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.
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.
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.
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.
Since the early 1970s, the author has been working among the poverty-stricken Yaka people in rural southwestern Congo and suburban Kinshasa. A descendant of a colonizing society, the author sought immersion in a particular Congolese community and later in suburban Kinshasa, as well as insights from within the host group's own rationale and perceptions. Through reciprocal fascination and compassionate encounter, hosts and anthropologists transfer onto each other images, longings, and thoughts that in many ways are unconsciously biased. The self-reflective experience of integration in other life-worlds has helped the author to self-critically scrutinize his own native Belgian socio-cultural matrix. The article advocates a type of post-colonial and psychoanalytically inspired anthropology that urges self-critical understanding of definitions of self-creation in relation to alterity constructs. Any further development of psychoanalytically informed anthropology, or of culture-sensitive psychoanalysis, should draw on this understanding of co-implication and intercultural polylogue, thereby allowing these disciplines to transcend their Eurocentric antecedents.
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.
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.
It is conventional to point out the disintegrative and dysfunctional effects of violence and relegate it to processes outside the social realm. Yet this study argues that a reflexive approach to ethnography can reveal the integrative potential of violence. It examines the theoretical importance of the ethnographer's anxieties about (a) violence, (b) the precarious dependencies during fieldwork in a violent setting, and (c) concerns about representing violence in academic work. Such a reflexive approach shows why these anxieties can both conceal and reveal the sociality of violence. The study draws on personal fieldwork experiences to show how violence became central to the relationships the author developed with his assistants during research in South Africa.
This article discusses the relationship between the researcher and a field affected by armed conflict. Based on ethnographic research in Sri Lanka during the ceasefire of 2002, it investigates how deep polarization that emerges in the course of a violent conflict determines the researcher’s scope for positioning vis-à-vis the different groups. The article argues that the unpredictibility of the research site necessitates careful navigation of the self and requires thorough reflection on the consequences of particular moves at the point of decision making. In order to maintain relationships with different sides, there is a need to deal carefully with sensitive issues, both during and after fieldwork. This article pleas for a balance between pragmatism and ethics.