1/14/2013 4:51:00 PM Chapter 2 1/14/2013 4:51:00 PM
Fieldwork: A Meeting of Cultural Traditions
Someone shows up in a community, plans to be there for a year or
more, clams to be interested in the community‟s way of life, and
then spends all of his or her time interacting with people, making
observations, and taking notes.
Fieldwork not only broadens anthropological understandings of
cultural worlds but also transforms the self-understandings of
anthropologists and the people whom they world.
Interaction in the Field:
Before and after anthropologists enter the field, researchers consult
published literature and archives relevant to their research.
Often they conduct structured interviews. Sometimes the use
questionnaires and psychological tests, but they never rely solely
on such methods because, by itself, the information they produce
cannot be contextualized and may be highly misleading.
Therefore, anthropologists generally engage in methods of
It involves direct, face-to-face interaction between the researcher
and their local research partners, as they go about their daily lives.
It is the most productive method available to anthropologists who
seek a holistic understanding of culture and the human condition.
The Fieldwork Experience:
A projects success often depends on the researcher‟s ability to
obtain authorization to work in a particular place and acceptance
from the people who will be participants in the study.
Anthropologists who conduct field research much remember that
they are accountable not only to the people who fund their projects
but also to the individuals who allow them entry into their lives.
Modes of Ethnographic Fieldwork: A Short History:
The Positive Approach:
Its proponents based on their view of science on a set of principles
most fully set out in the writings of a group of influential thinkers known as positivists, who were active in the late 19 th and 20 th
Today, positivism has become a label for a particular way of looking
at and studying the world scientifically.
Positivists are committed to explaining how the material world
works in terms of material causes and processes that e can detect
using our senses.
To achieve this goal, they are also committed to a separation of
facts from values as part of scientific methodology. They justify this
separation on the grounds that facts relate to the nature of
psychical, material reality—what is—whereas, in their view, values
are based on speculation about what ought to be.
Positivists are convinced that a single scientific method can be used
to investigate any domain of reality, from planetary motion to
chemical reactions to human life. Some believe that all scientific
knowledge will ultimately be unified in a “theory of everything.”
The objective goal of the positivist program has been to produce
objective knowledge: knowledge about reality that is absolute
and true for all people, in all times and places.
Applying Positivist Methods to Anthropology:
For the positivists, the prototypical research scenario involves a
physical scientist in a laboratory.
Each research setting would correspond to a separate experimental
situation, a method called controlled comparison.
Anthropologists found themselves confronting a paradox.
In order to remain true to positivism, they had to record objective
facts from the perspective of an invisible observer; yet in order to
get closer to the truth, they had to admit that they were personally
involved in the situation.
Questioning the Positivist Approach:
In the 1960-70‟s, many assumptions about the way the world
worked were called to question, as was the nature of scientific
Anthropologists began to write ethnographies highlighting the ways
their own involvement with others in the field had contributed to
the growth of cross-cultural knowledge. At the same time, they noted that differently situated fi