Skip to content

Looking at the social relations of fieldwork..

by on December 6, 2011

At the beginning of the semester, our class briefly discussed this concept of “us” versus “they” and what that means.  If I remember correctly, the class decided “us” is when we act/do according to the benefits of ourselves in our culture and “they” referring to the other person, the other culture.   In an anthropological setting, these two concepts combined, along with other methodologies, fit the mold of an ethnographic study.  In the article Holding the Story Forever: The Aesthetics of Ethnographic Labour by Paige West, she argues that ethnographic work is constrained by institutional demands and leaves out crucial information for the reader.  That crucial information is the social relationship between the anthropologist and informant.  The day-to-day interactions, until recently, have been left out.  West suggest “they fail to examine the ways in which anthropologists themselves experience the practice of ethnography and the ways in which ‘the field’ transcends space and time as we carry it with us in our-social and academic lives”(268).  In this article, West looks at the “social relations of fieldwork, the bodily experiences of being ‘in the field’ and the ways in which our fieldwork experiences are tied to the ‘shadow dialogues’ in which we participate” calling it ‘ethnographic sociality’ (268).

West provides an example of her ‘in the field’ in Papua New Guinea through a card game she played with a couple of the villagers.  She describes the setting and the creation of space that she provides as an outsider and a space that she enters.  Within those spaces, “a third subjectivity and a kind of intersubjectivity that is separate from the subjectivity,” begin to unfold (273).  This becomes a ‘third time space’ that West thinks needs to be acknowledged and analyzed.  By incorporating the ‘third time space,’ a more interconnected story unfolds.  This ‘third time space’ adds a truth to the story that last forever.

This viewpoint, along with many we have discussed in class, suggest a new way of thinking different from out western standards that “the past, present, and future are fixed in time and space” (274).  Perhaps we should be incorporating different viewpoints toward culture and nature.

This article seems like an example of the Peets and Watts article on Liberation Ecology…, Peets and Watts are suggesting we must free our western views on society and culture that are fixed in time and space and instead, study other methodologies.

Now that we have reached the end of the semester, do you view ethnographic work differently?  Do you think ethnographies should incorporate a more personal side or should that be left out?  If you were in the field right now, do you think you would altar anything about yourself to ‘fit’ into that culture better?


From → Uncategorized

  1. janellekramer permalink

    To answer your second question, Yes, I believe the ethnographer should weave a more personal narrative into their reports. It is impossible to understand how a culture is being seen if we don’t understand who’s looking. Including the background and experiences of the author allows the reader to feel more connected to the culture in question than if that background were not included.
    Also, to answer the third question, I would probably alter things about myself to fit into the culture better. Most of the things I would change would probably not be conscious, either. For example, in Spain, they eat dinner at 10 pm. My friend and I, when in Madrid, ate dinner at around 9 or 10, not because we didn’t want to be weird eating at 6 or 7, but because most restaurants were temporarily closed during “normal” dinner time. It would be really easy to change habits to better fit into a foreign culture.

  2. Benjamin N. permalink

    As a result of this semester, I absolutely view ethnography differently. I think ethnography should certainly use a personal perspective to get the points across. A personal narrative gives us a human experience, and without the human experience, we can find it difficult to relate to the ethnographer and the people being studied, which can make it more difficult for us to see the point. If I were out in the field, I wouldn’t try to pretend I could fully change and integrate myself into a culture, but I’d certainly make changes to make it easier to accomodate me and for them to go about daily life. After all, every culture has its own way of operating. It would be ignorant to ask an entire group of people to change the way they live their daily lives just for me.

  3. punam123 permalink

    Doing a field work is all about understanding and observing a culture. If the person who i am working with or the place and the people do not want me to integrate just observe then i would do that otherwise i would still integrate myself in understanding the culture better. To understand a culture, its not necessary that we need to fit in by hook or crook. We also need to keep in mind what the participants wants and respects their ideas.

  4. I was unaware that a third subjectivity was missing, but I realize (quite strongly) that there is a third person view that everyone has, especially one that we use in order to analyze ourselves and react appropriately in new situations. Perspective is powerful. Life without a “third person view” would be vastly different and I agree that it should be incorporated into ethnographic works. It’s also the best tool that humans have for adjusting socially and influencing others. I would love to see an example of this used in anthropology. It’s hard to imagine any non-fiction author discussing a situation in third person subjective language in addition to what is already present in most works. I’m sure, though, that it would be an eye opener.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: