Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology

Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology

Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology

Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology


Ethnomusicological fieldwork has significantly changed since the end of the the 20th century. Ethnomusicology is in a critical moment that requires new perspecitves on fieldwork - perspectives that are not addressed in the standard guides to ethnomusicological or anthropological method. The focus in ethnomusicological writing and teaching has traditionally centered around analyses and ethnographic representations of musical cultures, rather than on the personal world of understanding, experience, knowing, and doing fieldwork. Shadows in the Field deliberately shifts the focus of ethnomusicology and of ethnography in general from representation (text) to experience (fieldwork). The "new fieldwork" moves beyond mere data collection and has become a defining characteristic of ethnomusicology that engages the scholar in meaningful human contexts. In this new edition of Shadows in the Field, renowned ethnomusicologists explore the roles they themselves act out while performing fieldwork and pose significant questions for the field: What are the new directions in ethnomusicological fieldwork? Where does fieldwork of "the past" fit into these theories? And above all, what do we see when we acknowledge the shadows we cast in the field? The second edition of Shadows in the Field includes updates of all existing chapters, a new preface by Bruno Nettl, and seven new chapters addressing critical issues and concerns that have become increasingly relevant since the first edition.


Bruno Nettl

Fieldworker’s Progress

Shadows in the Field, in its first edition a varied collection of interesting, insightful essays about fieldwork, has now been significantly expanded and revised, becoming the first comprehensive book about fieldwork in ethnomusicology. Because ethnomusicologists think of fieldwork as the defining activity of their endeavor, one may be surprised to find, looking through our literature, not much that tells what it was really like to work in the “field,” nor much about the methods employed in gathering data for any particular project in ethnomusicology. But one does get a sense that fieldwork meant—means—many different things to different scholars; many different things, indeed, in the career of any one scholar. As the history of ethnomusicology proceeded through the twentieth century, fieldwork changed radically, and many times, in its basic assumptions and execution; it has changed, as well, in my own several decades of attempts—and surely in the life of any of us who have been at it for several years.

In North America through the twentieth century (and, for that matter, in my own experience since 1950), the configuration, very, very roughly, went somewhat like this. Starting with simple “collecting”—we found an “informant” and asked him or her to sing for our recording devices, posing such questions as “What do you use this song for?” and “Where did you learn it?”—we proceeded to more general “hanging out” in a distant community, spending a summer, a year, attending events as they occurred and asking random questions. We began to engage in fieldwork by participating in the music we were studying—learning how to play and sing it—first often at our home institutions, then continuing in the culture’s home ground, putting ourselves as pupils in the hands of competent teachers, joining local groups or classes. We moved on to the idea of projects to answer specific questions. For example, in my research, I tried to figure out how the minds . . .

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