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:
- Structured direct observation of events: time allocation analysis, interaction analysis.
- Observation and recording of the physical environment, to include how to read (and preferably how to draw) topographical and other maps, and, as needed, skills in remote sensing, soil analysis, biomass transects, etc.
- Still photography and, increasingly, video recording.
- Approaching informants, maintaining an interview situation, and 'disengaging' from aninterview in a manner that leaves open the possibility for further interviewing.
- Designing and pretesting interview schedules....
- Systematic interview techniques to determine the limits of a domain of study....
- Data recording, coding, and retrieval skills, perhaps through a database management system.
- Use of microcomputers for word processing and data manipulation.
- Developing a research design for the quantitative testing of a hypothesis.
- Statistical processing of data and interpretation of statistical results.
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):
- Casual or conversational interviewing
- Life history/life cycle interviewing
- Semistructured (i.e., open-ended) interviewing
- Structured interviewing, including formal eliciting techniques:
Survey, Household census, ethnogenealogy, Questionnaire (written or oral)
- Projective techniques
- Standardized tests and other measurement techniques
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