Fieldwork Tradition in Anthropology: Approaches to Fieldwork

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  • What is Fieldwork.
  • Approaches to Fieldwork.
  • Fieldwork Tradition.
  • While doing fieldworks … .
  • Beginning the fieldwork
  • Ethics in fieldwork


  • Technique of data collection.
  • Study of people and their culture in their natural habitat.
  • Definition: “Anthropological fieldwork has been characterized by prolonged residence of the investigator, his/her participation and observation of society and to achieve the holistic view of a social scientist.”

Approaches to Fieldwork

  • Important to Socio-Cultural Anthropologist and same for the Physical and Archaeological Anthropologist.
  • It provides extraordinary experience and stays with them for their entire career.
  • A period where every time a research is to be conducted.
  • Devote at least a year or more to gather satisfactory findings.
  • In past: It led to total isolation from researcher՚s own life and accepted the unfamiliar and unknown societies.

Fieldwork Tradition

  • Earlier: Accounts written by traders, Travellers, missionaries, and administrators. They used these materials for producing grand theories.
  • Later: Started sending questionnaires for collecting information on areas of their specific interests.
  • Inadequacies of such material made anthropologists to undertake field visits to collect their own data.
  • Malinowski՚s fieldwork among Trobriand islanders be a landmark in fieldwork tradition in anthropology.
  • Beginning of 19th century, to understand the evolution of human and contemporary humans of unknown places existed. This arose because of Europe՚s expansion on lands which they made into colonies.
  • The data were gathered by missionaries, Travellers, traders, colonial administrators, during their visits to such locals.
  • Anthropologists read these accounts and gave their own interpretation. Thus, anthropologists of that period came to be known as ‘Armchair anthropologists’ (comforts of the libraries/studies) .
  • Such a celebrated anthropologist was James Frazer whose work on religion and myth was completely based on secondary source of information.
  • End of 19th century, Anthropologists start visiting the field to conduct pragmatic field studies.
  • Major fieldworks were conducted by Americans, British, Germans, French.
  • Franz Boas (in America) in British Columbia & Alfred C. Haddon (in British) in Torres Strait.

While Doing Field Work

  • Observe intently and listen attentively to everything around.
  • Not to disturb the regular course of life.
  • Once make comfortable with researcher՚s presence, then start other methods: conversing, interviewing, photographing etc.
  • Unbiased Understanding without attachment.
  • Documenting day՚s event and experiences in a notebook.
  • Aware all the times to collect data.

Beginning the Fieldwork

  • Choose Geographical and Cultural Area for field project.
  • Studies Literature.
  • Learn Language if recorded.
  • Interested in a specific problem and in social/cultural theory.
  • First couple of months: Carefully do fieldwork as not to hurt anybody՚s sensitivities.
  • To receive complete acceptance: try to learn about the native dos (customs and decorum) and don՚ts (taboos and bans) .
  • Once rapport built: Start building work routine.
  • Beginning: Fieldwork should be preferably impersonal.
  • Try to learn the native language: Build sense of brotherhood.
  • Create a census helps in knowing person, place, and composition.
  • Jots down everything
  • Slowly start involving herself/himself in daily affairs or observe lengthy rituals related to marriage and death.
  • Listen conversations and local gossips carefully.

Evans Pritchard (1940) : while studying Nuer-

  • Hardly had anytime to himself.
  • His camp always surrounded by native visitors
  • Next: Now concentrate on basic problems – Studying kinship system, marriage, family type, residence, economy, religious and political organizations, witchcrafts, magical practices etc.
  • Start enquiring through interviews and check validity of the answers – what is ideal and what is practiced.
  • Oscar Lewis (1961) : use of tape recorder to conduct long interviews – better humanistic account of events.
  • Powdermaker (1962) : recorded inter-African conversations by an African assistant, which showed unprompted tones of emotions of African life.
  • New Learning: shifted from holistic study to more particular issues.
  • isolated simple societies to complex urban societies.

Study of large complex societies by:

  • Employ Assistants
  • Make a random survey in beginning/end to verify standards/authentication.

Ethics in Fieldwork

  • Informed consent
  • Beliefs about personhood individual autonomy and decisional capacity
  • Protection of confidentially
  • Relationship with research participants
  • Fieldworker and intervention
  • Recommendations for resolving ethical dilemmas.

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