In graduate seminars, I remember long discussions about the positionality and identity of the researcher and how these would influence not only the interpretations of the results of one’s fieldwork but the results themselves. Depending on the research topic, the information obtained by a young, unmarried female anthropologist, for example, may be quite difference from that obtained by older and married male anthropologist. I think that this is fairly widely recognized in our field at this point.
One related thing that I have often wondered about and at which we only sporadically hinted in our discussions between professors and bright-eyed grad students was the impact of one’s personality on our fieldwork experience and results. We discussed behaviour, yes. We went over questions of how to go about introducing ourselves to potential informants, how to dress in a way that would not offend our hosts, whether or not to have sex with people in the field (yes, Concordia University is very liberated that way) and so forth. One of my fellow students even brought up the possibility that our hosts might be more comfortable talking about their lives if the ethnographer was willing to open up a bit about her own.
Of course, one’s personality and ideas have everything in the world to do with how one would deal with the situations mentioned above. One’s personality and self-concept will very likely determine whether an individual cares if his manner of dressing will offend members of the host group. This will also help determine one’s behaviour in various situations in addition to myriad other factors such as stress, relative comfort level, length of time in the community and so forth. Finally, one’s personality has much to do with how much one is willing to tell about herself.
However, we didn’t go too far into talk of personalities as such. Perhaps we were all a little worried about not fitting the bill if it turned out that, according to our profs, there was a standard personality type that was generally better suited to conduct ethnographic fieldwork.
One interesting that did come out during a one-on-one conversation with my thesis supervisor was that there might be particular personality types that are well suited for particular areas or for particular research topics. As I sat in her office with the pre-fieldwork jitters, she assured me that I had the right kind of personality for working with Natives. Although I could see why she would say that and felt that she was probably trying to make me feel better more than anything else, I wondered how one might be able to assess this. If we assume personality variance within the societies where we conduct research, is it really safe to say that researchers of particular personality types will be more or less successful?
I think it’s safe to say that one’s personality will influence one’s behaviour and therefore one’s results to the extent that personality influences one’s interactions. It certainly influences how well a researcher will get along with people in the field which will in turn affect the kinds of information that they will be willing to discuss. As mentioned above, however, there is no uniform personality in any location and therefore just about any ethnographer will find both people with whom s/he gets along and people with whom s/he doesn’t. Ultimately, then, any researcher, unless they are completely and utterly obnoxious and disrespectful, will probably manage to get along well enough with a large enough number of people to get the information that is required for his research.
The bottom line, I think, is that young ethnographers, such as myself, and ethnographers-to-be need not worry about how well we can live up to the caricatured image of the uppity authoritative scientist. In fact, as tacky as it may sound, I think it’s important for us to be ourselves in the field. What would be interesting to discuss, though, is how personality might affect the fieldwork experience, results and interpretation in ways similar to the various sorts of identities (gender, ethnic background, age, marital status, and so forth) that have been shown to inform our work.