Navigating the Field

For too long the archetype associated with ‘fieldwork’ has been a Malinowskian style image of a lone, white, male living for a year or more among the ‘native village’ (Stocking 1992: 59). This workshop seeks to destabilise this problematic and inaccurate archetype of ‘fieldwork’ by locating discussions in the lived experience of ‘fieldwork’ as undertaken by women, women of colour, ‘Queer’ identifying researchers, parents who take children with them into the field, as well as field work as conducted in known, local communities, or by Indigenous researchers amongst their own communities. By allowing for the plural and diverse understanding of the ways in which field work is conducted, and allowing space for discussions of positionality, this workshop will support students who are preparing to enter ‘the field’ associated with their research.

In developing this workshop, we are assuming that the practice of fieldwork is not something uniquely shaped by specific disciplinary areas, but is rather a shared experience across a range of academic areas. The experience of undertaking fieldwork while it can be both professionally and personally enriching, can also come with a range of challenges that are often compounded by issues of intersectionality. It is the discussion of fieldwork experiences, both beyond and between various disciplines, that will form the basis of this workshop. Ultimately, the aim of the workshop is the help students prepare for their own fieldwork by leading them through a set of structured readings, discussions and activities that allow them to consider: (a) their unique field site, (b) their positional location in relation to the field, (c) structures of power between the field and the academy, (d) violence in the field, (e) how to move towards the field, with awareness.

This workshop seeks to explore issues of positionality in the field through the lens of gender, sexuality, class, age and ethnicity, enabling students to map networks of power and support operating in their proposed field sites. Through a series of readings, discussions and activities students will learn to conceptualise ‘the field’ as something bigger than just the site of their data-collection and in the process highlight potential dangers, complexities and risks they will face as they begin navigating ‘their’ field. Designed for a small group of students (less than 25) this two day workshop will enable the kind of in depth discussion and personal focus necessary to ensure students are adequately prepared for an experience that will deeply inform the rest of their professional—if not personal—lives.

The development of this workshop has been initiated, in part, by the recognition of the scale of sexual assault and harassment both in the academy, and in ‘the field’. Numerous accounts now exist of the serious violence that scholars undertaking fieldwork have been subjected to (see Berry et. al 2017; Nelson et. al. 2017; Kloß 2017; Moreno 1995 and many more). Rather than position the field as a site of ‘violence’ we seek to acknowledge that both the academy and ‘the field’ can be understood through the lens of power and structural violence. Preparing students to go into ‘the field’ involves supporting students to recognise how these structures may operate to support or challenge their research. 

While gendered experiences of fieldwork have long been discussed by Anthropologists, Human Geographers and other researchers, an intersectional approach to these issues has been neglected both in fieldwork disciplines and in institutions committed to training graduate students.

The team behind developing, teaching and evaluating this workshop are Dr Siobhan McDonnell, Dr Annie McCarthy. As anthropologists who teach and work in the field of gender, sexuality and race, who have recently ourselves undertaken fieldwork, we feel that we are uniquely well placed to develop, teach and evaluate a course of this nature.

Dr Darja Hoenigman has also generously offered to assist with the teaching of the course, as she undertakes her visiting fellowship in CAP in June, 2018. Drawing on our recent experiences of fieldwork in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, India, Indigenous Australia and Papua New Guinea, our team bring to this project a breadth of disciplinary experience and research engagement with a range of power structures and hierarchies.

Course structure

This course is designed around four modules, to be taught over two consecutive days. Each modules is designed to address a specific themes:

  •             Session 1 —    Experiencing Fieldwork: What to expect?
  •             Session 2 —    Positionality in the Field: Finding yourself in your Field
  •             Session 3 —    Violences in the Field and on University Campuses
  •             Session 4 —    Navigating your Field: Moving forward with Awareness

Each of these sessions will consist of an element of teaching, a discussion of assigned readings, peer-to-peer discussion as well as a range of brain-storming and mapping activities to enable students to situate themselves visually and discursively within their own field sites.