When I was a graduate student ‘common knowledge’ was that anthropologists were notoriously private when it came to talking about their field experience, and part of our socialization was the stories about famous fieldworkers which passed down orally from generation to generation (the stories, not the fieldworkers). One of the things I want to make sure to do in the course on ethnographic methods that I’ll be teaching next semester is have my students read a short piece every week in which an anthropologist describes what their fieldwork was like. I think having some examples of fieldwork under your belt is probably the best way to help figure out what is unique (or not) about your own fieldwork.
I have some favorites that I will probably write a post about later on, but today I went to the library looking for more and I was, frankly, shocked at the tremendous number of anthologies that anthropologist have produced in which they have written short, informal pieces discussing their fieldwork. So here is some biography.
De Vita’s Stumbling Towards Truth is a classic account with a strong Baby Boomer Pacific Islands Studies vibe to it. A more recent volume, Dispatches From The Field is much more recent and written by people just finishing writing up. The chapter by Graham Jones on doing fieldwork with professional magicians in France is fun. There are other generic volumes as well, including Social Experience and Anthropological Knowledge as well as Anthropologists In The Field, Anthropologists In A Wider World, and The World Observed.
The other major topic that anthropologists love to talk about is sex and gender (‘gender’ here mostly meaning ‘being a woman in the field’). There are at least four volumes addressing this topic — Gendered Fields: Women, Men, and Ethnography (Martha Macintyre has a piece in here), Sex, Sexuality, and the Anthropologist, and Taboo:Sex, Identity and Erotic Subjectivity in Fieldwork (a Don Kulick production). On a related note, Out In The Field covers lesbian and gay field experiences.
Another popular topic long-term field research that fall in the ’emeriti remember’ category. An early and rather dry collection is entitled Long-Term Field Research In Social Anthropology. A more recent volume which includes issues of generational transition, is Chronicling Cultures: Long Term Field Research in Anthropology. A series of longer and sometimes more abstract essays is Others Knowing Others.
I think it is also worth giving some shouts out to people who have written about being both ‘native’ and an anthropologist. In particular I want to draw people’s attention to my colleague Ty Tengan’s Unsettling Ethnography: Tales of a ‘Oiwi in the Anthropological Slot, an article that is OPEN ACCESS AND FREE FOR DOWNLOAD which talks a little bit about being a Hawai’ian anthropologist. Anthropological Journeys covers similar ground, although with a strong focus on South Asia. Racing Research and Researching Race also deals with some of these issues, but as you can tell from the title the focus is more on racial identity than indigeneity.
The ethnographic tradition in sociology has produced even more literature than this, but I’ll stop there for now. Does anyone have any favorite essays which reflect on a concrete field research that they’d recommend?