Fieldwork has often been viewed as a great black hole, untaught and unteachable. While recent years have seen an increase in the number of how-to manuals for doing fieldwork, they never fully convey the complexity of the experience–the loneliness, the uncertainty, the moral dilemmas, the ambiguities. In Experiencing Fieldwork, a group of top ethnographers addresses various issues and challenges of the fieldwork experience. How do you gain entree into a setting? What tricks are there to learning the rules of the community without alienating the people you came to study? How are good relations maintained with informants? What happens after you leave the field? Using examples of research from police departments to schools, from nursing homes to motorcycle gangs, the essays in this absorbing volume make the process of fieldwork come alive for the reader and provide invaluable advice for those entering the field. Scholars, researchers, and students in the fields of sociology, anthropology, education, and organization studies will benefit from the insights contained in this practical volume. “The depth of research experience among the authors is impressive, as is the range of groups they have studied–from students to survivalists, and from health care practitioners to motorcycle gangs…. The articles are ideally suited to help novices realize that emotional and interactional quandaries are an integral part of field research, rather than idiosyncratic experiences deriving from their own lack of expertise.” – Contemporary Sociology “The central strength of this edited volume as an instructional tool is its organizational respect for the theoretical tradition of symbolic interactionism…. Shaffir and Stebbins succeed in characterizing the research act as fully social action–as an ongoing production between positioned subjects…. Essays in each section provide a range of substantive materials and accounts from diverse ethnographic settings. The result is a detailed account of the process of doing fieldwork which provides the reader with a clear sense of ethnography as a practical accomplishment which rarely goes according to plan. A pedagogical strength of this text is to be found in the range of substantive settings made available to students…. Provides a tool through which students may demystify the exotic and attend to the problematic qualities of the everyday lives which they live…. A Valuable text for those teaching research oriented field methods courses.” – The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology “A very credible work…this volume as a whole represents a distinctive contribution to the fieldwork literature. Most of the chapters more than adequately convey a meaningful sense of fieldwork experiences, and some of them are unique, exceptionally powerful, and truly outstanding. The text is valuable as an introduction to qualitative field research for advanced undergraduates, and especially for graduate students. Nonspecialists in other fields with an interest in methodology, research practice, and qualitative fieldwork will find it an inestimable resource. Specialists will especially appreciate the selections that develop key concepts on the basis of copious, concrete examples, as well as the several chapters that talk directly to other field-workers.” – Journal of Contemporary Ethnography “For cultural anthropologists working in North America, and especially applied anthropologists, these essay's provide an insider's perspective on qualitative fieldwork and the many lessons to be learned from it.” – American Anthropologist
Learning the Ropes
In studying a social world, the researcher must learn to appreciate the distinctive concerns and ways of behaving in the world that he or she is observing and “to comprehend and to illuminate the subject's view and to interpret the world as it appears to him” (Matza, 1969, p. 25). As Matza suggests, the view of the phenomenon yielded by this perspective is interior, in contrast to the external view yielded by a more objective perspective. The process of acquiring such a sense of the meanings attributed to objects and events in a given society has been observed by M. Wax (1967) as follows:
The student begins “outside” the interaction, confronting behaviors he finds bewildering and inexplicable: the actors are oriented ...