Objectivity and Fieldwork

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Objectivity and Fieldwork Researchers throughout the world most often conduct practical work in a all natural environment outside their laboratory or office in order to experience in firsthand what it is to live outside the society they have been exposed to all their lives, and integrate into another civilization that imposes cultural traditions and policies that the researcher may have never been imposed to in the past.

These types of works or studies that ethnographers conduct are called fieldworks; and they help researchers learn the ways and customs of a certain group or kin outside a society. The researcher’s method of fully understanding the culture of the group of individuals they study is by integrating into their assemblage or in other words living amid them for approximately two years.

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Cultural Anthropologist such as Malinowski and Lila Abu-Lughod’s, experienced a direct contact with individuals that maintain alive their own culture adopted from past generations of ancestors, by carrying out and conducting the practical work of fieldwork. The works of Malinowski’s ‘“Introduction” from Argonauts of the Western Pacific’ and Lila Abu-Lughod’s “Fieldwork of a Dutiful Daughter,” reflect their experiences and observations of living and interacting among the particular group they closely studied.

Even do both of the researchers performed similar fieldwork studies; the works that were written based on their experiences and observations present audiences with two distinct approaches and perspectives to fieldwork and objectivity due to the certain positionality of the researcher in society; causing them to fall in the debate over objectivity and fieldwork that is described in John Monaghan and Peter Just “Social &Cultural Anthropology A Very Short Introduction. The authors of the anthropological works of research such as the “Introduction” from Argonauts of the Western Pacific,” and “Fieldwork of a Dutiful Daughter” present themselves and the purpose of their research of a native clan throughout their works. Lila Abu-Lughod’s author of the “Fieldwork of a Dutiful Daughter,” presents herself as a young woman born and raised in the United States that is part of two completely different cultures. Being the daughter of an Arab and also of an American; she portrayed herself as being in “numerous ways culturally more American than an Arabian” individual (Abu-Lughod, 1988:140).

Throughout her work, the author makes it clear that the factors of being a woman of Arab descent and her positionality had several consequences in the types of research she could perform and the ties and relationships she could build with the members of the Bedouin tribe. The fact that she was a “Dutiful daughter” doing fieldwork in a segregated society helped her understand the significance of modesty and humility for women in the Bedouin tribe. “…with the contributors to this volume I share the experience of being a woman studying a sex-segregated society.

Unlike most of them, I was in the peculiar situation of being neither completely a cultural insider, nor a total outsider. ” (Abu-Lughod, 1988:140). Being in a segregated society were male dominance was a basic characteristic of the natives exposed the author to both sides, but mostly to the female’s side, and that is what her research was mostly based on. Being one of the natives benefited her fieldwork, because she had the opportunity to feel and act just as one of them by adapting to their culture.

Malinowski on the contrary was more reserved when writing his fieldwork experiences, because he did not get in too much detail when it came to talk about himself; rather he simply focused entirely on his investigation and the new knowledge he gained from his observations. In his work he presents in detail his methodological convictions, focusing on understanding the human behavior and social organization in a foreign culture.

He believed that in order to understand the culture of the natives he needed to feel the native way of life. Throughout his work, Malinowski demonstrates to be more interested in the scientific scope of doing fieldwork, as he describes the methods and theories he used when trying to understand the Kula’s culture. “What is then this ethnographer’s magic, by which he is able to evoke the real spirit of the natives, the true picture of the tribal life?

As usual, success can only be obtained by a patient and systematic application of a number of rules of common sense and well-known scientific principles, and not by the discovery of any marvelous short-cut leading to the desired results without effort or trouble. ” (Malinowski, 1923: 6) According to Malinowski there was a certain technique when it came to performing a fieldwork, and that certain rules needed to be applied in order to be successful in understanding a native’s cultural aspect.

Although both Malinowski and Abu-Ludghod present different approaches to fieldwork in their works due to their positionality in culture, they do share the same idea of them having to become one of the natives in order to understand the full aspect of their culture, however this entirely depends on their gender positionality, because this is what shapes their experiences within the certain group of natives they have daily interaction with.

Some of the approaches to fieldwork that both Malinowski and Abu-Lughod decide to take according to the ethnic native group they study, fall into the debate over objectivity and fieldwork that is described by John Monaghan and Peter Just in “Social & Cultural Anthropology A Very Short Introduction. ” “…we would not like to give the impression that ethnographic fieldwork is the best method for all kinds of social science research, nor that participant observation is the only method employed by anthropologists. Fieldwork brings with it a substantial set of methodological and epistemological problems. (Monaghan and Just, 2000: 25). As is demonstrated in Abu-Lughod’s fieldwork experiences, she sometimes throughout her work forgot the real purpose of her visit in the Bedouin tribe. She describes that most often she would leave her writings for the fieldwork paper behind in order to complete her daily chores. In Malinowski’s case, he was more focused on how to approach this new culture and the methods needed to be successful at what he was set to do, taking away many instances that might have helped him gain more knowledge about the culture he was studying.

Cultural anthropologists who focus on ethnography and fieldwork have the great opportunity to have face to face encounters with native individuals that have their own unique culture. This is the case of Malinowski and Abu-Lughod, who spend approximately two years performing fieldwork studies with different native tribes. Their postionality in society deeply influenced their approaches to their fieldwork studies and objectivity, giving both of the authors’ different experiences and perspectives that fall in the dilemma over fieldwork and objectivity.

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Objectivity and Fieldwork. (2016, Oct 29). Retrieved from


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