Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology

By Roger Sanjek | Go to book overview

ROGER SANJEK


A Vocabulary for Fieldnotes

Anthropologists often characterize themselves as mavericks and individualists, holding an "I did it my way" attitude about fieldwork, as Jean Jackson confirmed in several of her interviews. Despite this iconoclastic "Indiana Jones syndrome," as she calls it, there is considerable order and pattern in the ways anthropologists operate, more than many may wish to believe. Patterns in fieldnote practice have changed from the 1880s to the 1980s, as I show in "The Secret Life of Fieldnotes" (in Part III). But first we need to establish a vocabulary for the discussion of fieldnotes.

"What are fieldnotes?" George Bond asks (this volume). He answers that they are first, certainly, texts; they are documents with "the security and concreteness that writing lends to observation ... immutable records of some past occurence." Yet fieldnotes are written, usually, for an audience of one. So they are also "aides-mémoire that stimulate the re-creation, the renewal of things past," Bond explains. Fieldnotes can make difficult reading for anyone other than their author, as Robert J. Smith discovered in his first reading of Ella Lury Embree's fieldnotes about the Japanese village of Suye Mura. Fieldnotes are meant to be read by the ethnographer and to produce meaning through interaction with the ethnographer's headnotes.

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