Fieldwork


From ‘fieldwork / filed works: the madness of anthropology’ in Celebrating Transgression (Berghahn 2006):

7.1 If fieldwork in the traditional sense is ‘over’, in British Anthropology it has a half-life because it is something to sell to funding model types, research council, accountabilities etc. It becomes a mantra that can somehow seem to be measured, but fieldwork works best as open-ended and creative (Köpping 2002).

7.2 The trouble with fieldwork as taught in the credentialising system of the new teaching factory is that it relies primarily upon the assemblage of anecdote-trinkets. Theoretical gestation and contemplation – slow-moving as they are – is not well suited to the imperatives of pass rates and research assessment calculation. Trinketisation of culture here assigns the politics of interpretation to a place of fast and loose generalities – ritualized reflexive moves that surprise no one.

7.3 Not only is fieldwork not so neat, we should rescind the tacit requirement that all new doctoral successes participate in the post hoc reconstruction (lie) of fieldwork as a time of deep insight, with full language capability, and no transgressive human foibles – though of course it may sometimes happen like that. Honesty would not be compromised if it were admitted that a language cannot be learned with sufficient fluency for significant insight in less than two, and usually five, years. The stressful effects of having to pass off hesitant and halting speculation as description and conclusion might be abandoned. The complicity with the founding father myth and mystique of single-site fieldwork might be usefully left behind. This of course does not mean the end of detailed and serious work – the packaging of how to fieldwork in export education itemization-trinketisation mode is an anathematic alternative.

7.4 Commercialisation and corporatisation of the university and the depoliticisation and administerisation of intellectual work goes hand in hand with a calculated demobilisation of participation – mass movement – though there are ‘days of exception to the rule’ – limited and controlled inversions like May Day and the anti-war protest that greeted the invasion(s) of Iraq.
7.5 For a moratorium on the kind of fieldwork that anthropologists anyway did not ever practice.
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