Particpant observation intro_lec_10


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  • Diversity of anthropological study: traditional fisher communities, Congo hunter-gatherers, a medical school , Latvian college elites, avatars in second life. science –repeatable expmt, testable hypotheses – not possible in Anthropology Each perspective, place and moment is unique , can you compare the same place or people at different times? – inevitably different forces and factors will have different impacts on their lives But if research is placed in the context of theory – you can compare economic systems , notions of property , political forms , or religious ideologies In anthropology we are more easily defined by our METHODS than by our subject Basis for obtaining anthropological knowledge is participant –observation during fieldwork – sharing the lives, practices and the environment of your informants . PO unites all anthropological study because it provides a technique for learning new knowledge without imposing the trappings of your old knowledge . Where does it originate What does it mean What does it involve
  • The basis of much of the early anthropological texts: The Golden Bough Sir James Frazer A rmchair anthropologists – gentlemen of science who analysed the reports of missionaries, military men and explorers to understand the peoples being encountered by Europeans travelling the world tried to formalise data collection , after many iterations, with ‘Notes and Queries on Anthropology For formal interviews by explorers missionaries and later colonial administrators to facilitate understanding the cultures they came across standardise the data being collected and the terms used – aiding synthesis and comparison,
  • The Torres Straights expedition by Haddon was an example of early anthropological ‘fieldwork ’ borrowed from natural sciences ; but still saw field anthropologist’s task as gathering data to answer questions framed by ‘armchair anthropologist’ Questioned by W.H.R. Rivers – who insisted that field anthropologist should attempt to get at the ‘native’s point of view ’ Increasingly anthropologists realised the limits of fixed questions asked by amateurs: Forced people to say things they didn’t think – especially a problem when the very categories used in the question may not exist in the society being studied ideas about ‘soul’ or ‘God’ being particularly contested in ethnographic accounts in the early 20th century – Schebesta Pygmies were monotheists (= evidence of truth of one God in Judeo–Christian tradition)
  • PO Emerged as a consequence of dissatisfaction with the how formal questionnaires tended to mould responses
  • Though Malinowski didn’t ‘invent’ fieldwork he was first to put it into practice in its modern form – but really by fate/accident Malinowski – got sent to Trobriands to keep him out of the way – WW1 – lasted so long – that cultural competence was achieved – language learning, politeness, local skills – so his ethnography had penetrating insight – set a new standard and accidentally developed a new approach to anthropological research that has remained the trade-mark of our discipline . He was an opportunist and theoretically sophisticated about it : a virtue of necessity Stressed importance of working alone and in local language Invented phrase ‘participant observation’ to describe what he did in field: to produce ethnographic knowledge He relaised the interdependence of method, ethnography and theory FW (using PO) = ethnography (written description of all types of garden magic/ fishing magic + comparison) = theory (a hypothesis or ‘theory of magic)
  • Participant observation produces ethnography Different styles: Malinowski in Trobriands 1914-18 privileged observation Clifford Geertz in Indonesia in 1950s privileged participation PO does not create conflict between qualitative and quantitative methods but establishes productive context for applying them appropriately A household survey (QUANT) can be complemented by understanding local notions of the family (QUALITATIVE) Both styles of research can be conducted in the context of PO That’s why you learn both during this course on Anthropological Methods
  • 3 main implications for gaining ethnographic knowledge: Body experiences are a legitimate tool of enquiry – learning what happens during an initiation ceremony Self-enquiry or watching the self as the body and mind experience an event, build a relationship , learn a new cultural idea or new cultural skills 3. Participation as a means of confirming understandings (or phrased more empirically) – as testing a hypothesis - can I compose a song, do I understand the etiquette of public speaking?
  • Role management : what level(s) of "participation" are required or desired, entry problems, and problems of rapport with informants and/or gate-keepers Fieldwork is challenging it is – rite of passage , because it is a holistic engagement of whole body and mind - contrast lab based scientist’s eye staring down a microscope PO is about cultivating embodied knowledge – an education of attention to ways of looking, walking and talking, or singing and dancing. Also Ethnographer’s education, character, personal history etc bear on what they make of the information they get The data collected can not be disassociated from the context in which the ethnographer finds herself, and the roles informants may be leading them to play – often in local politics Power, gender, sex - all comes into play – a young 25 year old woman begins intimate conversations with a similarly aged young man it will be interpreted in a number of different ways – by the man as seduction , by his partner as a challenge , by his parents as messing with their alliance strategies – your self and position are not neutral : Reflexivity must be consciously cultivated
  • What is Observed needs describing . Description , it may seem, needs no explanation : just be attentive and curious about everything BUT Its a challenge to render in writing complex interactions and sequences of actions , or to transcribe utterances spoken in languages that they seldom master perfectly . Be aware of your own prejudice and ETHNOCENTRISM. avoid moral judgements , it is impossible to attain a position of perfect neutrality Ethnographers cannot possibly deliver a faithful copy of the reality observed; rather, they offer a scale-model, a likeness of what can never be fully described . Use two contrivances : composition , which selects from the continuity of their experience pieces of action or utterances reputedly more significant than others, and generalisation , which invests these episodes with a meaning that can be expanded to the whole group under study.
  • How to document all this? Fieldnotes Anthropologists’ primary data are typically narrative descriptions Mostly text, but diagrams are often very useful: – drawings – plans – maps - photographs But all based on direct observation, informal conversational interviews, and personal experience, although quantitative and more formal, structured data can also be collected. holistic and " radical empiricist ." styles of writing are both useful and valuable Indexing
  • Once indexed field-notes allow comparison and eventually deductive explanation: Usually portrayed in anthropology as a three-step procedure : isolating a certain class of reputedly recurring phenomena: Malinowski example of garden magic to make yams grow , or fishing magic to improve catch and ensure safety; making hypotheses as to the relations existing between these phenomena; what are the similarities in practices and emic theories of magic and elaborating a model of these relations in order to study their formal properties; can a general theory of magic be elucidated form the comparison of this with other ethnographic cases
  • You’ll need this advice because this afternoon you will have to do some PO – intro Ba-Li
  • All on moodle
  • All on moodle
  • In spite of these personal variations, however, there is a striking, even uncanny, homogeneity in the way ethnographers build up their knowledge in the course of their investigations. And this homogeneity has to do with the sheer rhythm of fieldwork, with the fact that the process of understanding a foreign culture requires a series of stages that appear almost identical in their duration for all observers. This point was brought home to me in Cambridge many years ago by Meyer Fortes as he was recounting a conversation with his mentor Malinowski, just before leaving for his own fieldwork with the Tallensi. Malinowski had told him that he expected to receive a first disgruntled letter in about twomonths, inwhich Fortes would complain about the food, the climate, the lack of privacy and the general impossibility of making sense of what the natives, as they were called at that time, were doing or saying. Another letter would follow approximately four months later in a more optimistic tone, reporting steady progress with fieldwork and the dawning of a few working hypothesis about what was going on. Then, after almost a year in the field, Fortes would write again to Malinowski telling him that the job was almost done, with only a few remaining details to clear up. And this would be the critical moment. For a few weeks later a new letter would follow in which Fortes would explain that he had got it all wrong, and that he required more time in order to weigh new information that had modified his previous understanding of the social system. But the remarkable thing about the anecdote is that all my own students also sent me the same types of letter at the same stages in their fieldwork, independently of their personal temperaments and abilities. This is why I have come to the rustic conclusion that, where fieldwork is concerned, rhythm and duration are the methods that matter.
  • Particpant observation intro_lec_10

    1. 1. ANTHROPOLOGICAL METHODS Participant Observation
    2. 2. Notes and Queries on Anthropology
    3. 3. Haddon – Torres Straits expeditions (1888-9 and 1898)
    4. 4. <ul><li>The Notes and Queries methodology </li></ul><ul><li>Imposed ethno-centric assumptions and blinded researchers to contrary evidence </li></ul><ul><li>Represented social reality as “static” - neglected ambiguity, contradiction and change </li></ul><ul><li>Failed to recognize the relationship between attitudes/norms and behaviour </li></ul>
    5. 5. Bronislaw Malinowski The ‘inventor’ of the concept of participant-observation’
    6. 6. Participant observation produces ethnography But there are different ways of ‘doing’ PO   Malinowski privileged observation Geertz privileged participation PO does not create conflict between qualitative and quantitative methods – but establishes a productive context for applying them appropriately
    7. 7. Participation <ul><li>‘ the ethnographers’ workshop is their own self and the relations that they have managed to establish between this self and some members of a society’ </li></ul><ul><li>Descola 2005 </li></ul>
    8. 8. Participation and role management <ul><li>Does getting ‘the native’s point of view’ mean ‘going native’? </li></ul><ul><li>Rabinow – one is always an outsider and an observer </li></ul><ul><li>Katy Gardner – learning another culture involves bodily transformation </li></ul><ul><li>The importance of REFLEXIVITY </li></ul>
    9. 9. Observation <ul><li>‘ in a science where the observer and the observed share common properties, description is never simple’ (Descola 2005) </li></ul><ul><li>No neutrality </li></ul><ul><li>Not possible to provide a faithful copy of observed reality </li></ul><ul><li>Requires reflexivity </li></ul>
    10. 10. Field notes
    11. 11. To explain deductively <ul><li>1. isolate a certain class of reputedly recurring phenomena; </li></ul><ul><li>2. making hypotheses as to the relations existing between these phenomena; and </li></ul><ul><li>3. elaborating a model of these relations in order to study their formal properties. </li></ul>
    12. 12. <ul><li>According to markers the biggest failing of Masters dissertations is the lack of connection between </li></ul><ul><li>The data collected, </li></ul><ul><li>its theoretical significance and </li></ul><ul><li>Analysis (its relation to current debates in the literature) </li></ul>
    13. 13. Advice on fieldwork <ul><li>Westermarck – ‘don’t converse with an informant for more than twenty minutes because if you aren’t bored by that time he will be’ </li></ul><ul><li>Seligman – ‘take 10 grams of quinine a night and keep off women’ </li></ul><ul><li>Malinowski – ‘don’t be a bloody fool’ </li></ul>
    14. 14. Ba-Li Ethnographic Experiment Instructions <ul><li>Your tasks are to: </li></ul><ul><li>1. Learn your ‘new culture’ as a BA or a LI. Obviously time does not permit us to learn a real culture, therefore we have created two caricatured cultures that we hope will permit you to gain some experience of what it feels like to try and understand a different culture. </li></ul><ul><li>2. Make a short field trip to the other ‘culture’. We will simultaneously exchange small groups of ‘researchers’ to do fieldwork among the other ‘culture’. </li></ul><ul><li>When you are not researching on a field trip you will be BA-ing or LI-ing, depending on your culture. </li></ul><ul><li>Everyone will have the opportunity of visiting the other culture and writing fieldnotes. </li></ul><ul><li>Students decide when and how to take fieldnotes . </li></ul>
    15. 15. <ul><li>Afterwards your tasks are to: </li></ul><ul><li>3. Organise and write up your field-notes in two parts: </li></ul><ul><li>3.1 Write a report of your fieldwork experience and the culture you studied (maximum 300 words). You might try and answer such questions as: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>What matters most in the society visited? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How is it exhibited? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How is the society organised? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>3.2 Write 150 words (max) on ‘ what have you learned about doing ethnography?’ </li></ul><ul><li>4. Discuss. What did you learn from this activity? What do you think are the anthropological reasons for doing this exercise? </li></ul>
    16. 16. MEET IN THE DARYL FORD SEMINAR ROOM, 14 TAVITON STREET @ 14:00 hours (Do not go to the class rooms you will normally attend)
    17. 17. Duration <ul><li>When is enough enough? </li></ul><ul><li>When do you know that you know? </li></ul>