Ep. #33: Getting ready for the field: Themed panel with Dr Siobhan McDonnell

This month on TFS, we bring you a special themed panel with Dr Siobhan McDonnell about getting ready to go to the field. Subscribe on AndroidSiobhan is a legal anthropologist and Research Fellow the Australian National University with interests in Indigenous land rights, climate change and gender studies.

[We had some technical difficulties during the recording of this episode, but despite some audio issues the quality of conversation is top notch! Great work to our executive Matt for saving the day!]

Siobhan [1:48] starts us off by telling us about the online web resource that she and Dr Annie McCarthy developed for anthropologists – especially those new to fieldwork – to help them navigate the field. She tells us that Navigating the Field covers a range of topics presented in easy to digest modules designed to prompt you to think about things related to conducting fieldwork — from considering your own positionality and how that affects the work you do, to being aware of boundaries in the field so you are safe. “We really wanted to rupture that kind of Malinowski idea of the lone man heading out into the wilderness to research the ‘Others’. It’s also about challenging what the field is.”

Next, Jodie [7:54] asks us all the question: What do you wish you’d known before you did fieldwork? She posed the same question on our social media feeds, and shares some of the responses she received. Suggestions included having sensory reminders of home, or keeping a list in the back of your field notebook of non-research related things (like reminders to bring tissues to the field), and ensuring that you have the structural support you need. This initial question evolves into a question of: what do you wish you’d known about coming back from the field and how to adjust back to everyday life? Particularly when there’s a baby involved, this can be quite daunting!

Julia [13:13] shifts our focus to the body, after listening to an episode of the Remember Your Body podcast and reflecting on her time in the field where using the body as ethnographic tool became important. Her research surrounds patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, where a lot of the things they told her about were related to their physical and mental experiences. “Doing ethnography for me was a method acting of sorts; it required my embodied involvement and I believe it made my data more reliable because I felt like I really understood in a very connected way what my participants meant.” She asks the other panelists how their bodies aided them to make sense of their experiences during fieldwork.

Finally, Ian [19:35] concludes our panel by investigating what fieldwork involves when taking your partner along with you. “Having her with me there in the field affected all kinds of things about my research”. Just like in a normal relationship outside the field, when this same dynamic is brought into the field there are gives and takes. Julia tells us that having her partner there would not have been feasible, while Jodie shares that while she had intended to be only an hour away from her husband, things don’t always go to plan. Siobhan makes a ‘call’ for the ethnographer to be more accepted as a family ‘package’ when they need to be.

Sadly, this is Ian’s last panel podcast with us as he is moving to Indonesia! 🙁
From all of us at The Familiar Strange, we’d like to thank Ian for all the work he’s put into the project – especially the podcast – and we can’t wait to hear more about his new adventures. Don’t worry though  – Ian will STILL be involved in the project (he can’t escape that easily, hehe).


The Navigating the Field web resource made by Siobhan and Annie is available here: https://fieldwork.weblogs.anu.edu.au/

Siobhan also mentions other scholars who have challenged ideas about the academy, such as Sara Ahmed and Zoe Todd. Links to these scholars can be found in the ‘Resources’ page of the Navigating the Field site.

You can find the Somatic Toolkit website here: http://somaticstoolkit.coventry.ac.uk/

And the Remember Your Body podcast here http://somaticstoolkit.coventry.ac.uk/category/podcast/ or you can listen to it on Apple Podcasts.

This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.

Music by Pete Dabro: dabro1.bandcamp.com

Shownotes by Deanna Catto

[Image ‘Looking at the Perseids meteor shower’ by Johan Larsson (2012) available at:

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