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Palgrave Macmillan

Working in the Field

Anthropological Experiences across the World

ISBN 9781137430977
Publication Date June 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (PDF) Ebook (EPUB) 
Publisher Palgrave Pivot

How are ethnographic knowledge and anthropological theory created out of field experiences? Working in the Field explores emplacement and experience-centered narratives as the modes in working in places brings anthropology to life. Stewart and Strathern show how first impressions of an area carry depths of meanings which can gradually be unpacked in later analysis and how the fieldworker's memories may become blended with those of the people studied as a result of long-term engagement with them. Spanning Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, and Scotland, and Ireland, Stewart and Strathern show how fieldwork in apparently different areas can lead to unexpected comparisons and discoveries of similarities in human cross-cultural patterns of behavior.

Pamela J. Stewart (Strathern) and Andrew J. Strathern are a research team in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, USA. They have jointly published many books and articles on a wide range of topics and are currently developing a new subfield in Anthropology, i.e., Disaster Anthropology, including Climatic Change.

Preface: Working in Places, Moving through Spaces
1. Prologue
2. Papua New Guinea
2. Taiwan
4. Memory


  • Naomi McPherson 18th January 2015

    Congratulations on the publication of Working in the Field: Anthropological Experiences across the World (2014), which I recently finished reading. Truly, good things do come in small packages, and there is much of value between these covers. I appreciate the personalized narrative form and the use of concepts and terms that are as defining of the kinds of theoretical and methodology challenges we as anthropologists currently face, as well as making quite clear that these are not mere theory and methods issues but are actually central to “doing” anthropology. I speak of such terms as emplacement, embodiment and concepts of space, place and identity; not only identity(ies) of the people with whom we work but also our own sense of identity and self as anthropologists and human beings. We are changed by each experience in the field. This changing anthropological self is well presented in the book, be it in the context of the highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) or the highlands of Scotland, where each field site is so different from the other(s), yet each site sets us up to cope in our next field site/visit. I know graduate students anticipating fieldwork in their future will gain a great deal of insight to the process of field research and the value of long term field work. Given my own experience in ongoing fieldwork in northwest New Britain, PNG, since 1980, the discussion of memory, fieldnotes and repeated visits to one site highlights the role of field notes as mnemonics and, importantly, that such “repetitions or reiterations of fieldwork further act as correctives for the kind of perception syndrome that results from a single period of fieldwork and the snapshot effect that comes from such a single period of experience” (p.46). That “snapshot effect” has been responsible for the “ethnographic present” of published ethnographies, leaving the people among whom we live and work without a future, only a “present,” which is really a past, as though they are captured in amber. This, of course, denies a key component of any discussion of “culture;” indeed, of the whole of human experience, viz, that “change is the only constant.” As you point out, “long-term fieldwork reveals … patterns of fluidity as well as their foundations in more fixed cultural ideas. The work of memory takes place (literally) in between fluidity and fixity of experience” (p. 54). I think this book should be required reading for all students of anthropology and for all those who ponder the purposes and processes of ethnographic fieldwork. This book is a little gem of the personal, the professional and the passion in doing ethnography and experiencing fieldwork.

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