Disorientation, Dissonance, and
Altered Perception in the Field
Empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that
is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is
THE CONDITIONS OF FIELDWORK, wherever this work may occur and whatever these conditions may constitute, are invariably different from those we enjoy or endure in our most customary surroundings. As we progressively adapt to the unfamiliar context of the field, the conventional structures that directed our lives increasingly exert by their growing distance a more remote influence. Once these familiar bindings are somewhat loosened, not only are new aspects of our emotional and imaginal lives freed for expression, but our practical and emotional adjustment to the novel site often produces new personal affects that are not immediately familiar to us. Our slow integration into the field, in other words, by either loosening existing ties or forcing new adaptations, commonly generates new states and ways of being significant to the work we undertake.1
While such reflections will interest the psychologist concerned with processes of human adaptation, when considered in the context of anthropology they become immediately relevant to the realm of methodology. For in a discipline where immersion in the field is essential to the generation of our disciplinary knowledge, we must enquire how far the human consequences of such immersion affect these very processes of production. And it is precisely this enquiry which I shall undertake in this current chapter.
By broaching this consideration we at once confront many difficult questions. Firstly, if the sum total of each fieldworker's different history, personal ability, and prior experience of cultural difference renders his or her field experience somewhat idiosyncratic, is a study aiming to identify general field