Working the Field: Accounts from French Louisiana

Working the Field: Accounts from French Louisiana

Working the Field: Accounts from French Louisiana

Working the Field: Accounts from French Louisiana

Synopsis

This book presents accounts of fieldwork conducted in French Louisiana by anthropologists and folklorists between the 1970s and 2000 and looks at the personal, ethical, political, and scientific issues researchers need to confront and resolve when they attempt to explain a modern complex culture by using the traditional tools and methods of anthropology, participant observation, and interviews.

The study casts a critical look at the core anthropological concepts of field, informants, and knowledge. In line with the ongoing reassessment of these concepts, it proposes that the field, identities, and knowledge acquired through research are not set, given entities but rather are a matter of construction. It shows how the personal profiles of the researchers (native or outsider, activist or academic, man or woman, black or white) contribute to frame the research. It illustrates the shifting of these identities during and after the research in response to personal, relational, and political circumstances. It also considers the application of the knowledge derived from research in the fields of tourism, cultural activism, and language policy in the context of the cultural renaissance experienced by Cajuns and Creoles over the past decades.

Excerpt

Jacques Henry and Sara LeMenestrel

This book proposes an examination of the practice of fieldwork by social scientists interested in Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole cultures. It presents a collective reflection on the methodological issues faced by social scientists doing qualitative research in a modern complex society among large groups of people deemed to share a common heritage. We give particular attention to the concept of field and the complex relationship between researchers, informants, and other participants in the cultural environment. We cast an in-depth and critical look at the social implications and the possible applications of the knowledge acquired through our research.

We argue for the continued relevance of fieldwork as a tool to acquire knowledge of culture and to inform actions of social change. Contributing to the ongoing debate on qualitative methodology in the social sciences, we examine the changes researchers make to adjust to the new conditions faced by anthropology in a postcolonial and postmodern world. We do so by empirically illustrating how the debated issues (location of field, exercise of power, applied anthropology) are intertwined in our experience of fieldwork in French Louisiana. We discuss how the methods used and the conditions of the research in the field have shaped theoretical choices and our findings. Instead of the traditional presentation of results focusing on the “what we found,” we approach the process from a “how we found it” perspective. How have the physical characteristics of the territory, the location and locating of informants, the perceptions of all involved, and our personal profiles contributed to frame and influence the research? How do the global and local, the physical and virtual, meet and collide? Despite the physicality of the terrain, how discrete is the Louisiana field? Is there one field or a plurality of fields? In addition, we have various degrees of at-

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