Quantifying Fieldsite Fashion

A discussion I have been having with other Pacific scholars about trends in the field sites of anthropologists has prompted me to survey SM’s savvy readership on sources of actual hard data about popular fieldsites today versus yesterday. Does anyone out there in cyberspace know of studies that collate or quantify the locations of today’s anthropological (sociocultural) research projects? Does anyone out there know if there are studies that compare contemporary trends to those from, say, the 1960s? I know that there are a couple of places that Ph.D. topics are listed, but I am wondering if there is a paper somewhere that has analyzed the data.

The background: There is a general perception amongst anthropologists (I think!) that fieldwork and research in so-called remote places or in traditionally exotic locales is diminishing, while ethnographic research in metropolitan centers and amongst highly mobile populations is increasing. Some of us are wondering if this perception is born out by the actual facts…

Any assistance from SM readers on this topic would be most appreciated.

11 thoughts on “Quantifying Fieldsite Fashion

  1. ‘Strangers in France’ by Susan Carol Rogers has figures for Europe – in Europe in the Anthropological Imagination ed. Susan Parman, 1998.

    FYI – As of 2002 (my phd awarded) my fieldsite in former east germany still not considered ‘real anthropology’

  2. Um…what counts as remote? Native Aemrican reservations are traditional anthropological areas of study but I would hesitate to call many of the “remote.” What about a relatively isolated village in Eastern Europe or Highland Scotland: Is that remote?

    The other question is what we mean by “traditionally” exotic. Is that Africa, the Pacific Islands, Indigenous South America and East Asia? How does the anthropology of Japan and Korea or the anthropology of other geographic areas fit in when many studies in these areas have focused on people in urban areas (albeit enacting “traditions” such as Sumo or Shamanism for example.)?

  3. Yeah that’s part of the issue — what counts as remote or traditional or exotic or whatever. All of those categories reproduce margin-periphery relations that are really very problematic, especially from an anthropological point of view, and makes getting ‘data’ on the sort of trend we have been discussing tough I guess.

    I mean, take my own research in highland New Guinea. Here is a very so-called traditional fieldsite in a ‘remote’ place (although by PNG standards, my fieldsite is not at all hard to get to). And yet, for several weeks when I first arrived way back in 1998, my overall impression was that highland New Guinea was like the place I grew up: central Nebraska. Almost everyone was a Protestant Christian farmer. Lots of buildings in the main town are made out of corrugated tin. Etc. It was sort of a funny first impression. Exotic? In some respects, no. I went to Christian revival meetings where the hymns had the sort of melancholy tonal quality that I remembered from my childhood church experiences in evangelical congregations.

    Anyway, defining the categories for the analysis is, as you point out, the problem. That’s why I was hoping someone else out there had already done all that and published an analysis!

  4. I had the same experience as Strong. Granted, my fieldsite was only a hundred or so miles away from where I grew up (also Nebraska — yay!) but the Meskwaki — widely described in the literature as one of the most conservative of American Indian peoples — seemed very failiar to me from my first day on the Settlement. The Powwow reminded me more of our family reunions in Wisconsin than of a secular ritual in another culture (if my Protestant grandparents had replaced “big bologna” with Indian tacos, that is).

  5. This would make a great BA or MA thesis project if there are any SM readers out there looking for a satisfying little exercise in data analysis…. 🙂

  6. everyone seriously what year is it? we have this technology and the access to the internet, why isn’t the AAA enlisting designers to make an amazing site with features such as a global map and a dynamic interface that lets us go on and just puruse the globe as to where everyone is and what they are doing (and potentially blogging about and linking to that site) in one centralized location for the advancement of the field. If i had resources, I would capitalize on this so hard it would be one an amazing site because I would enlist a bunch of RISD grads to design it, and two an amazing resource. We are so far behind where we should be in clear information exchange it is getting to be ridiculous. I am working on putting together somethign like this but I don’t have the resources yet, once I do you’ll see, we will change the way that research and academia are even thought about. For now I just have to finish undergrad.

    Cheers from Boston University (the school with the worst faculty and anthro department prossibly on the planet):

    Christopher Brennan

  7. It doesn’t seem like categorization would be all that problematic really, that is if you redefine the stated goal of such a study. If one were to do a straightforward comparison of the most popular fieldsites from a half-century ago to those that are most popular now, and subject that data to a few cross-sections looking for differences in average population density, distance from a major metropolitan area, access to public services like electricity, running water, etc etc, then you could build a picture I think. You just have to kind of make categorization a non-issue by not categorizing, and instead use data as the yardstick.

    Or, if one really did want to define a couple really basic categories, you could do so based on a simple urban/suburban/rural scheme. Does a fieldsite exist in a location where a researcher can gain a good amount of data on the community as a whole, or do they have to narrow their focus to a couple city blocks? Is the community a regional economic hub, or is it a satellite community whose members migrate to a more concentrated area for work? Or is it a relatively self-sustaining community altogether?

    The results might thus not give you a specific answer as to “are anthropologists still interested in Native American communities” but it would show any changes in the data on those characteristics that might lead you to a more general conclusion. For more specific answers you might want to do several analysis of specific areas in their own right.

  8. Perhaps Christopher Brennan can incorporate itsalljustaride’s parameters when he develops his fieldwork over time interactive map!

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