to conservation related fieldwork: who benefits from fieldwork? Is it the local people, the local habitat, or a species of conservation concern, and how most importantly can we ever assess who benefits and to what extent?


  10. 6 Ecological Anthropology and Primatology: Fieldwork Practices and Mutual Benefits
    (pp. 84-103)
    Juichi Yamagiwa

    Fieldwork efforts in anthropology and primatology at Kyoto University have been based on the traditions of AACK (Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto), established by Kinji Imanishi and his colleagues in 1931. Their activities were characterized by the motto ‘ascent of virgin peaks’. They attempted to climb uncharted mountains and made several expeditions to unknown parts of Asia. Their expeditions were always motivated by academic interests and composed of an interdisciplinary research team typically consisting of anthropologists, zoologists, botanists, geologists, etc. After World War II, the club splintered into several academic fields, but the resulting groups still have frequent exchanges (Figure...

  11. 7 Lost in Translation: Field Primatology, Culture, and Interdisciplinary Approaches
    (pp. 104-120)
    Nobuyuki Kutsukake

    This Japanese haiku, written about 300 years ago, describes how the famous poet Matsuo Basho and a Japanese macaque were freezing in winter and ‘sharing’ the same experience. The poem nicely demonstrates the connection Japanese people felt with macaques, and their feelings of close intimacy and empathy towards animals in general. There is no doubt that this attitude, and a sense of value towards nature or animals, is reflected in not only artistic, but also everyday human activities. Academic research is not an exception. Fieldwork and research in primatology and anthropology reflect the identities, thoughts and culture of researchers, irrespective...

  12. 8 Measuring Meaning and Understanding in Primatological and Biological Anthropology Fieldwork: Context and Practice
    (pp. 121-136)
    Agustín Fuentes

    In the North American school of biological anthropology and primatology our modern call to action in fieldwork owes a great deal to the inspiration of Sherwood Washburn. His emphasis, amongst other facets, was on the importance fieldwork as a main baseline for the construction of testable hypotheses. In the Japanese tradition, as illustrated by Pam Asquith, Juichi Yamagiwa, and Nobu Katsukake in this volume, Kinji Imanishi for played a similar role. As primatologists and biological anthropologist our goals for fieldwork can be summarized by a few salient questions (Table 8.1). The answers to these questions are then the driving forces...

  13. 9 Fieldwork as Research Process and Community Engagement: Experiences from the Gambia and Afghanistan
    (pp. 137-155)
    Mark Eggerman and Catherine Panter-Brick

    This chapter is a reflection on the practice of fieldwork, in which we offer concrete suggestions to encourage an open-ended and iterative attitude to research. This is particularly relevant to situations in which research activities rely on close engagement with local communities for the purposes of scientific data collection and evaluation. We draw upon personal experiences from two contrasting projects. One was action research to address a particular public health problem in the Gambia, namely the prevention of childhood malaria through better usage of mosquito nets. The other was basic research on young people and their families in Afghanistan and...

  14. 10 Framing the Quantitative within the Qualitative: Why Biological Anthropologists do Fieldwork
    (pp. 156-169)
    Lyliane Rosetta

    Biological anthropologists have a biological approach to populations and consequently think in terms of physiological and biological adaptation to environment, lifestyle, and cultural habits in the natural context (Baker 1982; Johnston et al. 1990; Beall et al. 1992; Wood 1994; Brush and Harrison 2001; Vitzthum et al. 2004; Pollard et al. 2006; Steegmann 2006). For example, biological anthropologists have compared the level of physical activity and consequent energy requirements in various populations with different lifestyles, like sedentary farmers, nomadic pastoralists or hunter-gatherers; others interested determining the limits of human adaptation have measured adult or children body composition at various ages,...

  15. 11 Considerations on Field Methods Used to Assess Nonhuman Primate Feeding Behaviour and Human Food Intake in Terms of Nutritional Requirements
    (pp. 170-185)
    Claude Marcel Hladik

    Measuring food intake has been a major issue in our multidisciplinary research team, where anthropologists and primatologists worked together aiming at the objective of a better understanding of food preferences and choices in various contexts, especially in environmental settings where indigenous, spontaneous species can cover most of the nutritional requirements. The idea of merging primatological studies with an anthropological approach resulted from the search of methods to differentiate what part of the feeding behaviour is exclusively determined by biological factors and what is shaped by the sociocultural context including symbolic aspects, which can become a major force determining food choices...

  16. 12 Anthropobiological Surveys in the Field: Reflections on the Bioethics of Human Medical and DNA Surveys
    (pp. 186-199)
    Alain Froment

    Anthropobiology is the branch of anthropology that studies humans as a biological species, focusing on evolution and variation, and including areas such as primatology, paleoanthropology, human genetics, and human ecology; some applied fields are bioarchaeology, biometrics and forensic anthropology. It is related to medicine on one side, especially epidemiology and nutrition, and of course to cultural anthropology on the other side, because there is no natural history in humanity without a cultural component: biological evolution shaped hominids towards a bigger and more efficient brain, and the brain became a culture-making organ. That is why bioanthropological practice borrows from both fields...

  17. 13 Field Schools in Central America: Playing a Pivotal Role in the Formation of Modern Field Primatologists
    (pp. 200-224)
    Katherine C. MacKinnon

    Recently there has been a renewed debate about the continued existence of various subfields in anthropology, and whether or not biological and cultural anthropology can truly coexist (see Calcagno 2003; Mascia-Lees 2006; Thomas 2006; Riley 2006; Loudon, Howells and Fuentes 2006). For many trained in a traditional North American four-field approach, the very question goes against what attracted them to anthropology in the first place: the holistic exploration of what it means to be human (Peters-Golden 2004). For the aspiring anthropologist at the undergraduate level, one place to experience this holism, and to grasp an understanding of its utmost importance,...

  18. 14 The Narrator’s Stance: Story-telling and Science at Berenty Reserve
    (pp. 225-241)
    Alison Jolly

    Donna Haraway’sPrimate Visions(1989) delighted academics in the humanities and annoyed many primatologists when she analysed personal influences on the professional study of primatology. In the crucible of field work the primatologist meets and begins to comprehend an alien species, while simultaneously dealing with unfamiliar cultures of people, undergoing a personal transformation in the process. The primatologist’s own story involves the struggle to narrate what she sees. That story is often worth telling. But there is a further question: to what extent does individual narrative substitute, or compensate for, the attempt to be objective about a statistically valid sample...

  19. 15 Natural Homes: Primate Fieldwork and the Anthropological Method
    (pp. 242-255)
    Pamela J. Asquith

    ‘It can be no secret’, wrote social anthropologist Graham Watson, ‘that for many North American cultural anthropologists, British social anthropologists constitute a negative reference group, and that the British reciprocate the antagonism in full measure’ (Watson 1984: 351). The author, a British trained anthropologist teaching in a Canadian university, pointed out what he saw as the hopeless circle of argument and counter-argument about what the disciplines ‘really’ are; hopeless because views of the disciplines do not refer to any particular reality but rather are ‘texts of embedded interpretive practices’ by means of which anthropologists construe them as disciplines in the...

  20. 16 Popularizing Fieldwork: Examples from Primatology and Biological Anthropology
    (pp. 256-276)
    Jeremy MacClancy

    Fieldwork is the self-vaunted method of social anthropology. It is the major mode of generating ethnographic information, a badge of initiation, the grounds for a disputable claim to disciplinary distinctiveness, and a central symbol of a romantic, quasi-mystical conception of our subject. It feeds our myths and in turn feeds on them. At this rate, without fieldwork, what are we? Armchair academics? God help us, no!

    Fieldwork owes its privileged place within social anthropology thanks above all to the propagandizing efforts of Bronislaw Malinowski, himself one of the greatest myth-makers of the discipline. According to this vision, as propagated by...

  21. Index
    (pp. 277-298)