We feature reflections on fieldwork. In particular, we invite thoughtful essays on the several dilemmas and serendipities that shape the everyday of ethnographic work.
21 April 2021
Confessions of an ethnographer: adapting to the new normal
Before the pandemic, eating local cuisine was one of the ways I participated in the daily lives of my research subjects. Rice, a variety of fish preparations, curries and the four to five daily cups of chai became a part of my field experience. In the field ‘you never say no to tea’ as denying a cup of tea can be taken as a sign of disrespect to the household, which meant I had tea with every family I visited. After seven to ten days in the field, I would often grumble about the sugary tea and only fish in my meals. But now, a year into the pandemic, my only wish is to return to field interviews, sitting with people as we sip tea and eat delicious fish meals.
29 March 2021
Playing a Different Game of Ball: Postdoc Memories
n this contribution, I trace the three years in which I worked, thought and changed within academia as a postdoc. Via a variety of poetic vignettes, I unpack feelings, thoughts and mo(ve)ments of irritation, growth, collaboration, success and failure within institutional structures of interdisciplinarity, intersectionality and different degrees of precarity. While these postdoc memories very much stem from my own lived experience, hopefully, they also stick and resonate with other academic workers such as postdocs-to-be, post-postdocs, or possibly postdoc supervisors. This poetic intervention gives insights into the working and living conditions of the many different postdoc positionalities, and aims to visibilize some of the stories, concerns and challenges that emerging academics struggle with.
06 March 2021
Writing Pandemics: A COVID Autoethnography
What I had not predicted about a COVID diagnosis was the guilt. I had spent months rearranging my life to protect myself from this virus. I had lectured my relatives about being “more careful.” I had passed judgment on people I thought were overly cautious, and I had passed judgment on people I thought were not cautious enough. Now it was finally here. If I die will you finish my book? I texted a friend, adding an ironic crying emoji to blunt the emotion. It was a kind of melodrama that I try not to betray myself to entertain.
05 March 2021
Baking my way through ethnography: cakey encounters with diabetes during a pandemic
These cakes took my interlocutors ‘back’ to the time when they could eat sweets, or rather weren’t medically advised not to. It reminded them of the freedom and privileges they’d enjoy – perhaps nostalgia was an important part of the lived experience of prohibition. The remembrance of taste past is essential to the sense of self. They would go into details – “have you eaten cutlet at Ohri’s? Before it became famous?”, “You put a plate of jalebis in front of me, I would eat the whole lot. Now I restrict myself to one or two”. My accidental “cake-carrying” behaviour, which came from being habituated to never going to someone’s house empty handed, turned into a point of conversation and a key to the materialization of my relationships with interlocutors…
20 January 2021
Ethnography on the Move: Doing Fieldwork on a Bicycle
Jonathan Shapiro Anjaria
I wondered, as the stereotypical image of the bicycle as the vehicle of last resort slowly crumbles, is there a space for new meanings, conversations, and ways of inhabiting the city? To answer this question, I first had to understand what the city looks like from the view of a bicycle. In the spirit of “ethnographer acting as a research instrument,” as Sam Ladner puts it, I made bicycling a key part of my fieldwork. I wanted to learn how traffic interacts from the perspective of a bicycle so I can understand how others learn that too. My goal was not to feel what other people feel on a bicycle, but to get as close as possible to other people’s experiences riding bicycles in Mumbai so I would know what questions to ask…
18 January 2021
Confessions from the Field
Anthropologists are the scientific storytellers of “culture.” But their stories and experiences of research are often left untold. Ethnography is inter-subjective; the anthropologist’s presence is the occasion and the context. To disregard the researcher’s experience in the field is both impossible and undesirable. The following essays document two very different experiences of fieldwork, both equally emotionally displacing. They raise questions such as: How far are you willing to go to complete your research? Can you justify crossing boundaries in order to find Self in Other? Who is your research really about? These stories turn the critical gaze back in on itself, in order to explore the arduous, complicated and sometimes confounding world of life in the field…
7 December 2020
From Hallway Hanging to Home on Zoom: What Happens to a School Ethnography During a Pandemic?
I used to sit in the back of Ms. Park’s first period class and observe the seniors repeating English III. I perched myself on the HVAC unit by the windows; that way, I could see the whole room without filling a student’s desk. It wouldn’t matter unless all the students showed up, which they never did. Still, I was always wary of taking up “too much” space when I was in the field. Now that the field is virtual, these worries are gone…