Dear Anthropologists that I know.

Dear Anthropologists that I know.

It is 100 years since Bronislaw Malinowski’s “Argonauts of the Western Pacific” began the terror of enforcing the participant observation fieldwork model upon postgraduates (even if Bronio didn’t live up to the ‘model’ himself and probably anyway lifted it from Gillen’s letters to Baldwin Spencer). Just now I’m reading about Cora Du Bois going to fieldwork in Alor, Indonesia, and the limited advice she got from Kroeber and Mead (while Bateson seems to have been more useful, advising her on camera care) and I am wondering what ‘advice’ is given now. Do you get your pre-fieldwork candidates to read that first chapter Argonauts? What else do you advise!? Given everyone has email etc, is Malinowski’s method, however modified with tech and multisite, all that relevant still, except as a quaint throwback akin to Tylor’s survival? What of collaboration? Teams? Language learning (the lost art?) Kinship diagrams (are they not important for a study of urban art policy or museums and heritage?). I’d like to put together a selection of comments from the great and the good, and will cite your work alongside quotes if you’d be so kind as to send 100 or more words on the above. Or better yet, your best anecdotes from famed anthros. Mine is Malcolm Crick explaining in a lecture that he was not that keen on people (as a species) when he did fieldwork on tourism in Sri Lanka and so mostly stayed in the guest house lounge area for the whole 7 months. Not a particularly sensational story, but there was some honestly in the way he told it, lecturing as he did with his eyes closed, as if reading an internal script, on semantic anthropology. Please DM me your answers. Much appreciated.

  • The pic of Cora is from her Alor fieldwork ‘hut’. She went on to run research in WW2 and after for OSS (precursor to the CIA), falls out with Mead, advises against US involvement in Vietnam, is investigated for 10 years, and blocked for jobs, by the FBI, eventually becomes first woman to win full prof with tenure status at Harvard, and is head of the AAA just as it was debating the ethics of anthropologists working for CIA and Rand in Vietnam. Pretty great, even if we still don’t get the names of the kids in this snap

Update: Lia beat me to it, but I was going to add another version of this to ask the ‘advised’ how it was for you? What was your fieldwork expectation, (the expectation on you and the expectations you had), how did that relate to the advice you received, your preparation, your familiarity with what Malinowski was up to, your tent (how long is it since anyone had a tent? – I may still have a bit of big Mal’s canvas somewhere)? How about your well-honed professional preparedness, and what do you make of the whole branded ethnographic method that Anthroplogy sells as its USP?

a piece of cloth in a red frame (ethnographically speaking)

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