FIELD METHODS


Methods and field equipment:


Fieldwork is more than participant observation. It also involves learning the language and using data-gathering techniques and equipment suited to the objectives of a particular study. According to anthropologist Stuart Plattner (1989:30), fieldworkers ought to be capable of all the following methods, in addition to some I have not listed here:


Focusing on the "art of fieldwork" as much as its more "scientific" aspects, anthropologist, Harry Wolcott (1995), organizes his advice under the amusing but nonetheless helpful categories of "Courtesy and Common Sense", "Being There", "Getting Nosy", and "Looking Over Others' Shoulders". In "Getting Nosy", Wolcott lists the major types of "asking" in which fieldworkers engage (p. 106):


He then addresses the issue of better, more sensitive interviewing skills (p. 111-117), suggesting that, among other things, fieldworkers talk less and listen more, make questions short and to the point, anticipate and discuss the level of formality you plan for the interview, and invite informants to help you become a better researcher by asking them for suggestions about interviews. Many informants quickly "catch on" to what kinds of data you are after and can assess what kinds of relevant data you may be leaving out or are unaware of.

Relationship between objectives and method:


One objective of my first fieldwork in Yandera village was to collect information on individual and household incomes and expenditures. This data allowed me to uncover income differences, to track individual and interhousehold exchanges, and to demonstrate the economic motivations underlying high levels of outmigration as well as contemporary patterns of marriage, land ownership and leadership. Reflecting further on Wolcott's prescription to include the advice of informants in your research design, many months elapsed before I saw gambling as a form of parallel exchange that eased the socially disruptive inequality that now exists among the Gende by giving poorer individuals a way of acquiring cash to be invested in the more traditional exchange system. When I realized this, of course, I paid greater attention to all the gambling going on, creating an additional survey to capture daily wins and losses. From this survey I found that money was indeed flowing from richer to poorer through gambling. From informants' unsolicited statements and informal questioning I discovered that gambling was considered a social good and that persons who did not gamble were considered stingy and unfriendly. Informants were telling me this from day one in the field, but I wasn't listening! Rather, I saw gambling through my own cultural experience as a "waste of good money". Imagine my chagrin when I realized that it wasn't a waste at all, at least the way the Gende played cards, that winnings were almost always invested in some productive enterprise or exchange, or at the very least put back into the gaming system for others to win.


Copyright 1996 by Laura Tamakoshi and Brian Cross