Cross-Cultural Fieldwork: The Heart of Anthropological Research
Cross-cultural (often international) fieldwork has been at the heart of anthropological research since the since the discipline’s beginnings in the 19th century. During the 20th century, extended periods of fieldwork became a standard requirement for anthropology graduate students in the US, UK, and many other countries. This presentation will explore the history of ethnographic fieldwork, going back to L. H. Morgan’s research with the Seneca and Bronislaw Malinowski’s Trobriand experience. It will consider fieldwork’s value as a tool both for understanding others and gaining insight into oneself. And it will examine many of the challenges that fieldworkers must overcome. Such challenges range from gaining entry into the community one wishes to study and the logistics of providing food and lodging to establishment of trust with members of one’s host community, the trauma of culture shock, occasional physical danger, and a variety of ethical dilemmas. In addition to surveying the experience of others in adjusting to life in the field, I will draw upon my own experience conducting research with the Navajo of the American southwest and with several Polynesian communities in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.