Multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork arose as a response to new topics for anthropological investigation, such as the study of reproduction and reproductive technologies, new modes of electronic communication such as internet and mobile telephones, transnational adoption, and local mobility and migration. The anthropologist returns again and again at relatively frequent intervals, thus deepening the relationship with the people and widening the scope of anthropological practice in subtle ways.
The British anthropologist Raymond Firth, famous for his studies of the Polynesian Tikopia community, made the point that there are two kinds of re-study: the dual-synchronic — a comparison of then and now after number of years, and the diachronic study — a continuous study of people and events over time Firth Today, the latter is the more common, due largely to the ease of modern means of travel. Multi-temporal fieldwork enables the ethnographer to follow the community through times of change, and to record their reactions to outside influences — economic, technological, and social — that challenge old values and practices.
With the rapid spread of mobile telephones and internet, communication may be maintained with many field sites after the ethnographer has returned home. This renders ethnographic research more dynamic than was previously possible. It is first and foremost the fieldwork method of participant-observation and the kinds of anthropological questions, debates, and analyses that spring out of it as these are embedded in an holistic analysis — questions about social production, and the cultural meaning of, for example: kinship, sociality, labour, money, exchange, social stratification, conflict, authority, gender etc.
Due to a decrease in funding and pressure on publishing, PhD students as well as academic staff are having to change their research practice. A shorter period of fieldwork is becoming common and more topic-focused research questions are increasingly demanded. This raises the question of what insights anthropologists can provide that a clever investigative journalist cannot, or someone from Cultural Studies armed with an exciting theoretical concept Howell Anthropologists will still claim that only the very nature of their ethnographic method of long-term participant observation can provide a unique contribution to knowledge about other life-worlds.
Most anthropologists would be very skeptical of the kind of methodology that is proposed under that rubric. This challenges anthropologists to make clear what they mean by ethnographic fieldwork and what is so special about it. Marilyn Strathern is reported to have said that anthropologists study social relationships by making social relationships.
Perhaps that is the answer? Others seem not to appreciate the epistemological consequences from such a unity. He goes on to state that:. Anyone who has travelled in Central or Southeast Asia, Melanesia, or the African continent knows that there is no shortage of potentially interesting localities in which to settle in order to conduct in-depth anthropological fieldwork. They may not be isolated empty blobs on the map, but people live in an ever-changing world and they cope with new ideas and practices in unpredictable ways.
Anthropology as a discipline without participant-observation fieldwork would have very little to offer the academic world, or the general public. The aim of ethnography is to continuously expand our knowledge about the richness of human imagination and the ways that humans organise their lives. In order to achieve that, the comparative ambition of anthropology must be maintained. A substantial proportion of new recruits must continue to undertake long-term fieldwork in places far-away from their home: places where they have to learn to communicate in a previously-unknown language.
This is the key to render alternative solutions to the organization of social and cultural life meaningful and understandable to the outsiders.
This is how anthropology differs from the other social sciences. There may simply be no future for the armchair or even desktop anthropologist. Despite their important theoretical differences, they had one thing in common: a commitment, through ethnographic fieldwork, to explore social, cultural, cognitive, and moral forms of life in places far from home — geographically and culturally. The aim was, and is, to use that knowledge to address overarching theoretical questions concerning the variety and similarity of human life as this is manifested through kinship, religion, classification, economic, and political life.
Studies that throw light upon alien practices and values often lead to self-examination. At the same time, the ethnographer discovers that so much is also common across space and lived culture. This results in an appreciation of both difference and sameness. These ethnographic experiences render invalid claims of radical alterity or of human incommensurability. Ahmed, A.
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