Session 1

Experiencing Fieldwork: What to expect?


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.

This session seeks to understand what do we commit to when we prepare to undertake the fieldwork. Fieldwork is a positive and yet challenging but ultimately life changing experience in one’s life. To reflect on the fieldwork, students are  broken up into small groups and asked to reflect on the following questions:

-Why do we do fieldwork?
-What is that you commit to when you do fieldwork?

The responses to these questions range from the purely disciplinary requirements to acutely personal ones – what is fieldwork for? How do we define our field? How to navigate through spaces of trauma in the field, to questions that are much more procedural around how to do fieldwork.

As a way of reflecting on these questions, the lecturers present their own brief positionality statement that include some of the complexities that they have encountered in their field sites (on the basis of intersections of gender, race, nationality, sexuality), as well as challenging the idea of ‘the field’. Students are then asked to begin to explore the nature of the ‘field’ as well as the practicalities and ethics of navigating the field. They are once again divided into small groups and asked to consider the following questions:

–  Where is your field?

–  What do you know about it?

–  What challenges do you anticipate?

–  Are these challenges shared?

–  What are some of your questions about your field?

The responses of students to this work are creatively expressed in a series of ideas around ‘the field’, describing the field as multi-sited, porous, and including digital spaces. In the reflective discussion that  should follow this exercise, students are urged to raise questions around ‘insider/outsider’ positionality, trans-national links with ‘local’ fields, ideas of ‘authenticity’ and the experience of ‘the field’ as temporally bounded. A key concern is to challenge the idea of ‘the field’ as necessarily removed from their day-to-day life or locale.


Gupta, Akhil and James Ferguson. (eds.) 1997. ‘Discipline and Practice: “The Field” as Site, Method and Location in Anthropology’. In Anthropological Locations: Boundaries and Grounds of a Field Science, 1-46. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Narayan, Kirin. 1996. “Participant Observation”. In  Women Writing Culture edited by Ruth Behar and Deborah A. Gordon, 33-48. Berkeley: University of California Press.