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Lecture 3

AN101 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: James George Frazer, Serendipity, Ethnocentrism

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Amalia Philips

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Lecture Three: Doing Anthropology: Fieldwork in ‘unfamiliar’ and ‘familiar’ places
September 22, 24, 26
Ethnographic Field Work
An extended period of close involvement with the people in whose way of life
anthropologists are interested, during which they collect most of their data
“Quintessential anthropological experience,” but personal and unique
Journey of discovery “ethnographic serendipity” (unexpected, exciting discoveries)
Discovery about ‘self’ and ‘others’ through ‘reflexive’ interchanges
Ethnography: written description. “Empirical and descriptive results of fieldwork”
(Malinowski, 1966:9)
Fieldwork as “Rite of Passage”
From immature student to professional anthropologist (Ph.D) change status
Marked by separation (from familiar place) transition (unfamiliar place),
reincorporation (back home), member of the club (professional anthropologist)
Within the transitional space, you are always a student learning from people you are
studying. Learns from informants “subjects” of study: are teachers & informants
There is a lot of focus on treating people not just as informants but also as
collaborators. Informants transform from subjects to collaborators
Participant Observation
The method anthropologists use to gather information by living and working with
people whose culture they are studying while participating in their lives as much as
“Going native” immersion into community. Becoming a native by dressing like
them, visiting homes, being part of their community as much as possible
Looking “from the insider’s point of view” studying culture from the ‘inside’
Face-to-face interactions between researcher and their subjects as they go about
their daily lives (general involvement in other ways of life)
Suspend ‘judgement’, pre-conceived notions about others
Not armchair anthropology (James Frazer The Golden Bough)
Not the verandah approach (from a distance); you go to the informants, not reverse
Translating data into anthropological terms/language (this is the goal)
Value of Ethnographic Fieldwork
Began in the 20th century
In the 19th century people studied other societies and cultures, but they often lacked
evidence for their generalizations
Field research corrects false assumptions about other cultures
This also leads to increased understanding/decrease misunderstanding because we
have more knowledge due to intensive fieldwork (years spent in a culture)
Avoid culture bound thinking, ethnocentrism
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Avoid naïve realism (idea that everybody thinks and behaves the same way)
Enables self-reflection of own culture
Allows us to acquire knowledge, we need to think critically about this knowledge,
not only about the knowledge that we produce but what other anthropologists
produce as well. Critical thinking, producing knowledge.
Preparations: Finding a ‘problem’ or issue to study
- Testing of a hypothesis
- Finding correlations (E.g. AIDS and Prostitution)
- Studying in the functionalist thinking, studying a particular institution, practice
and their meanings and functions
- Studying other ways of life (Foraging culture)
- Applied projects Development Project (doing something in order to make specific changes)
Locating a ‘field,’ site(s)
Multi-sited fieldwork (global interconnections, historical impacts, external impacts
on cultures). Eric Wolfe (studied Europe and the people without history. Argued that
the world is an interconnected system and early researchers talk about non-Western
societies as societies without any history until they were colonized. He argued that
this is not true.; E. Wallerstein (talks about interconnections)
The site that we choose is shaped by issue/problem
Convenience is it possible for me/my situation?
Practicalities can I research this place? What are the problems?
By gender, safety
Field Preparation
Funding (you must have money for your research)
Can make a research proposal, ethics review process
Have to get permission from the host country/community that you are studying
Affiliations with an institution
You have to have local contacts (somewhere to go and stay)
Medical insurance/shots
Towards a ‘decolonized anthropology
Give voice to ‘subjects.The subjects have valuable points to say
Collaborative, participatory action research (PAR) involve people in your research:
they collect the data for you
‘Deparochialization’ of research ethic equal partnership of western and non-
western anthropologists including knowledge produced by both. Everybody has the
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