This article discusses structural, logistical, and administrative issues associated with the use of participant observation assignments in teaching the anthropology of religion. Fieldwork presents extraordinary opportunities for teaching students about the nature of cultural difference, but it also poses pedagogical challenges that require careful planning and supervision. The article reviews problems including the scope and nature of the observation, student preparation and guidance, connecting with fieldsites, presentation formats, issues of ethics and confidentiality, and university administrative considerations.
A Practical Guide
In this article I explore links between fieldwork experience and different conceptions of time as they are encountered in what I term 'episodic fieldwork'. I use 'episodic' to emphasize the importance of absence and return for fieldwork relationships and the ethnographies that are founded on these relationships. I draw on Simmel's concept of sociability to explore the significance of the recurring updates that are so much a part of long-term and thus episodic fieldwork. Updating suggests participation, positionality, and transformation-as well as play and familiarity. The presumption of familiarity, which is at the heart of sociability, becomes a tool for exploring time and new social experiences and the ways in which chronology is interwoven with shifting social positions.
Into the New Century
George E. Marcus
Classic conditions of fieldwork research, to which anthropology remains committed, are difficult to establish today within far-reaching projects of neoliberal economy, governance and philanthropy. The forms of collaboration on which these projects insist, and those that ethnography encourages for its own research purposes, must be reconciled. On the bargains or adjustments that anthropology makes with neoliberal projects, within which it establishes scenes of fieldwork, depends its capacity to produce critique - its primary agenda since the 1980s. These issues are what are at stake in the widespread current discussions of, and hopes for, an 'engaged' anthropology.
Helle Bundgaard and Cecilie Rubow
This article discusses the teaching of anthropological fieldwork during a period of comprehensive educational reforms in Danish universities. We trace widely held conceptions of fieldwork among master’s students of anthropology and the efforts they make to live up to what they assume to be classic fieldwork. We argue that the ideals of classic fieldwork too often fail to support the learning process when fieldwork is squeezed into the timeframe of the curriculum and show how fieldwork as part of an educational programme can be mentored by online feedback. Our suggestion is that cooperative reflection during fieldwork can improve the quality of the empirical material and the analytical process significantly.
The Genealogy of a Diary in Response to Rabinow's Reflections of Fieldwork in Morocco
Daniel Martin Varisco
In preparation for writing an ethnographic monograph on fieldwork in Yemen, I compare and contrast my field diary, written in 1978–9, with Paul Rabinow’s Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco (1977). The underlying question is what post-fieldwork reflections reflect meaningfully about the immediacy of ethnographic fieldwork? I criticise the reflexivist trope of privileging ‘writing culture’ over the significance of ‘being there’ in the field. Point by point, I examine the implications of graduate training in anthropology, culture shock, health problems, language skills, the unreflective male voice, visual ethnography and the rhetoric of narrative writing.
Political Transformation and Recent Ethnographic Fieldwork in Iran
Mary Elaine Hegland and Erika Friedl
In the 1970s social cultural anthropology in Iran was beginning to flourish. However, with the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent Islamic Republic of Iran, fieldwork in Iran became extremely problematic. Foreign anthropologists faced formidable obstacles to obtaining visas and permits. Anthropologists working inside Iran were also discouraged from anthropological participant observation. As a result, during the post revolutionary period, few anthropologists have been conducting fieldwork in Iran. Recently, some hopeful signs for a possible reestablishment of anthropology can be noted, among them the return of young Iranian anthropologists, from countries where they have grown up and gained an education, to their homeland for dissertation research. This article discusses the influences on fieldwork of politics—international, national and local—and projects, problems and strategies of some anthropologists who have conducted recent ethnographic fieldwork in Iran.
Jeffrey A. Sluka
The ethnography of state terror is “high risk” research and there are real personal dangers for anyone who conducts fieldwork on this issue. Managing such dangers has particularly become an issue for those conducting primary research with perpetrators of state terror—the “rank and file” who apply the electric cattle prods and pull the triggers—and all of the researchers I know who have taken this path have been threatened in one form or another. Th is article reviews the core literature and latest developments in managing the physical dangers inherent in the ethnography of political violence and state terror, particularly fieldwork or primary research with the actual perpetrators themselves, makes practical recommendations for managing such dangers, and presents some ideas for developing risk management plans or protocols for researcher survival in perilous field sites.
Fieldwork, Biography, and Authorship in Southwest China and Beyond
This article is an exploration into how a distinct fascination with the study of religion traverses the biographies of researchers who, through fieldwork, episodically enter into the life-worlds of the peoples they study. In it, I offer up ethnographic and autoethnographic reflections on the experiential crossroads and personal biographies that are perhaps as constitutive of religion as they are of the persons who study it. Through a discussion of interconnected events that arose during and outside of my anthropological fieldwork among the Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman group of Southwest China, I highlight how Nuosu claims to authoring my biography have brought their animistic religion and culture, as well as its international import, further into focus for myself, local scholars, and rural Nuosu persons. My argument pivots around the idea that fieldwork-based researchers and their interlocutors often appropriate each other’s biographies in rather cosmic ways, thus revealing the historically, socially, and personally contingent qualities that are involved in studies of religion.
Being an 'Insider/Outsider' in an Afghan Woman's Fieldwork
This article reflects on the challenges of being an 'outsider' in one's own culture and on the journey from being a complete outsider to an 'insider/outsider'. Reflecting on fieldwork among women in north-east Afghanistan, the article explores assumptions and perceptions about Badakhshan and its people and the role of fieldwork in shattering them. It is also a reflection about values and compromises and the researcher's struggle to negotiate the appropriate balance. The article sheds light on the researcher's search for and discovery of different versions of herself when faced with a different version of 'home'.
The Temporalities of Ethnographic Fieldwork
Anthropologists working in a culturally unfamiliar field site carry out an experiment in time by interacting with people who do not share a common cultural past with them. Their real time interaction will therefore engender miscommunications and interpretative breakdowns. The 'invisibility' of temporal patterns results from the tendency of human consciousness to focus on difference and forget repetition. This article argues that the methodological intervention of ethnographic fieldwork is to transform repetition into difference by participating in events over a period of time. Building on the premise that anthropologists and their collaborators often act from different temporal orientations or 'timescapes', the article suggests that similar differences develop within societies between actors in different life situations and representing different cultural interests and traditions. Only through the long-term study of a particular group of people can the complexity and dynamics of different timescapes be discerned.