20 March 2017

Book Report Entry #2: Beyond Informants

In continuation from our coverage of Luis A. Vivianco's Field Notes: A Guided Journal for Doing Anthropology, he provides a practical appraisal of fieldwork in his second chapter.

In one of his Fieldwork Tips, Vivianco describes the terminology used to identify the people who anthropologists conduct research with. He reminds us that fieldworkers actively select and synthesize with those individuals what actual details will become data, in a process that Fabian recognized was neither objective or subjective but intersubjective, which refers to the joint creation of comprehension and meaning between a fieldworker and the subjects of his or her research.

Below is a list of terms that Vivianco uses to point to the relationship between the researcher and participant:
  1. Interlocutor - speaks to an ongoing conversation between an ethnographer and the individuals involved with their research 
  2. Collaborator - highlights an attempt to find equity between participant and researcher
  3. Consultants - evokes a feeling of seeking out and working with participants as 'experts'
  4. Informant - potential negative associations on account of their use in criminal and legalistic connotation (e.g. police informant)
It's important to realize the position of anthropologists (historically and currently) in relation to their participants - I would argue that this is unique to anthropology within the social science disciplines.

In 2015, Kristina from the cool Anthropology, or so we seem to think blog published a post about the differences between Anthropology and SociologyIn this post, she describes the similarities between anthropological and sociological studies, which is no small feat. Through comparison, the author is forced to frame these disciplines as binary opposites in order to account for their historical impressions; yet, she teases out the important and growing cross-over work by researchers in each of these fields.

An example of this teasing out process is found in understanding the location of a typical field site, which she writes as: Both Anthropology and Sociology have transformed over the last 100 years or so, but their roots are still present in the disciplines today. Sociological studies are most often based in Western or industrialized societies, while anthropological studies have more traditionally been based in non-Western societies. While many, many anthropologists work in Western societies and communities now, this early difference is still significant. 

Kristina doesn't write about the position of researcher in relation to the participant in her post; however, one might argue that anthropologists typically prioritize the voices of their research participants in the write up, and analysis, of their work as is pointed out by Vivianco in his fieldwork tip titled Beyond "Informants"? While there are certainly sociologists who understand their research relationships in the same way, this distinction could be identified as something unique to our field.

Quick links and further reading: