Constructing the Field: Ethnographic Fieldwork in the Contemporary World

Constructing the Field: Ethnographic Fieldwork in the Contemporary World

Constructing the Field: Ethnographic Fieldwork in the Contemporary World

Constructing the Field: Ethnographic Fieldwork in the Contemporary World

Synopsis

In an increasingly globalized world how is the nature of ethnographic fieldwork changing? In this book anthropologists provide a thorough and critical appraisal of what fieldwork is, and should be. The contributors challenge:*the percieved necessity for the total immersion of the anthropologist in the field*the separation of professional and personal areas of activity*the existence of 'the field' as an entity separate from everyday life.Fresh perspectives on these and other aspects of contemporary fieldwork are provided by personal accounts of anthropologists in the field in Canada, The Cayman Islands, Britain, Switzerland and Spain.

Excerpt

Vered Amit

In the joint anthropology and sociology department where I teach, students have frequently asked me somewhat hesitantly, assuming they ought to already know the answer, 'What, after all, is the difference between sociology and anthropology?' I usually tend to talk vaguely about general orientations versus absolute disciplinary boundaries but, if a flurry of recent publications are correct, in answering the same question most anthropologists would be likely to invoke ethnographic field-work as the quintessential hallmark of social and cultural anthropology. According to Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson (1997:1):

the single most significant factor determining whether a piece of research will be accepted as (that magical word) 'anthropological' is the extent to which it depends on experience 'in the field.'

So what is 'experience in the field'? Much as fieldwork is the most commonly cited defining criteria of anthropology, intensive participant observation in turn is frequently treated as defining anthropological fieldwork (see Clifford, 1992). You have to actually be physically present in the field, assert Kirsten Hastrup and Peter Hervik (1994a:3). Long-distance methods of communication will not do. Ethnographic field-work must be experienced as performed rather than just communicated in dialogue (ibid.). Duration is also critical, according to Judith Okely (1992). The bounded periods of sociological versions of ethnography, she argues, bear no comparison to the long-term and thorough immersion of anthropological fieldwork, 'a total experience, demanding all of the anthropologist's resources, intellectual, physical, emotional, political and intuitive' (ibid.: 8). But of course, this is fundamentally a social rather than a solitary experience mediated by and constituted through the fieldworker's relationships with others (ibid.: 2). The scope of

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