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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011

(P301)

Where is the field?

Location Block 2, Piso 1, Room 96
Date and Start Time 20 Apr, 2011 at 11:30

Convenors

Laura Hirvi (The Finnish Institute in Germany) email
Hanna Snellman (University of Helsinki) email
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Short Abstract

This panel scrutinizes the method of fieldwork as used in the study of life worlds. In their presentations, researchers examine how people make the places they inhabit, while critically reflecting on the challenges, obstacles and opportunities they faced during fieldwork.

Long Abstract

Ethnologists seek to achieve a better understanding of the human experience through the exploration of different life worlds. How are these life worlds created, and how do they interact with the localities surrounding them? In order to address such questions, ethnologists use the method of ethnographic fieldwork. But how do researchers find, define, access or exit the field when examining life worlds embedded in places that are transnational, virtual or spread-out in character?

It is our contention that reflecting on this question is of uttermost importance for enhancing the method of ethnographic fieldwork. Therefore, this panel focuses on scrutinizing the methods of ethnographic fieldwork as used in the study of various life worlds. We invite researchers to submit papers that examine the manner in which people make the places they inhabit, while critically reflecting on the researcher's ethnographic fieldwork experience. Papers offering original fieldwork approaches and dealing with ethical concerns related to the practice of fieldwork are especially welcomed. By pointing out how researchers respond to challenges, obstacles and opportunities faced during fieldwork, we hope to collect innovative approaches that can be used for an elaboration of this method that is so essential for ethnology. Due to its focus on methodological questions, this panel fits all three sub-themes of this conference.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Volunteer rescue community

Author: Vedis Olafsdottir (University of Iceland)  email
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Short Abstract

The Icelandic search and rescue teams are based on voluntary work where people from all sectors of society participate in a training program to become qualified rescuers. As part of studying these communities of voluntary rescuers the researcher is participating in the two year training program.

Long Abstract

The dominant image of Icelandic search and rescue team members is that of tough men with specialized equipment. They are strong both physically and mentally and are able to control and survive in tougher situations than normal people. There are many search and rescue teams in Iceland and they are scattered over the whole country. The work is all voluntary and both men and women participate. One of the oldest teams, Flugbjörgunarsveitin í Reykjavík, did not accept women until 1995. This team is the main theme of the research. The research objective is to describe and analyze the cooperation and communication of the team, the participation of new members, and to look for a common initiative for joining this type of voluntary work.

The research is both based on interviews and on observational documentation as the researcher enters the training program. To become a qualified rescuer a participant has to fulfill two years of training finished by a qualifying test. The direct participation of the researcher poses several methodological challenges. Most of the observational documentation is in the field where the researcher participates in the training. Being a young woman the researcher directly observes the attitude towards women and especially the attitude towards new members. It is a challenge to adapt well to the training and simultaneously gain certain respect from the fellow team members. It is the researcher's belief that direct participation will facilitate and enlarge the space for the research, and that people will be more willing to answer questions honestly and thoroughly.

Fieldwork in Brazil - risky ethnography? Discussing risk perception and coping strategies: experiences of an Austrian anthropologist in northeast and northern regions of Brazil

Authors: Margret Jaeger (SFU Private University )  email
Lydia Maria Arantes (University College London)  email
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Short Abstract

Working with “risky target groups” or risky living and working conditions emerged as major topics during fieldworks in Brazil in different forms and showed the need of coping strategies and psychological supervision from outside. Results from discussions with colleagues since 2007 are presented to show possible solutions.

Long Abstract

Risky ethnography: Working with "risky target groups" or risky living and working conditions in the field emerged as major topics during fieldworks in Brazil in different forms and showed the need of coping strategies and psychological supervision from outside.

How can researchers from Western Europe prepare for fieldwork in developing countries? Do women need a special preparation or take specific precautions? How can they deal with the huge social gaps in the host society that influence relationships in the field and thus the outcomes of research? The presentation discusses aspects which emerged during various fieldworks by a female, young, white Austrian in two Brazilian regions since 2003.

Personal reflection while interacting with people in the field seems to be especially relevant in the Brazilian case regarding social class. Experience showed that researchers' behaviour and deeper knowledge about Brazil and peoples' life worlds may positively influence the relationship during interview or participant observation. Moreover, the concept of ethno-psychoanalysis can be used during fieldworks not only to analyze own experiences, perceptions, fears, anger etc. during fieldwork, but also the interaction processes during interviews.

In 2007, a workshop about the topic was organized at the Equatorial Meeting of Anthropology (REA) in Aracaju, Brazil, where anthropologists discussed how to deal with risk during fieldwork, how they perceived the risk they were exposed to and coping strategies they employed. Since then I've been talking to colleagues around the world about their experiences and will try to summarize the results of these findings in my presentation.

The place of the anthropologist in a medical field

Author: Iacob Ionela Florina (Babes-Bolyai University)  email
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Short Abstract

This study is a reflexive and self-reflexive exploration of a research conducted on ilness naratives.The main issues considered are the realations between the anthropologist and different actors from the medical field.

Long Abstract

My study is a reflexive and self-reflexive exploration of a research conducted on illness narratives (cancer and lupus). Conducted in a contemporary clinical space, my research requires a separate path, the entry on the field being conditioned by intermediate factors, namely getting an approval from the doctors and the heads of the clinic.

In this context, the paper focuses on the early steps of the anthropologist in the ethnographic field, his entry into a special world, that of the contemporary hospital. The main issues here are the power relations implied in the negotiation process involved in obtaining access to fieldwork, and how these power relations are closely related with the space of negotiation. This unique process not only sheds light on anthropologist-physician relationship, but also to the way in which "hard sciences" such as medicine, relate to anthropology.

On the other hand, my study will address the problem of how spatiality itself (that of the clinic), places the anthropologist in a position of symbolicall inferiority. Secondly, the paper discusses how the actual space where the research is conducted influences the results. I will address here the impact that the place where interviews with patients were conducted [(clinical or private space - patients' home)] had on the their discourse on illness experience. On the other hand, I will address how the meeting space has shaped different relationships between researcher and anthropologist, and how it affected the results.

The field of theatre

Author: Ave Goršič (Estonian Literary Museum)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper follows the Estonian Folklore Archives’ project of collecting theatre folklore. Recording interviews is always a humanly tender communication situation, but approaching a rather closed and sometimes mystified theatre circles is an experience on its own.

Long Abstract

How to approach a "village", which in its everyday function is mostly closed for the larger public, at least as far as most of the behind-the-scenes work is concerned? At the same time this closedness has changed with times, as theatres in Estonia now make more programmes for children and grown-ups, to visit and witness those hidden sides. But to find and question people, who would be willing to give interviews on a specific topic of theatre folklore, can be occasionally difficult and occasionally surprisingly easy.

What are the demands of a folklorist to oneself, when on fieldwork in theatre, which sometimes means meeting different people in relatively short time in variable conditions? How to enter and leave the theatre and the interview situation so, that you can exit with the hope of re-entering it again? There is the question of managing time in one or few-day trips to have enough time for recuperation and rest to be fit for yet another interview. This kind of fieldwork also demands flexibility in adapting to quickly changing situations. The paper tries to offer self-reflections of a folklorist when on fieldwork in theatres and also the first conclusions and outcomes of the project.

"You are from here, aren't you?" The shifting of the "field" and the self in the borderlands of Turkey

Author: Mahiye Secil Dagtas (University of Toronto)  email
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Short Abstract

This is a paper about the shifting boundaries of the self and the other in developing a sense of belonging to “the field” and to “home”. It is concerned particularly with the religious, familial and secular aspects of the self and how they affect the “nativeness” of the native anthropologist in Turkey.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the possibilities and challenges of doing fieldwork "at home" by focusing on the constant re-positioning of the self (both of the ethnographer and of the research participants) in accordance with the emotional, sensual and social ties one establishes with different localities. It draws upon my fieldwork experience of studying religious and secular subjectivities in two multi-cultural and multi-religious cities of Turkey: Istanbul (my home city) and Antakya (a city near Turkey's border with Syria). On the one hand, I examine how different religious communities in these cities draw the boundaries of the self and the other at the level of the individual, the family and the community. On the other hand I reflect on the way the ethnographer becomes part of this boundary-making as she oscillates between being a total stranger, being a "guest" and inhabiting the very subject positions she studies. This paper draws attention to the inter-subjective nature of such displacements and replacements. To do so, I compare the different ways in which I was perceived, challenged and attributed certain roles/qualities in these two cities. I argue that hearing, seeing, feeling and belonging to a particular location as the "field" and as "home" depends not only on the content but also on the sociality of the familial and religious histories one has (or lacks) about that location.

Not a community, not a group: challenges of the field when exploring experiences of deportation from the UK

Author: Ines Hasselberg (University of Minho)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper reflects on the approach taken to delimit ‘the field’ of an ethnographic study exploring the impacts of deportation for migrants in the UK. It addresses the methodological and ethical challenges of researching a population that is vulnerable, scattered geographically and hard-to-reach.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses key epistemological challenges encountered when undertaking ethnographic research with foreign convicts facing deportation from the UK. Of concern here are the assumptions and expectations of "the field" in ethnographic research and related ethical dilemmas. Traditionally the field is a geographical location, exotic and far removed. Yet today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw the boundaries of one's field of research. What connects the subjects of this study is that they themselves or those close to them have faced or are facing deportation. This does not necessarily mean that they identify with each other on the basis of their experiences of deportation. How then can the field be defined when its population not only is geographically scattered as it can hardly be described as a group, let alone a community? Against this background, how can one identify and access informants? How can one carry ethnographic research in a setting where there is nothing immediately available to observe? Taking guidance in Joanne Passaro's work with homeless people in the US, several strategies were devised to delimit and access the field. These strategies required the researcher to assume a variety of roles, resulting at times in the production of 'un-usable' information thus adding to ethical dilemmas already inherent to studying a vulnerable population such as this one. The paper here presented discusses these challenges as well as the approach taken to overcome them and the ethical issues ensuing from it.

The role of the Internet in the study of mobile people

Author: Laura Hirvi (The Finnish Institute in Germany)  email
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Short Abstract

Drawing on a multi-local fieldwork experience amongst Sikh immigrants and their offspring in Finland and in California, this paper seeks to explore what role the Internet plays in the study of mobile people.

Long Abstract

When the field is marked by a high degree of mobility and dispersion, and its literal location is unknown, are conventional fieldwork methods apt enough to kick off the fieldwork enterprise? Or is there perhaps a need to enlarge the corpus of traditional fieldwork methods by officially welcoming the Internet as a research tool into the fold of practiced and taught fieldwork methods?

This paper seeks to reflect on the various ways in which the Internet can assists in conducting multi-local fieldwork amongst mobile people. My fieldwork conducted amongst Sikhs with an immigrant background, living in Yuba City (California) and Helsinki (Finland), serves as a case study.

In particular, this paper will highlight the usefulness of the Internet, and especially the social network service Facebook, for getting and staying in contact with informants. Further, questions concerning research ethics and how to exit the field will be discussed briefly in the end of the presentation.

Networking the field: fuzzy groups, fieldwork and the value of comparison

Author: Fran Meissner (MPI MMG)  email
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Short Abstract

Reflecting on the challenge of identifying the field when the population studied is purposively based on a fuzzy definition this paper explores the value of comparative research for better understanding the complexities of social settings.

Long Abstract

Commencing research with a fuzzy definition of the population to be studied makes it possible to trace different perceptions of who respondents consider to be part of that population. While this can be extremely insightful and moves away from traditional notions of 'the group', it also poses a number of challenges for the researcher, both in the field and during data analysis. This paper focuses on a research project carried out in two geographically defined field sites, London and Toronto, but for which the relevant field was identified through participant observation and personal network interviews. The field is thus demarcated through social contacts and places of interaction but also through respondents' perceptions of the city. Focussing broadly on people who have moved to these cities from the South Pacific, with the aim of better understanding super-diversity in both cities, during fieldwork one main challenge has been identified: If 'the field' is not pre-assumed and defining its parameters is integral to fieldwork itself, then how can unanticipated differences in the 'emergence' of the field in multiple field-sites be dealt with? This question fits squarely within the discussion on cross-national research. Relevant aspects of this literature will be reviewed, and drawing on the above-mentioned study it will be argued that there is a need to more critically assess the value of multi-site comparative research, not only for its potential to cross-verify findings but also for its scope to aid understanding of the complexities of the social settings being studied.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.