Title

Woodcutter, Fisherman, Clown: Participant Observation as Reciprocity and Belonging Realized Imperfectly

Location

2072

Format Type

Paper

Format Type

Paper

Start Date

14-1-2017 1:10 PM

End Date

14-1-2017 2:30 PM

Abstract

While participant observation in much of contemporary applied anthropology is often limited to discrete sessions that are heavier on observation than participation, extended dissertation fieldwork can provide an opportunity for the act of participant observation itself to provide benefit to members of the community as subjects of study. For me, participant observation often doubled as donated labor to participants in my study, sometimes for extended periods. In one community, this reciprocal helping as data collection was limited to helping with housekeeping chores in an impromptu fashion at a dive shop. In the other community, I was a bit more imbedded and more frequently drafted for a variety of chores such helping out on a neighbor’s “plantation”, helping construct a small eatery, and in one episode helping a fishing boat crew deal with the aftermath a tropical storm. These activities contributed greatly to the detailed narrative of my dissertation and were deeper and more meaningful than the “I saw it and checked the box” mode of participant observation that often prevails of necessity in short term projects. However, even participant observation as contribution has its limitations. In my particular case these come in the form of limited competence to perform certain necessary gendered tasks and in having to decide when it was necessary to pull back on participation or other forms of assistance to community members. Even with these limitations, it is important to balance one’s own career and scientific objectives with the principal of beneficence to the community being studied.

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Jan 14th, 1:10 PM Jan 14th, 2:30 PM

Woodcutter, Fisherman, Clown: Participant Observation as Reciprocity and Belonging Realized Imperfectly

2072

While participant observation in much of contemporary applied anthropology is often limited to discrete sessions that are heavier on observation than participation, extended dissertation fieldwork can provide an opportunity for the act of participant observation itself to provide benefit to members of the community as subjects of study. For me, participant observation often doubled as donated labor to participants in my study, sometimes for extended periods. In one community, this reciprocal helping as data collection was limited to helping with housekeeping chores in an impromptu fashion at a dive shop. In the other community, I was a bit more imbedded and more frequently drafted for a variety of chores such helping out on a neighbor’s “plantation”, helping construct a small eatery, and in one episode helping a fishing boat crew deal with the aftermath a tropical storm. These activities contributed greatly to the detailed narrative of my dissertation and were deeper and more meaningful than the “I saw it and checked the box” mode of participant observation that often prevails of necessity in short term projects. However, even participant observation as contribution has its limitations. In my particular case these come in the form of limited competence to perform certain necessary gendered tasks and in having to decide when it was necessary to pull back on participation or other forms of assistance to community members. Even with these limitations, it is important to balance one’s own career and scientific objectives with the principal of beneficence to the community being studied.