My own fieldwork experience, like many others, demonstrates a blurring in what is ‘professional’ and ‘personal’, what is ‘leisure’ and ‘work’, whether you are researcher, student, or known by another identity. While researchers may strive to draw boundaries, distinctions in field research are blurry, because the nature of fieldwork means an element of the unknown and the out-of-control, and the intersection of different people, things, position, gender, power, knowledge and culture. As feminist geographers and anthropologists note, fieldwork is messy.
My heart was broken not by leaving individual people, but by leaving something much bigger. It takes us too long in anthropology to learn that the communities we study keep on going without us. They don’t stop mid lifetime waiting for us to return and press play again. Things will be different if we return, so when we leave, a certain something is left behind forever.
It’s been years since anthropology set aside the fantasy of “the field” -- a bounded research site, where the locals, and the researcher studying them, are insulated from events in the wider world. But assumptions about “the field,” and what doing fieldwork will be like, are hard to shake. I knew full well, when I … Continue reading When the world invades “the field:” emotion, introspection, and ethnography