"real" fieldwork

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 24 Feb 1995 23:56:46 JST

sam beck writes, "What do you mean by "real" fieldwork?"

I would rather not get hung up on definitions. To me the prototype is
Malinowski. Thus, a long time spent in an alien place, deliberately separated
from the society/culture in which the fieldworker was born. I say "a long
time." I am thinking "a year or two." The kind of situation presented in
Mike Salovesh's description of the Chiapas project includes the on-going
presence of people engaged in similar anthropological pursuits, and for
those being trained, the opportunity for a supervised apprenticeship; a
very different thing from being thrown on one's own resources. My own
situation in Taiwan was a different again. I was there with my wife and
lived in a rented apartment with a flush toilet, running water and electric
lights. Our first night "in the field" we saw _2001: A Space Odyssey_ at
the local movie theater. We were "on our own," but were only a short
bicycle ride from a Maryknoll Missioner's rectory where we were welcome
to sip his scotch and browse through his back copies of _Newsweek_.
A two-hour bus ride took us into Taichung, where (the Vietnam War was
going on and a major U.S. Airforce base nearby) we could snack on
hamburgers and milkshakes at the USO.

I was wondering what kinds of fieldwork experiences are available to
undergraduates. I have heard from some who have spent weeks in Latin
American Villages. Others have talked about bit of participant observation
or other forms of research in the towns where they go to college. At
least one talked about having six months of fieldwork as the core of
her curriculum. There is, it would seem, a great deal of variation in
what is available.

John McCreery