Lecture Week 3 - Doing Ethnographic Fieldwork...

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Doing Ethnographic Fieldwork Anthropological activities are quite diverse, but in the ultimate end they all are based on ethnography . Ethnography is not only the major source of anthropological data and theory but also an important and unforgettable part of most anthropologists’ experience. Ethnography remains the major research tool of cultural anthropology. It includes both fieldwork among people in society and the written results of fieldwork. Fieldwork is the firsthand, intensive, and systematic exploration of a culture . The goal of fieldwork is to gather as much information as one can on a particular culture, or on a particular aspect of a given culture. Only by living with people and engaging in their activities over as long period of time as possible can we see culture in the holistic perspective. Good fieldwork is based both on the ethnographer’s ability to see things from the studied person’s point of view (the emic perspective) and on the ability to see patterns, relationships, and meanings that may not be consciously understood by a person in that culture (the etic perspective). Both terms are borrowed from linguistics. Emic consists in examining culture using concepts, categories, and distinctions that are meaningful to members of that culture. Etic consists in examining society using concepts, categories, and rules derived from the science of anthropology. It is an outsider’s perspective which those who are studied may not find meaningful. Cultural anthropology relies heavily on the firsthand observation of human behaviors as a means of collecting data and testing hypotheses generated by theories. Most anthropological theoretical approaches are not developed in quite corners of university libraries or laboratories.
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They evolve through continual testing among the people whose ways of life these approaches seek to explain. Anthropologists gather data in the field through first hand observation and reporting, living among the members of a group in an effort to understand their culture, behavior, and ways of thinking. There is more to fieldwork than simple observation, but it is first hand observation that gives anthropological reports a distinctive and vibrant quality. All anthropologists agree that fieldwork should be conducted in the native language. Beyond simple communicating, knowledge of the language is the key to the entire world of symbols and meanings that are so important a part of culture. (Recall the lecture on culture and language). Anthropology is unique among the sciences in that a human being is the major research instrument and other human beings supply most of data. At least in the initial stages of research – and usually throughout the fieldwork – ethnographers have to rely to a great extend on informants. Informants are people who through whom the anthropologist learns about the culture, partly by observation and partly by asking questions. They act as teachers and guides for anthropologists as they seek to
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Lecture Week 3 - Doing Ethnographic Fieldwork...

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