Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

Anthropologists in the Field: Cases in Participant Observation

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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. At the same time, the practice of ethnography also assumes the importance of maintaining enough intellectual distance to ensure that researchers are able to undertake a critical analysis of the events in which they are participating. This means that they should be willing, and able, to take a step back from the relationships they form with the people they encounter in the field for long enough to identify and reflect upon some of the taken-for-granted rules and expectations of the social world they are studying. the ethnographer must be able to see with the eyes of an outsider as well as the eyes of an insider, although both views are, of course, only ever partial. Good participant observation thus requires a selfconscious balance between intimacy with, and distance from, the individuals we are seeking to better understand. By definition, participant observers deliberately place themselves in a series of very awkward social spaces, some of which are more difficult to inhabit than others.

The uncomfortable and contradictory nature of these fieldwork relationships has long been acknowledged in anthropological and sociological literature (e.g., Powdermaker 1966; Malinowksi 1967; Golde 1986 "1970"; Hammersley & Atkinson 1995 "1983") through a discourse of reflexivity that has become increasingly "mainstream" over the last three decades. This collection of sixteen original papers, by anthropologists and one religious studies scholar (Harvey), differs from similar publications in . . .

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