AnthrosInTheField

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ethics

The snow is falling gently from the grey-blueish heaven and drop down on the already white covered surface. As Ravens, or Crows as they are locally known, search the community for scraps or offerings I have been thinking about the ethical debate.
Has I have mentioned in a previous posting, fieldwork is full with choices, with sacrifices, and with life lessons. In a way this counts for each profession, but I think that working with other people (whichever skin and therefore identity is attached to this person) can particularly be sensitive to the choices to make or have made and the lessons to learn or have learned. Ethics has never been my strongest point and although aware of official ethical guidelines I have not always followed them. This has brought some tension and I have learned from those earlier choices. However, I am continuously confronted with ethical issues and questions. For example, the place of living is one of some controversial colour as the family not always follows the law. Fortunately, the community has not associated me with this controversion as I have made the choice of staying alcohol free during conducting fieldwork. This choice has followed previous rather unpleasant racial and job discriminatory orientated experiences with drunk people in the field. For me, ethics are not the policitically or institutionalised written documents that have been produced by anthropological and other academic or political institutions. Instead, ethics concerns the histories you bring along with you when doing fieldwork and often they are very basic and personally driven. The essence lies in the common thought that one takes care and especiallly respects other persons. As such, ethics in the field are quite similar to the ethics or actioning outside of this field, although there might be some nuances.

Yesterday, a 'key-informant' read my diary that was laying around in the office. The diary deals both with personal feelings as with fieldnotes, I feel that they are an integral and interwined part of one another. She read the first part of the diary in which I was struggling in my personal life and was very frustrated and insecure in the field and with anthropology. Social issues had dropped in as a bomb and I wrote about the intentional ways of making contact; going to school, going to church. Furthermore, each conversation I have is a potential source of information and indirectly an interview and I make notes of these conversations after. I very much feel like spying at some occassions. Anyway, this made me think about the sharing of information and ways of conducting fieldwork. Especially in the beginning I have had difficulties taking notes and even now I am sometimes reluctant in taking notes, forgetting sometimes very interesting parts of a conversation. Other times, I have felt very uncomfortable to write something political sensitive or to write critical about a particular individual. However, sharing notes can be very fruitful and trigger new conversations and discussions.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Alienated home

Over a month ago I left the 'field' and returned back to my parental home and country. Being back in the 'field' I have felt myself in a very awkward and occassionally disturbing feeling of alienation from your own original home. As I flew over into the lower lands and saw the green fields that form a pleasant dinner table for livestock, I returned back to the place that I had left eleven months ago. Touching the soil and moving amongst people who speak my native tongue the eleven months almost seemed to vaporize within the crowded mass of passengers. My oldest sister awaited me with a broad smile and we hugged and gave the traditional three-kiss greeting. When I finally came to the door of my parental home, I felt to have returned back as I had returned back so often during the University-years in a town in the Center of my country. All those experiences and life-lessons that had accompanied me throughout the time were like a distant dream that belonged to another realm.
Yet, soon after the first days of hecticness the dream appeared to become more realistic in the forms of memories and especially the stories that were dwelling up from the mind into the mouth seeking their way out into expression. But somehow that is where most of the stories stay, somewhere on the road from the mind to the mouth and the overwhelming amount of quick questioning by relatives and friends led me more silent then speechful. How could one describe those experiences, how could one describe that other life you have been living; the life of an anthropologist? This is something I had been aware of, but that has been strongly re-affirmed by the short visit. Furthermore, I felt rather empty without doing fieldwork, without taking notes or without the so-called informants (which remains a very unpleasant word). My parents and sisters also knew that I had become a stranger in my own place and that I will most likely not be able anymore to live in my birth-country.

Before, I mentioned three questions and I had not yet come back to them in length. Perhaps, the short visit to parental home has answered a small portion of one question, namely 'What does it mean to be an anthropologist?' As anthropologist, I think that should be a realisation that our work can lead us away from our own country, our own relatives and friends. Not only due to distance in some cases, but especially because anthropology deals with social processes in life that become a distinct part of our becoming. Therefore, one enters a periphery between privacy and work that at least in my case has brought a distance between myself and the country I have been brought up in and have spend many wonderful jovenile years. Sometimes speaking to relatives or friends I felt they were speaking a Marsian language and I could not understand or did not felt to understand discussions about policies, mortages, etc. or even worse I would be speaking about work and soon felt that it was as alien as my sister would speak about her work as biochemist. And finally, I am starting to take a different point-of-view towards environment, culture. Maybe being anthropologist means to be playful with identity, playful with the entire concept of home.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Fieldwork

This morning I will come back to the topic of fieldwork. As mentioned before, Deleuze has been very influential in the work I have done and am currently doing. In one of his lectures he started in the following way:
"We are going to be involved for a short while in a series on Leibniz. My goal is very simple: for those who don't know him at all, I want to present this author and to have you love him, to incite in you a sort of desire to read his works" (http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/texte.php?cle=50&groupe=Leibniz&langue=2).

Deleuze has been introduced to me by a senior lecturer of my previous University and she has played and remain to play an important role in challenging anthropology. She has placed a lot of emphasis on the notion of 'making' and movement, hence the third question concerned the aspect of making. Fieldwork seems to be suitable way to address and to explore this emphasis. For background, this is the third time I have been on a fieldwork trip and each time has been very different and the approach taken has been very different. The first time was an one-month preliminary fieldwork experience in which I used the technique of interviewing and occassionally participant observation or observational participation. There are times that I believe to have learned a lot during this short period and that this was the gas on the fire to enlight that desire of which Deleuze was talking about in the quote mentioned above (Leibniz exchanging for anthropology). The second time conducting fieldwork was a very intense one and it has taken me over two years to recover from all the experiences, the events, the choices made during doing fieldwork. The topic acquired a (semi-) covered research in political sensitive, at times dangerous setting. One lesson was to be learned that own safety and health comes prior to work and that one needs to set a line, a boundary between their own actual life and their passion. As such, giving in or giving up is not something to be ashamed of but perhaps rather something to be proud of. I was not able or willing to do so and remained conducting fieldwork in an occasional difficult and physically and psychologically demanding position. In the end, I was simply not prepared for the things to be encountered. Hardly, a week does not pass without thinking about the people I met and about their lives. Furthermore, I have felt to have taken advantage of them and have abandoned them in order to continue anthropology and a possible career in this profession. Yet, one day I hope and know to return one day in both fieldwork settings.

Presently, I am in a different setting with a lot more familiarities and comfortabilities. However, there are many similarities between the peoples I have worked with and some of the things that I encounter. Before my arrival I had to arrange a Traditonal Knowledge agreement and I feel sometimes chained by this agreement. All the information and data gathered needs to be handed over to an Institution. Furthermore, all my interests and things I had intended to write about, have been written about or people (local as well as other academic) are going to write about. In all honestly, I wonder whether I could justify the 15 months of fieldwork to the Institution, to the People that have welcomed and adopted me. Working on this ethnography, I sometimes feel a lot of pressure as the expectations and the implications of this specific work (as I believe with each thesis that all of us are working with and on) are very high. Well, another two years to write about all the experiences and another five months of conducting interviews and doing fieldwork. But this is something I enjoy and which keeps me focused...all the questions, the riddles, the inquiries, the insecurities, the passion.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Anthropology

This blog has been set up by several individuals as a means to enter a dialogue and express concerns, feelings, experiences of the field. The other time I left a comment with the thought of an official website, which is one that flows out of this blog.

Whilst being in a relative small community and perhaps for some a rather remote one, I have wondered about, critiqued, devoured, 'hated', and embraced anthropology. What does it mean to be an anthropologist, what is anthropology, and perhaps the most dificult question 'What does anthropology make? Having followed several levels of education, I have never felt completely part of the academic setting and the hegemony of a certain style of education. Ironically, the only way to address these concerns is by doing a Ph.D. and taking part of the game. Yet, I am fortunate to work within a renovative University and am glad to follow both dreams and passions through the discipline of anthropology. My becoming derives from many people and one could consider identity as an assemblage to speak in Deleuzian words. My roots are male, white European (though I cannot tell you what this means or entails) and I am following both Indigenous teachings as those of Deleuze, Spinoza, and Leibniz. Furthermore, both my family as friends and collegeaus and strangers and others attribute and inspire and question the work I am doing and enjoy doing (which obviously is anthropology). As such, I am always in movement and my awareness and attention guides through the things I encounter on television, on radio, in daily activities, in dreams or occassionally 'nightmares', and especially through the electronic conversations or lively conversations with others. A friend once told me that it seemed to him that I was doing top-sport and questioned whether the profession wasn't at times a lonely one. On both remarks I had to tell him that he was right. Often, I compare anthropology to a 24/7 job as to me anthropology never ends in a certain setting. Everything is related (connected) to one another. I remember a Native American Chief once being quoted. Slowly, I learn to leave anthropology and don't think about work but other times I am once again captured by a thought, an idea, a spark.

As for fieldwork, I have chosen to live with the so-called informants (which is of course a rather unpleasant but at times realistic term) within almost one-and-half months living on my own. I had noticed that it was difficult for me to shift between the different worlds or better said points-of-view. Each day I felt to get accustomed to the 'outsiders' as soon as opened the door and greeted a person on the street. Moreso, I felt white and distanced from those I wanted to get to know; not only in particular settings but as persons with own lives of conquests and difficulties. Every week I question myself whether I have made the right decision and whether I would be better off in an own place. At the end of the week, I tell myself to get an own place and move on to the next week to question and answer the same question again. Yet, I have learned a lot and believe that the choice of living with a family has been very fruitful and eradicates the often romantised vision of anthropology. Someone, described (quoting Leach...in reality I am aware that everything I am saying and am going to write has been discussed and written about and actually this has become part of my topic; the continuity of life and the 'myth of development'. ) anthropology or her work as HARD WORK and I have found these two words confirming with my experiences in anthropology and fieldwork.
Occassionally, there are events which seem so distant and awkward to the European point-of-view (over-generalisation to make it easier to read). I am working with Indigenous Peoples that partially hunt, fish, gather, and trap. Yet, at the same time the People drive in big trucks, have to pay mortages, have wireless internet, have satelite phones, travel the world, watch the newest shows and movies on television, have jobs in the oil companies etc.... Spending both time out on the land and in the community, I am working with the People on an ethnography. Once a lecturer mentioned that ethnographies are for anthropologists that have nothing else to write about or lack the imagination to form something original. Obviously, I was very offended and hurt by this comment but by now I have taken the comment as a way to remain focused and 'aggressive' to accomplish dreams. To me, ethnographies are the ultimate holistic form of doing fieldwork and I am fortunate to live in that rather small community and not in a city or large town. Fieldwork is for me 'hanging around' to borrow a phrase from a fellow anthropologist that almost did the same work in the same community as I am doing. I participate in all activities and have felt this fruitful in my case. As I am intrigued and focused on life, this sometimes also means to be confronted with lesser joyful events such as death due to social issues or old age. In the community, the men dig graves and the women provide the meals. In two occassions, I have found myself holding a spade and stand in the grave whilst being surrounded by others. This all sounds very grim and sinister but I have found this a way to deal with the sad occassion and to move on. Death is simply part of life.

Anyways, I and the others that have been involved in creating this blog hope that you will contribute to this by either comments, questions, experiences, dilemmas, or particular events of joy or sadness. Perhaps those unfamilair with anthropology will become inspired and interested or those critical towards anthropology will challenge us.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Reply to comment:

Hmmm, I dont have anyone telling me when i've gone too far but i think thats also a bit my fault- i'm being so safe not to insult/bother anyone that i'm probably just setting up more of a limit as to what i can learn from them-

And its funny because I'm in a Western-english speaking field-site so it gets confusing sometimes- I'm kinda used to the setting and all and forget how many universes apart I am from them, and then some little thing will happen- like someone's b-day- and the b-day song they sing is a different one from the typical one we know from english-speaking movies and it just reminds me how much work i have to do....

Something else i've found really annoying is how much of a weight the whole ethics thing feels, in terms of being able to use recording equipment while in the field- Its resulted in no video documentation for me, eventhough I have a camera siting next to me for the past few months...

Do you think there are other similar blogs like this one out there? I wish we could have it right when we hit the field, because by now I'm sort of used to the uncomfortable feeling of doing fieldwork- whereas when I first got here I didnt know what to do with it and was freaking out!

And what about the 'enough data' thing- do we stop simply because we run out of money and time's up? Someone once told me they had stayed in the field for too long, and all the politics of their people started turning against them- I guess thats a nice point to say 'ok, enough, i'm obviously unwanted here so there's not much they'd like to share with me'- but at the same time it sounds like it could be the most interesting experience to write about...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I still have the nightmares about my field-people. I recently had a very nice interview (long, informative, extremely interesting and it burried the promise of fruitful future collaboration- helping both ways).

However, a week ago, i had the weirdest nightmare about the interviewee. I had to meet him at his day time job. He worked as a guard in jail. And so, I had to stand next to convicts going in through the gates while asking him questions. I think its a bit the whole 'intrusive' feeling i have about taking time from those peoples lives, lives that are extremely different from my own- something i misculculated when figuring out my fieldwork: 'i'll be doing fieldwork in place i've lived before', and so thinking of it as somehow my home... which ofcourse as off track as it might have been, at least saves me from having to cover and include the 'anthropology at home' literature in my thesis.

And the more i get closer i feel the more responsibility i have to not be so selfish about what i get from them- and that just seems impossible-

Anyways, at least i'm not digging graves for the people i meet! :) (hint hint!)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Here It Goes

HOpe it works this time!