Class Notes (806,817)
Canada (492,453)
Anthropology (273)
ANTH 1001 (146)
Lecture 5

Lecture 5.docx

13 Pages
Unlock Document

Carleton University
ANTH 1001
Bernhard Leistle

Lecture 5: Fieldwork as Method and Experience Before we continue with talking about ethnographic fieldwork as a method, let us take a look at the results to which it can lead, for example in Bronislaw Malinowski’Argonauts of the Western Pacific, arguably the most important single work in the history of modern anthropology. 1. Description of the Kula exchange system: Circular exchange of two kinds of valuables (vaguy’a): -arm shells (mwali) are highly coveted and traded at high prices (M. speaks of 30 pounds for certain shells!), so they are expensive and yet M. calls them meaningless and useless! But what then is money? -necklaces (soulava) are made of small discs of red spondylus shell which are a widespread element of ornamentation in the region. -kula-objects (vaygu’a) are not meant for being worn, and if they are, not by their temporary owners, but by people to whom they have been lent for the occasion. Passage 92/93: Description of the Kula system from the participants’viewpoint: Mwali shells come from the North and the East, Soulava necklaces from South and West. One receives them from one direction with one hand and passes them on into the other direction with the other. Passage 95/96 rules of exchange: “The main principle underlying the regulations of actual exchange is that the Kula consists in the bestowing of a ceremonial gift which has to be repaid by an equivalent counter-gift after a lapse of time, be it a few hours or even minutes, though sometimes as much as a year or more may elapse between payments.” (95) – the second important rule is that the equivalence of the counter-gift is left to the receiver and cannot be imposed on him. What is at stake is his reputation, and he might be called someone who does his Kula like bartering, that is without dignity. Conversely, success and grace in Kula builds prestige: “Success in Kula is ascribed to special, personal power, due mainly to magic, and men are very proud of it.Again, the whole community glories in a specially fine Kula trophy, obtained by one of its members.” (95) – material object, selfhood, magic and society are interwoven in the kula, making it total social fact in the sense of Mauss. -Kula partners are in a life-long relation with each other, and exchanges can only be done between partners. Exchange is therefore strictly regulated and limited. 1 -exchange relations are an indicator of prestige: a commoner has only a few kula partners, an important chief hundreds. But not every man (and it is a male affair, although the Trobrianders are matrilineal!) is involved in the kula, but only a certain portion of the population. -vaygu’a are almost never kept permanently but have to be passed on; if this passing on takes too long, one is called niggardly: “Thus every article moves in one direction only, never comes back, never permanently stops and takes as a rule some two to ten years to make the round.” (94) -Malinowski describes the Kula as contradicting the conventional definitions of economics (based on need, self-interested, profit-oriented etc.). “After all, it only consists of an exchange, interminably repeated, of two articles intended for ornamentation, but not even used for that to any extent. Yet this simple action – this passing from hand to hand of two meaningless and quite useless objects – has somehow succeeded in becoming the foundation of a big inter-tribal institution, in being associated with ever so many other activities. Myth, magic and tradition have built up around it definite ritual and ceremonial forms, have given it a halo of romance and value in the minds of the natives, have indeed created a passion in their hearts for this simple exchange.” (86) Why does he call it simple when has just described it as complex. Other associated activities: - Organization of seafaring expeditions in large canoes which often must be built for the purpose, or at least prepared. -secondary trade: a sort of import/export trade is going on with overseas traders taking the goods and resources with them they know the people at their destination are lacking, and in exchange for which they get what the others have to offer and they themselves lack. -ceremonies and feasts at the beginning and the end of an expedition. -magical rites (for examples over the canoes, so that they reach their destination safely) -rich Kula mythology To summarize the ceremonial character of the Kula: “We can well imagine that articles of wealth might pass from hand to hand without ceremony or ritual, but in the Kula they never do. Even when at times only small parties in one or two canoes sail overseas and bring back vaygu’a, certain taboos are observed, and a customary course is 2 taken in departing, in sailing and in arriving; even the smallest expedition in one canoe is a tribal event of some importance, known and spoken of over the whole district.” (102) 2. Introduction to Bronislaw Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific: “Subject, Method and Scope of this Inquiry” I want to discuss the text and using its main points to demonstrate the notion of fieldwork in anthropology, its problems and continued relevance. -the text in which Malinowski laid out for the first time a systematic program for doing anthropological research. Fieldwork had been done before, but never before in the manner set out by M., with a specific method (participant observation designed to arrive at defined goals (“native’s way of life”). At first Malinowski compares ethnographic fieldwork with the scientific standard of the time, laboratory experiments, and says that no one would dream to hope for his results to be acknowledged without giving an account of the arrangements of the experiments. He says that in the case of ethnographic fieldwork where the personality of the researcher informs crucially the kind of material and interpretations he or she gives, candor is even more important: “I consider that only such ethnographic sources are of unquestionable scientific value, in which we can clearly draw the line between, on the one hand, the results of direct observation and of native statements and interpretations, and on the other, the inferences of the author, based on his common sense and psychological insight.” (3) He then starts to talk about his arrival in the region, the South-West of Papua New Guinea and how his first attempts to establish contact and working relationships with the local people (“finding good informants”) were made difficult by his association with other white people. This leads him to formulate three principles of ethnographic research, that is fieldwork , calling the second the most elementary: “first of all, naturally, the student must possess real scientific aims, and know the values and criteria of modern ethnography. Secondly, he ought to put himself in good conditions to work, that is in the main, to live without other white men, right among the natives. Finally, he has to apply a number of special methods of collecting, manipulating and fixing his evidence.” (6) (the language seems a little odd here, but probably just repeats the scientific jargon of the time; 3 “fixing”, for example he seems to use in the sense of “recording”, “documenting”, but still, the terms feel a little ambivalent when applied to ethnography) These principles are to be distinguished from the goals discussed later in the text (statistic documentation of tribal organization, documentation of imponderabilia of life, collection of texts). He starts with discussing “proper conditions of ethnographic work”. First, he describes the situation of the fieldworker as unnatural, because he would “naturally” seek the company of his own kind, rather than that of “savages”.As his diaries have shown, Malinowski clearly talks about himself here, but he also set the standard for generations of fieldworkers: the first stages of fieldwork are a sort of proof by fire, an ordeal in which one has to overcome loneliness and depression. This kind of experience which is indeed very frequent and has given rise to the term “culture shock”, which was coined by an anthropologist, has also been instrumental in calling field work a “rite of passage” or “initiation” into the profession of anthropology. Fieldwork was and is something an anthropologist has to go through, like a soldier has to go through war, to know what the whole thing is about. Otherwise he or she (in this case it is probably appropriate to talk of “he”, since this is predominantly a manly affair. British social anthropology as a whole was,American cultural anthropology less so) just don’t know what the talk is about and is not taken seriously. Because it was seen as a personal experience which ritually transformed the individual into an anthropologist, it was also claimed until relatively recently that fieldwork couldn’t be taught. You either had it, or your didn’t; to immerse yourself into another way of life seemed to be so intimately connected with one’s whole personality that it didn’t seem to make sense to teach rules that applied to everyone. Malinowski suggested that the intense longing for human company would force one, in absence of alternatives, to seek out the presence of the natives to have social contacts at all. The social instinct was to be stronger than the cultural conditioning to associate with members of one’s own culture. Over time everybody, fieldworker and natives would get used to this unnatural arrangement, which is in a way indeed comparable to a kind of social laboratory and the local life would unfold before the ethnographer as if he or she wasn’t there. This is also one of the standard claims of ethnographic fieldwork/participant observation, the belief that the ethnographer can blend in, that he won’t alter the ways in which the local affairs 4 are carried out. This has probably to be called a myth. The presence of a stranger, and especially a stranger with an agenda such as the ethnographer must have a profound influence on everyday life, and particularly on how the group studied relates to this life. For when the anthropologist (when he or she is in the process of “data collection” we call him or her “ethnographer”) asks questions about social life and culture, the people under study are forced to adopt an outsider’s perspective on things they had until then been doing without reflecting on them. They have to seem their own culture as if it was another culture, they have to meet the ethnographer on a turf that lies between them. In this very important sense anthropology never studies the other culture as it is lived but only as it is interpreted for them. This leads to absurd and funny situations which are nevertheless, or precisely because of their absurdity deeply interesting anthropologically: Harry Wolcott, who did research in the 1960s among the Kwakiutl who had already been studied by Boas tells how one of his colleagues told him about this fantastic informant he had found who had this profound knowledge about traditional Kwakiutl culture. One day this colleague came back after an interview with his informant, deeply disappointed: He had asked the person a specialist question on an aspect of Kwakiutl culture and he or she had responded something like: “I don’t know, I’ll have to look it up in the book”. It turned out that the informant had been so great because she had quoted back to the anthropologist from a book another anthropologist has written a long time ago. This funny anecdote, however, points to the more serious issue that anthropologist inevitably influence the group they work with by forcing them to see themselves with the anthropologist’s eyes, or at least adopt a position from which they can speculate about how the anthropologist sees them. Today might not be so much of a problem anymore because after colonialism and globalization everybody knows already about this “Western”, “objectifying” gaze and knows what it is like. Take for example the proliferation of Western beauty ideals which brings people to whiten their skin, have their eyes surgically altered, their legs lengthened, etc. It is permissible to ask what harm an anthropologist can do under such circumstances asking people about their culture. But in the time of Malinowski this was different, and he, or any other anthropologist of his time, was unwilling or unable to see it. Another ethical aspect about participant observation arises from the degree to which it might be successful, the degree to which the people studied actually might forget that the anthropologist is an outsider who only stays temporarily and leaves again. The ethnographer covets such situations 5 because in them he gets the “real thing”, the “dirty linen”, the intimate details which often revolve around conflicts and tensions in the society. When this happens, betrayal is never far away, in some sense it is even built into the project of participant observation and ethnographic fieldwork. For the anthropologist intends to use these kinds of insights for his understanding and even to publish them in his ethnographic account. Horace Miner has expressed this quite clearly in his Nacirema piece: “These body rituals were secret but I gained the natives trust. Now I am going to describe them for you.” The anthropologist is always on duty, and it gets problematic for the people they study should they forget that this is the case; luckily they hardly ever do. (see also Rabinow’s use of symbolic violence in “Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco”). Malinowski then proceeds to show how anthropology has revised the image of “savage” or “primitive” life as without rules or simple and crude.Anthropology has demonstrated without a doubt that other, Non-Western, non-literary cultures possess complex social organizations, complex systems of religious beliefs and very intricate forms of etiquette. He also says that their artistic products often show aesthetic beauty. Malinowski is very convincing in his argument for the achievements of modern anthropology and it is in passages such as the following that he produces a new self-confidence for the emergent science: “The times when we could tolerate accounts presenting us the native as a distorted, childish caricature of a human being are gone. This picture is false and like many other falsehoods, it has been killed by science.” (11) The science which he refers to is ethnography and Malinowski establishes here the claim of anthropology to become the only specialist science for the culturally Other. This was his most important achievement in Argonauts, and it is in this sense that he might indeed be the single most important figure in the early history of the discipline. The first task of the ethnographer is the study of the principles of social and cultural organization and this is to be achieved by what Malinowski calls the “method of statistical documentation by concrete evidence”. From a collection of a significant number of concrete cases, for example crimes that have been committed, one can conclude to the underlying principles that inform jurisdiction in the society studied, the “tribal law”, and accordingly for other institutions. The result of this method is visualized in results such as diagrams, plans, tables, betraying again Malinowski’s background in the natural sciences. But even today there is tendency towards 6 regarding quantitative data as “more scientific”, more like the “real thing”, than qualitative description. Inferring general rules from concrete cases is necessary, says Malinowski, because the native is not able to see the systemic context, the “organic whole” of which he is part; in this he is just like the Western member of a modern institution like “the state”.After this truly relativizing statement follows one of those which betray how Malinowski himself was unable to transcend the historical context of his own time, right after claiming that the ethnographer possesses that ability for the native: “The difference (between modern and native society) is that, in our society, every institution has its intelligent members, its historians, and its archives and documents, whereas in native society there are none of these.” (12) I don’t think Malinowski consciously means to say that native people as individuals are intellectually inferior to the Western people, but he expresses the typical stereotype of a superiority of Western civilization which inspi
More Less

Related notes for ANTH 1001

Log In


Don't have an account?

Join OneClass

Access over 10 million pages of study
documents for 1.3 million courses.

Sign up

Join to view


By registering, I agree to the Terms and Privacy Policies
Already have an account?
Just a few more details

So we can recommend you notes for your school.

Reset Password

Please enter below the email address you registered with and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Add your courses

Get notes from the top students in your class.