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Field Work

  Field work is the research undertaken by an anthropologist in a particular community. When anthropology emerged as a discipline, such societies tended to be tribal or remote, but field work is now often undertaken in urban societies or among minority groups or subcultures.

Field work relies on the principle of participant-observation—the anthropologist shares the life of a community, participating as well as observing, in order to experience and understand it in as much detail as possible. An anthropologist is expected to learn the language proficiently and spend at least a year ‘in the field’. Presuming that problems of translation, both linguistic and cultural, can be overcome, field work produces careful descriptions of specific communities. Anthropological facts are actually lived experiences turned into sociological facts through the process of observing and questioning. The anthropologist gleans information through a select number of people (termed informants).

Despite the anthropologist\'s status as both participant and observer, understanding is inevitably limited to some extent by the personal views of the informants. Male anthropologists, for example, often fail to elicit the alternative models of society proposed by women, as well as other interest groups in the community. Unless the anthropologist is careful, the views represented in his or her writing exclusively reflect the views of an élite, or those of marginal groups, depending on their choice of informants. The multiplicity of versions or models of reality tend to be reduced to a one-dimensional study of society.

Anthropologists are increasingly aware of the problems inherent in the methodology of participant-observation. Most anthropologists now write explicitly about their own position within the community, so that readers can evaluate the information for themselves. CL

See also ethnography.Further reading M. Griaule, Conversations with Ogotemmeli; , P. Rabinow, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco.



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