Doing Ethnography and the Challenges of Fieldwork HS 3630f October 28th& 30th,2013 Readings: Bolton and Simon
Outline of lecture Contextualizing the readings Review of Bolton and Simon’s articles“Doing fieldnotes”
Memoirs of a neophyte
“yes, I am the token White guy”
Contextual information: key terms Ethnography: literally, it means “a description of a people or ethnic group”It also refers to the published accounts or books that contain our descriptions (ethnographies) Our fieldwork is also referred to as ethnography
Participant-observation Researcher joins the group, spends significant time observing their interactions, and participates in as many domains of social life as possible •Traditionally, this meant living for years with a group of people, learning their language, being ‘adopted’ and given a name by the hosts, marrying into the group, dressing and eating like locals, and undergoing religious or ritually prescribed transformations en route to becoming “one” with the group
Why or why not?
P-O, cont’d•A major shift occurred in how social scientists approached, understood, and wrote about fieldwork and doing ethnography during the 1980s •We began to realize that objectivity is sometimes impossibleand that our presence often generates significant socio-cultural change within the societies we study •Is objectivity always necessary?? •Linked with the need to include ‘ourselves’ as players in the construction of knowledge and some of the problems that we encounter in the field
The “reflexive turn”•The necessity of analyzing our methodologies using similar principles that we adopt to analyze our field sites •Do our methods “fit” within our fieldwork context?•i.e., is a survey the best way to gather data about the construction of sexuality? •While doing my doctoral research I tried be conscious of my own experiences across different domains of human activity ▫Are the Devadasis’ideas about sex, men, their bodies, menstruation, raising children, and so on that different from mine? ▫Am I aware of the cultural lens through which I am gathering and analyzing my data?
The world according to me •Between the beginning of the ‘reflexive turn’ and now, there were some theoretical and methodological growing pains •The subjective pendulum swung too far and some anthropologists began to write about ethnography mainly from their own experiences •Problems: the primacy of the anthropologist over the research participants, “poor me” narratives, and a brand of post-modernism that seemed a bit too big for its own britches
Classic example of auto/self reflexivity: Ruth Behar
Participant (?)-observation •A component of our re-evaluation about doing ethnography involves asking the question: how much do we “really” participate in the lives of the people we work with?