16 March 2017

Fieldwork: preparing for the good, bad, and the ugly

From Anthropology Matters come this article by Amy Pollard: "Field of screams: difficulty and ethnographic fieldwork."

As explained in the abstract, many novice field researchers -- here, PhD students -- are often unprepared for the emotional toll of this staple of our discipline: the long-term, immersive field research trip.
Ethnographic fieldwork can be a time of intense vulnerability for PhD students. Often alone and in an unfamiliar context, they may face challenges that their pre-fieldwork training has done little to prepare them for. This study seeks to document some of the difficulties that PhD anthropologists at three UK universities have faced. It describes a range of feelings as experienced by 16 interviewees: alone, ashamed, bereaved, betrayed, depressed, desperate, disappointed, disturbed, embarrassed, fearful, frustrated, guilty, harassed, homeless, paranoid, regretful, silenced, stressed, trapped, uncomfortable, unprepared, unsupported, and unwell. The paper concludes with a set of questions for prospective fieldworkers, a reflection on the dilemmas faced by supervisors and university departments, and a proposal for action.
This piece should be essential reading for all students and advisors, including the concluding "Questions for PhD students" and notes on Supervisor and Departmental Dilemmas.

Quick links and further reading: