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Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society

by on November 27, 2011

“A glimpse of a woman working confirms that Bedouins live in these homes: one notes the distinctive glint of sliver on her wrists, a vibrant full- length dress gathered at the waist by a red cumber bun, a head covered in black.”

How often do we meet someone and think about what they looked like for the entire day? Yet when asked about what we saw,  we reply with a poor attempt to describe the conglomeration of what captured our sight in the first place. Every day we are doing some kind of field work or data collection whether we mean to or not. During fieldwork with a community or family we arrive as an outsider but the more time we spend around the group the more comfortable the group becomes with us. Lila Abu- Lughod becomes an adopted daughter. Her role changes from researcher to family member. This role shift creates change. She must put aside her previous life in order to learn the fullest amount about her study. She goes from being etic to emic. It allows her entrance to more information about the Bedouins. As a researcher and anthropologist are we privy to report on this? Are we allowed to report on information that would not be readily available to an outsider?

As humans and college students we want gossip. We have a leach like desire to find out the juicy information about things, people, ideas, etc. In field work where do we draw the line on what to report and what to keep secret. If we keep it secret is that considered bad field work? While immersing your self within a culture how much of our culture should we put aside. Do you think that it is more important to become part of the culture or to record the culture? Does the culture we study then become part of our culture.

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9 Comments
  1. Amanda K. permalink

    I think the drive to research (with the best methods) is inbuilt in the human psyche. We always want to understand everything and never stop exploring. We want to dig up and reveal the mysteries and secrets, and we won’t stop until we do, even if it means to interfere with anything and anyone. There’s no satisfaction. In some way, it’s good, because knowledge, in general, feeds us with information. Researchers research because they want to be helpful for those who are unable to perform such complex research. However, the drive to understand everything may someday destroy our mentality, methinks.

    The more knowledge we gain, the more questions we encounter, and thus the search and creation of more questions and theories goes on. I suppose in short from a psychoanalyst point of view, “if you are satisfied, you are death”.

  2. Megan Powell permalink

    I think your questions are really tugging at the fundamental dialectic between subjectivity and objectivity in field research. The broadest question might be, how objective can a researcher really be in field research? Or, is there such a thing as true objectivity? Or will our personal experiences both within our lives and within the research itself, along with our cultural practices and norms we abide by, amongst endless other factors ultimately effect the resulting research done. I tend to agree with this opinion: there is no true objectivity in our research because we can never truly separate ourselves from our own perspective of viewing the world — and this perspective changes from person to person. That being said, I think the more productive field research will include an account of the potential subjectivity of the researcher. There is something to be said about personal experiences within field research — they can sometimes be more illuminating of certain cultural aspects. For instance, wouldn’t the additional study of how a group of people reacts to the new researcher provide insight into the values, practices, social norms, and so on of that culture?The answer is inevitably yes.

  3. Fred Reisen permalink

    I believe that field work is a wholly subjective pursuit and although we may be able to recognize, to a degree, our subjectivity as fieldworkers I believe removing ourselves from it is more than difficult. It has been said in philosophy and undoubtedly many other realms of academia that objectivity is only synonymous with math and logic and that even in the measurements taken for scientific observation or the rules governing logical semantics there is always degrees of error resulting from our ‘humaness’ and can also be considered a degree of subjectivity. As some authors we have previously stated embracing and trying to recognize subjectivity is key. In regards to the question posed by Ryan I think that the best records of a culture can only come after one truly understands and is perhaps accepted by a culture. I think we must both remember and recognize our own cultural beliefs as well as try to not only learn but practice the cultural beliefs of the people we are studying enable to give an the most accurate account from an anthropological stance.

  4. amygraceaustin permalink

    I think Ryan brought up some very interesting and powerful questions that are necessary to address when conducting fieldwork. One thing that first comes to my mind is the importance of using pseudonyms to protect the identify of informants. By changing their names for publication, the anthropologist is given more leeway to reveal sensitive information if it cannot be tracked back to a specific person.

    Related to the question, “Do you think that it is more important to become part of the culture or to record the culture?” – I don’t think it is possible to sit back and simply “record” the culture and still be conducting authentic ethnographic research. Ethnography requires participant observation and becoming actively engaged with members of the culture and every aspect of daily life. This is not to say a researcher should seek to take on elements of the culture within themselves, but there is a certain level of openness and authenticity that is required when conducting research.

    Ryan also asked, “Does the culture we study then become part of our culture?”
    My response is yes. Every moment of our lives shapes who we will be in subsequent moments. The word “culture”, while often romanticized, simply means the way we think, the way we act, the way we interact with others, and the way we understand the world and ourselves. I, for a fact, know that my culture and my understanding of myself has dramatically changed as a result of my ethnographic experiences. I cannot say I am aymaran or that I fully understand what life is like for Ruth, my key informant, but I know that my views of the world will never be the same because those people have shaped me, just like each class discussion builds upon and alters my previous notions.

  5. Benjamin N. permalink

    I think that when immersing ourselves in a culture, we should keep our own culture and beliefs in mind and be aware of them, but try as best we can to observe with objectivity. I think it’s more important to record a culture than to try to become part of it, though we can certainly learn lessons from all walks of life and incorporate them into our understanding of the world. In this way, the culture we study can become part of our culture.

  6. punam123 permalink

    it is indeed necessary that we have enough information during the field work otherwise the research we are going to do lack something somewhere in the middle. but we also need to limit our work within the boundary, because we need to be aware whether the information we are receiving is going to affect the environment and people around us. Safety the important factor while doing research work for the researcher as well as out surrounding. In order to get the accurate information, its not necessary that we need to be part of the culture because in some culture, people do not like the outsider to be part of it. We can gain a lot of information just by observing. While observing the culture during the research work, we need to keep in mind the culture of our own.

  7. I love the questions that Ryan asks, because they really are vital to the study of field work. Really, what is ok for us to report? Can we just write about whatever we want and just have no care for the people and the environment, the culture involved? No. I think that the article for this week was important to understanding that, yes, there are some very important aspects of culture that need to be documented, but we don’t need to share every little detail. I also don’t believe that we should become part of those details, either. Just like our discussion with how vulnerable we should be as anthropologists, I believe that it is very important to remain in balance; we must always keep part of ourselves intact and private in order to keep our safety, research, and therefore our lives in tact. That being said, I do believe that there is some value to allowing part (but only part!) of ourselves the leniency to enjoy the culture we’re immersed in, to allow it to take an affect, because at the end of the day, if you cannot (or choose not) to identify with the culture you’re observing, then the entire point of anthropology seems void. Why study people if you have no intention of knowing them on more than just the observation level?

  8. I, like Laurissa, really appreciate the questions that Ryan has asked here. The one that interests me most is the question: Do you think that it is more important to become part of the culture or to record the culture? I think this is a rough question to answer because there is a point where being a member of that culture harms the work being studied. I have referenced it several times, but Paul Stoller faced similar issues with his work. If you become to engaged in the culture, then are you meeting the subjective requirements to successfully study a culture? However, that brings up the point, how can you really study a culture if you don’t allow yourself to be a part of it? It’s challenging to answer Ryan’s difficult questions because I don’t think there are any right answers. Or perhaps it is all case specific.

  9. I think it would be impossible to record a culture without immersing yourself into it. As humans we have primary feelings and emotions, and secondary feelings and emotions to the primary. When something scares or excites us, we react to that something in a certain way. Our secondary emotions are reactions to our primary emotions and so on. When studying a culture a researcher, unless completely disconnected with his/her studies, are bound to react to different experiences. Those responses whether they are ‘supposed’ to happen or not, happen, and this means the researcher is apart of the culture.

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