We feature reflections on fieldwork. In particular, we invite thoughtful essays on the several dilemmas and serendipities that shape the everyday of ethnographic work.



06 January 2022

We’re goin’ to the field site, I’m not afraid!

Myles Bittner

Ethnography as a researching practice cannot let this singular definition of fieldwork remain as the dominant narrative. While it took a pandemic for these unrealistic expectations to become clear for me, I know many colleagues who feel the same way. I believe it is time we openly discuss the dangers in this mindset, the one that says good ethnography can only happen when we abandon all that we know and give ourselves completely to our respective sites. Good ethnography happens when we as researchers care deeply about our participant communities and are invested in the work being done because it is a part of who we are. I was inspired in this reflection by a story I had long been familiar with during my years teaching. Michael Rosen’s “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” seemed to encapsulate that central idea of gathering the tools and equipment one needs for a long journey only to be frightened by what we see at the end. I have used Rosen’s well-known story to create my own version of what I thought I knew about ethnographic fieldwork.

30 July 2021

Mystical Encounter: Order, Power, and Anarchy in Arkadia

N. Bucky Stanton

Part of the machine is me — I am working as part of the topographical survey team for my dissertation research. Now in my second summer, my narrow investigation of the tools and procedures of archaeology has transformed into a far deeper engagement with not only the practices, but the social and cultural politics of historical knowledge. The excavation does not only contribute to the accumulation of material artifacts but also represents and enacts collective desires of what is legitimate evidence and valuable knowledge of the past. Yet, for many, including some archaeologists, it is as simple as digging old stuff up. As an anthropologist, however, the social and historical dynamics of the many practices, discourses, and sociotechnical systems which create the Greek past, and future, inspire a different appreciation. For me, archaeology creates, dismantles, and moves through many worlds of meaning. The critical questions are who gets to shape these worlds, and why?

27 May 2021

Absence in the Time of Covid

Poulami Roychowdhury

Absence tends to create disregard especially when the ethnographer is socially advantaged relative to her research subjects (which is almost always the case). Disparate levels of privilege and social realities encase the three years I will be separated from the place and people I study. I live in Canada, a welfare state with universal healthcare and paid parental leave. I have a tenure track job and earn a decent salary. I am rarely physically vulnerable or emotionally distressed. Perhaps Sextus lived in a world where Roman culture and Roman institutions were so ubiquitous, he could move anywhere in the empire and still be surrounded by the sounds, smells, food, sociality, daily routines, and basic expectations that surrounded him when he was physically close to his beloved. Maybe that’s why he was able to muster up the requisite love (and go further, aggrandize it!) while he was away. I frankly know very little about ancient Rome, so I am unable to verify this supposition.

20 May 2021

My Time with the Anons: Making My Digital Self with Conspiracy Theorists

Peter Forberg

When I told my advisor that I was going to pursue a broader study of QAnon, one that would require befriending many more conspiracy theorists online, she (understandably) offered cautionary advice and asked that I take the necessary precautions to not get harassed or put myself in unnecessary danger. In a sudden episode of paranoia, I decided that anonymity, not complete transparency, would be my friend. Anonymity was the primary safeguard against doxxing — the tactic of uncovering an online user’s personal information and leaking it to those who could target my university, employer, or friends and family with harassment and threats. My fears weren’t entirely unfounded.

21 April 2021

Confessions of an ethnographer: adapting to the new normal

Ishita Patil

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

Friederike Landau

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

Gowri Vijayakumar

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.

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