Returns to the Field: Multitemporal Research and Contemporary Anthropology

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Toggle navigation Menu. Name of resource. Problem URL. Describe the connection issue. SearchWorks Catalog Stanford Libraries. Disasters in field research : preparing for and coping with unexpected events.

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Responsibility Gillian H. Ice, Darna L.

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Dufour, and Nancy J. Online Available online.


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Full view. Green Library. F53 I35 Unknown. More options. Find it at other libraries via WorldCat Limited preview. Contributor Dufour, Darna L. Stevens, Nancy J.

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Professor of functional morphology and vertebrate paleontology. Bibliography Includes bibliographical references and index. What is so special about it? I think the distinction between what we do and what nonanthropologists do is important to clarify for the future of the discipline. The main point I wish to make is that whereas others separate ethnography from anthropology, we insist that they are inseparable. Others do not realize the epistemological consequences that arise from such a separation.

I state my view on other disciplines with some confidence, for it is based on knowledge obtained during several short but intensive periods of observation. During three sessions as a member of the evaluation committee for handing out European Research Council ERC Advanced Grants, and one session on the committee that gave Consolidation Grants, I read several hundred applications.

The applicants and the committee members came from a range of social sciences and humanities. As usually the only anthropologist on the committee, I scrutinized the methods section of the applications from nonanthropologists, and I began to observe that applicants increasingly stated that that they intended to employ ethnographic fieldwork, or that ethnography was one on their proposed methods.

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Sometimes the applicant would state that they would combine methods from several disciplines that included anthropology. I began to see it as one of my duties to not let such statements pass unchallenged. Two important findings emerged from my work on the committees. It was up to me to draw their attention to the problematic usage of the terms.

It became a bit of a joke, but I managed to alert my colleagues to the difference between ethnography as some kind of limited qualitative method of collecting data, and the kind of ethnography that is part and parcel of anthropological research. I agree that this is exactly the point. This is precisely what I tried to do during my time on the ERC committees. So, why has it become so popular to claim ethnography as a method in other disciplines? Others want to break away from the library.

None of this qualifies as ethnographic fieldwork or falls within the discipline of social anthropology—not least because it separates ethnography from anthropology. Enough of that.

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Why do I get worked up? And what do I mean by ethnographic fieldwork? And in what ways is it different from what so many others say that they do? What would I say to a student planning to do fieldwork in, for example, eastern Indonesia where she wanted to study changes in marriage practices?

You must live in a community in a household, converse in the local language, participate in daily chores and on special occasions and, in order to understand the marriage practices—old and new—you need to understand their values more generally; those that are expressed in seemingly unrelated domains, such as in their economic transactions, their political and religious practices and, of course, their gender values.

Moreover, you need to prepare yourself for the fieldwork by reading published ethnographic studies about the chosen region, and familiarize yourself with theoretical debates about kinship. You have to be present to observe and you have to place actions into a wider context and interpret them in the light of other practices and statements. The advice would in principle not be different should she chose to study a social domain in Europe.

As we all know, and what those who undertake qualitative research often fail to appreciate, is that what the people we study say they do and why is often very different from what they actually do. This becomes apparent only through long-term fieldwork. Only then will the magic of serendipity come into play.

Serendipity, in contrast to what many believe, is not just a chance event. One point that was lost in the debate was that unless fieldwork continues to be undertaken all over the world, there is no anthropological debates and writing to be done.


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So I read the rest of his article with anticipation, only, I am sorry to say, my anticipation was not rewarded. In his last paragraph I am left more confused than ever. Let us go back to our foundational forefather, Bronislaw Malinowski.


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  • David Holmberg.

Its principles apply today as much as then. They apply not just to those undertaking fieldwork in small communities far away but equally to those studying groups or institutions in their own country. Anthropology is a comparative discipline.

David Holmberg | Anthropology Cornell Arts & Sciences

Our aim is continuously to expand our knowledge about the way humans organize their lives. I am convinced that anthropology will not survive as an academic discipline unless at least half of our new recruits are driven by a sense of adventure to undertake long-term fieldwork in faraway places; to go out to confront the radically unknown and come to grips with it, rendering it understandable, indeed probable.

When all is said and done, cultural relativism is our trademark. This is how we differ from the other social sciences. We have no future as armchair anthropologists. Anthropology as an academic discipline without fieldwork would have very little to offer the academic world, or the world at large, about human potentiality and the vast variety in modes of social life.

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