Human Organization Research: Field Relations and Techniques

By Richard N. Adams; Jack J. Preiss | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
RECIPROCITY IN FIELD WORK*

Rosalie Hankey Wax

IN THE PAST, young anthropologists often embarked on a first field trip in a spirit not unlike that of adolescent primitives facing initiation into the tribe. In solitary agony, supported only by the wise sayings of their anthropological ancestors, they met their crucial and mysterious ordeal. This old practice of sink-or-swim field experience was not in all respects unwise. A great deal of good field work and interviewing technique is analogous to the developmental experiences of life -- phenomena which all social scientists must experience personally rather than vicariously.

Indeed, much of the advice given today is confusing and, if followed too religiously, may hinder rather than aid the neophyte. Some authorities, Margaret Mead, for example, insist that valuable data may be obtained on short, "hit-and-run" field trips. Others hold that lengthy sojourns, in which the investigator is saturated with data, are necessary. Obviously, the salient point in this debate is not the relative worth of short or long periods in the field, but the type of data desired. If the field worker wants information on matters about which most informants will speak freely, he need not stay long. If, on the other hand, he wants to observe a religious ceremony forbidden by the authorities, or to find out who committed some act regarded as criminal by the authorities, he may have to remain in the field a long time. In any case, the length of time required to obtain data that informants are reluctant to give depends on many different factors, one of the most important being sheer good luck.

Another moot question concerns the efficacy of rapport. Some anthropologists spend much time and energy developing a friendly relationship with informants; others hold that such effort can be a waste of time.1

____________________
*
Published in Human Organization, Vol. 11, No. 3 ( 1952), pp. 34-41, under the title "Reciprocity as a Field Technique".
1
Margaret Mead ( 1939, p. 198).

-90-

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