We feature reflections on fieldwork. In particular, we invite thoughtful essays on the several dilemmas and serendipities that shape the everyday of ethnographic work.
26 April 2023
Ethnography at Midlife
Z Fareen Parvez
I always embraced some element of hauntedness as part of the pain and reward of ethnography. But at midlife, it feels a little more serious, something to consciously consider, and not something to casually play with. After all, certain kinds of field sites might carry the potential to stir up grief, traumas, fears, and questions about the future that were neatly buried inside or that didn’t seem relevant before. I knew these questions bobbed around inside me, but I wasn’t ready for the turmoil they would create.
21 April 2022
For a Different Academic Politics of Waiting
Hence, maybe we can grasp waiting as an impasse, the space of waiting as a wormhole, the embodied act of waiting as suspension in the cut. In other words, waiting can feel like being stuck in the mud, wanting to reverse and get the hell out of there. Yet, when understanding waiting as a political act to dwell in an impasse which will not fade away (but which is not menacing either), new opportunities of academic survival can arise. The politics of waiting I propose embrace the impasse as a space of catching your breath for possibilities beyond waiting, and the relief to be found when cuddling with the impossible. These dances at the verge of the impasse evoke a sense of time, timing, endurance, delay, a thrill. This conception of waiting as continuous impasse chimes with the visceral experience of constantly running against deadlines, schedules, time windows we have set up for ourselves: two hours of ‘deep work’ going by without having written a word. Noisy blankness. Academic speed – for better or for worse.
02 March 2022
Marooned on a Tropical Island; Trying to Write
Unable to shift my geographical location, I changed my literary landscape. Reading anything other than ethnographies, anthropological texts, and social science research, I ranged over writings on food, nature, films, and travel. I explored literary fiction, short stories, essays, plays and especially poetry. Even Facebook despatches, Instagram posts and tweets on mythology, symbols, rituals, and horror fed my ravenous curiosity. In these plots overgrown with all forms of free and feral thoughts which fertilized each other with wild abandon, I foraged to nourish my research and writing. Picking up, looking over, holding, discarding, returning to, rethinking, and preserving scraps of information, insights and inspirations constituted my methods.
06 January 2022
We’re goin’ to the field site, I’m not afraid!
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?