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Surprises and trends revealed during fieldwork_Marta Silva

Surprises and trends revealed during fieldwork_Marta Silva

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Published by yorku_anthro_conf
Abstract: This paper is based on my Master`s fieldwork. In particular, it focuses on the challenges that I faced at my field site: what if everything you planned goes wrong? What if the strategy you conceived to gather information cannot be put into practice? What if your main informant has other interests and his own perspective on how you can fit into his/her projects? My experience reminded me of Evans-Pritchard’s fieldwork wisdom. In his classic book “Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande”, he argues that an anthropologist needs to be opened to be guided by what he finds in the society he chooses to study. In his particular case, for instance, he was not interested in studying witchcraft, but the Azande were, so he had to let himself be guided by them. Therefore, inspired by Evans-Pritchard, this paper seeks to contribute to discussions about the challenges and the changes that can occur during the fieldwork.

Keywords: Fieldwork, anthropological research, indigenous audiovisual production
Abstract: This paper is based on my Master`s fieldwork. In particular, it focuses on the challenges that I faced at my field site: what if everything you planned goes wrong? What if the strategy you conceived to gather information cannot be put into practice? What if your main informant has other interests and his own perspective on how you can fit into his/her projects? My experience reminded me of Evans-Pritchard’s fieldwork wisdom. In his classic book “Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande”, he argues that an anthropologist needs to be opened to be guided by what he finds in the society he chooses to study. In his particular case, for instance, he was not interested in studying witchcraft, but the Azande were, so he had to let himself be guided by them. Therefore, inspired by Evans-Pritchard, this paper seeks to contribute to discussions about the challenges and the changes that can occur during the fieldwork.

Keywords: Fieldwork, anthropological research, indigenous audiovisual production

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Published by: yorku_anthro_conf on Aug 31, 2011
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07/23/2013

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Surprises and trends revealed during the feldwork
Marta Silva
PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at York University, Toronto, ON
 T
he purpose o this paper is to provide a reectionabout the diculties, the challenges and thechanges that can occur during the eldwork.What i everything you planned goes wrong ateryou arrive at your eld site? This paper is basedon my own experience: the issues I will presentemerged during the eldwork I did or my Master`s research. The purpose o my Master’s thesis was to investigate theemergence o a new orm o Indigenous activism in Brazil. ThisIndigenous activism is ostered by empowerment projectsrelated to audiovisual production and perormed by youngIndigenous moviemakers.In my rst eldwork trip, I ollowed The Brazilian Indian VideoFestival. The program included seminars, lm exhibitions,debates, a photographic exhibition and a basic audiovisualproduction workshop directed towards young memberso Brazilian Indigenous peoples. Twenty young peopleparticipated in this workshop to obtain basic knowledgeabout cinema, documentaries and photography, and to learnhow to register and edit their own images. I was the only non-Indigenous person in attendance.During the workshop, everybody received me extremelywell. I was also extremely ortunate: in the second day o theworkshop, one o the organizers said to me that because allthe Indigenous students were staying in the same hotel andoccupied many rooms, the owner had ofered an extra roomor ree. Since everything was set up and they didn’t have anextra person to occupy that room, she asked i I would beinterested and ofered the room to me... In addition to nothaving to pay or my room, I had the privilege o staying inthe same hotel as the Indigenous students, o sharing mealswith them, and o going to the workshop in the same bus withthem. Thereore, I had many opportunities to talk to them andto establish connections.Ater the workshop nished, two o the 20 students thatattended the workshop
 
continued to develop a projectrelated to audiovisual production. They worked together,with one directing and the other producing and perormingin the movie. They produced a short movie about Indigenousstudents in public universities and they conceived o two otherprojects: one related to land issues and another ocusing onthe elder people o their community. Exchanging emails with
Abstract
 This paper is based on myMaster`s eldwork. In particular,it ocuses on the challenges thatI aced at my eld site: what i everything you planned goeswrong? What i the strategy youconceived to gather inormationcannot be put into practice? Whati your main inormant has otherinterests and his own perspectiveon how you can t into his/her projects? My experiencereminded me o Evans-Pritchard’seldwork wisdom. In his classicbook 
“Witchcrat, Oracles and Magic among the Azande”,
heargues that an anthropologistneeds to be opened to be guidedby what he nds in the society hechooses to study. In his particularcase, or instance, he was notinterested in studying witchcrat,but the Azande were, so he hadto let himsel be guided by them. Thereore, inspired by Evans-Pritchard, this paper seeks tocontribute to discussions aboutthe challenges and the changesthat can occur during theeldwork.
Keywords
Fieldwork, anthropologicalresearch, indigenous audiovisualproduction
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009
I thought to mysel:
ok, I didn’t manage to get tothe event, or to ollow the debates, but at least I saw the movie...
I traveled to the city where my main inormantlives. At 11 p.m. on the day I arrived, I was in mypyjamas, working on my eld work notes, whenthe phone rang. It was rom the hotel hall:
There is a person here who wants totalk to you.
It was my inormant.
Ok, I’m going down, I said.
I got ready quickly and met him in the hotel hall. To my surprise, he said:
I’m not doing any movie now becauseI have a problem and you are the only  person that can help me... I’m fnishingmy Undergraduate Studies and I need to write my thesis. I have only two weeksto write it, the deadline is coming... Can you help me? 
I was surprised, but I was also glad to be asked tohelp in this way, because it was something thatI elt I could do. I had written two theses or myCommunication Undergraduate Studies, and Ihad a major in Journalism –which developed mywriting skills. Thereore, the next day, I went with my inormantto the Indigenous Research Centre at hisuniversity, because he had a computer there towork. By coincidence, when I arrived there, I sawthe woman who did not allow me to enter theevent... She worked in the Indigenous ResearchCentre. My inormant presented me to thecoordinator o the Centre. He was extremelyriendly:
From which university are you? 
(I said the name o the university)
Oh! Who is your advisor? 
(I said his name)
Oh! He`s a very good riend o mine! What are you researching here? 
(I explained)them, I ound out that they would exhibit theirmovie about Indigenous students or the rsttime during a conerence they were organizing.I asked i I could ollow their work related to thenew projects and i I could go to the conerence. They agreed and the one who directed the moviesagreed to meet me beore the conerence. WhenI asked or inormation about where to stay,such as suggested hotels, he suggested that Isend an email to someone rom their universitywho knew more about these details. I wrote theemail, but the person never replied. So, I plannedmy second eldwork trip without this help andew to my eld site, thinking that I would goto the conerence and ollow the work o myinormants. In act, I didn’t manage to do any o these things...I arrived in the city where the conerence wouldtake place. First surprise: where was my inormant?He didn’t arrive, but I went to the conerenceanyway. The movie produced by the Indigenousstudents was exhibited in the beginning o theopening ceremony o the conerence. Aterthe opening ceremony, I managed to nd theother Indigenous student who produced andperormed in the movie. Since the other dayso the conerence would take place in anotherlocation, I asked or some directions. He askeda person rom his university or this inormationand to my surprise, she said I could not go. Itwould not be an open event: only Indigenouspeople and a ew researchers were allowed togo. I said that I had got permission rom two o the organizers, so she sent me to talk to anotherperson rom the university, who sent me to talk to another person and so on, until I nally metthe person to whom I had sent the email beoretravelling. Her answer was very direct:
Yes, I got your email. Yes, I didn`t reply.No, you cannot go.But I came rom ar away just to attend this event! I have permission rom twoo the organizers.Sorry. It`s only or Indigenous people...Ok then...
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to Indigenous populations. The act that my inormant could not producehis movie and instead requested my help orhis thesis could, at a rst glance, be seen as adeviation rom my research, but it was actuallyextremely helpul or me. It gave me access to theIndigenous Research Centre at the university heattended. Because I was helping my inormant, Ihad to go there every day and had the opportunityto do participant observation, as well as manyinterviews with other Indigenous students,proessors and researchers. Besides that, it alsogave me plenty o time with my inormant.
Conclusion
My goal in this paper was to contribute todiscussions about the surprises and new trendsrevealed during the eldwork. My experienceled me to understand the eldwork wisdomo Evans-Pritchard, elaborated in his classicbook 
“Witchcrat, Oracles and Magic among the Azande”.
In the 4th appendix o the book (“SomeReminiscences and Reections on Fieldwork”),he points out that an anthropologist must beopened to be guided by what he nds in thesociety he chooses to study. He illustrates hisassumption explaining that in his particular case,he was not interested in studying witchcrat,but the Azande were, so he had to let himsel beguided by them.In my case, I realized that while I had plans ormy eldwork research trip, and placed my maininormant into these plans, he also had his owninterests and perspective on how I could t intohis projects. This experience showed me that theeldwork is a constant negotiation, an exchange,in which each part is in a position in which itcan bring improvements or the other part. Iam glad that in my experience this exchangewas benecial or both parts. In my case, thisexchange resulted not only in changes in thedirection o my research, but also afected theway I see eldwork, anthropology and mysel asan anthropologist.
You know, we just came rom an event that would be really interesting or you...
(He said the name o my inormant)
 ,he presented a flm there! How come you didn’t know about that? I actually knew and I tried to go to thisevent, but unortunately, I didn’t get the permission to.How come? Who didn’t allow you to go? I you had talk to me, you would go! 
I elt a little bit rustrated to nd out that I couldhave attended the event i I had met him beore,but also amused by the irony o the situation.However, I understood later that I was actuallyortunate: even though my experiences duringthis second eldwork trip were totally diferentrom what I planned, they revealed importantissues that I would not have noticed i everythingworked as planned. Being disallowed to attendthe event, despite having the permissiono two Indigenous organizers, showed methat Indigenous students were establishedas organizers and decision-makers in ocialdiscourse, while in reality the decisions weremade by the proessors and researchers o theIndigenous Research Centre at the universitythat the Indigenous students attended. Thisobservation led to important reections ormy research. Struggling to understand whythe researchers o the Indigenous ResearchCentre wanted to depict Indigenous studentsas the leaders o the event (in the conerenceannouncement, only the name o the Indigenousstudents appeared as the organizers), I understoodthat it was related to the current representationo empowerment projects in Brazil: they aresupposed to work in partnership with Indigenousgroups in a way that makes them autonomous. This is opposed to the previous paternalisticapproach. The shit happened in the 70s and 80swhen representations o Indigenous populationsshited rom “primitive” and “incapable” to iconso ecological knowledge and sustainability.Nevertheless, as I observed in this case, eventhough many projects were discursively rootedin a partnership and autonomy model, theycontinued to demonstrate a paternalistic attitude
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‘Playing the Field’ Conference Proceedings | Social Anthropology | York University 2009

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