Re: real fieldwork

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 28 Feb 1995 07:53:16 JST

"In working WITH people, we find out what their needs are and base our
research on those needs."

Here, Sam and I must, I think, agree to disagree. To restrict anthropology
to research based on the needs of the people we work with sounds to me like
an agenda for turning anthropology into social work (or, I may add, market
motivated consumer research <g>), but it doesn't sound like the field I got
myself into.

I also wonder how anyone who reads the classics (Malinowski, Turner, etc.)
can imagine that our founding elders went into the field in pursuit of
anything except their own agendas and (here I think is the crucial point) a
willingness to have their agendas changed by their experience. Their goal
was to understand and, rarely indeed, to be of service to those they studied.

Do be assured that I am not advocating indifference to suffering or blindness
to the fact that our theories and interpretations embody the prejudices of
certain historical moments or, God forbid, blindness to the "power relations"
implicit in forms of knowledge.

I observe, too, that while Sam's recipe ("we find out what their needs are and
base our research on those needs") has a warm and fuzzy appeal in situations
where the people in question are on the short end of the world system's stick
and the anthropologist can condescend to do good works, it has curious impli-
cations when the people in question have needs we find repugnant and the
power to satisfy them all by themselves.

I recall a story told by Larry Crissman: "Culture shock? Culture shock is
finding out that your best buddy and most important informant has sold his
daughter into prostitution to buy a motorcycle." Whose needs should be
paramount here?

Winning or losing isn't the point. Finding a little clarity is.

john McCreery