“Keep Your Anthropologist Hat On and Don’t Be a Weirdo”: Comments from my Intro to Anthropology Finals

"An anthropological hat."

An Anthropologist Hat.

Since doing field exercises was an important part of this semester’s newly redone Introduction to Anthropology class, on the final I decided to ask a short essay question about fieldwork. The question asked students to comment on the experience of doing the class field exercises, the contradictions of participant-observation and the challenges of the fieldworker-as-data-collector.

I had some trepidation asking complex questions of fieldwork to a class of mostly first-years. After a semester of weekly assignments, however, I assumed they must have plenty to say. I was right. While there was variation among the more thoughtful and comprehensive answers and the less carefully worded or less thoughtful answers I was impressed with the results.

My favorite responses were those which, in the high-pressure moment of writing a final exam question, struggled with wrapping words around the new concepts—often relying on metaphor to make their points. Some answers were simple in execution, yet clearly grasped the issues. A persistent theme commented on how the assignments pushed them to engage with unfamiliar people (“strangers”) and social contexts. As a final blog post about this class, I decided to collect a few of the choicest to share. (*This is not to say that I don’t have a backlog of incomplete posts to finish in January.) I hope you will enjoy some of these as much as I did:

“When looking at another culture, you have to be completely open so that way you’re not able to offend anyone. You have to be a participant-observer as well—being a part of what’s going on but also able to keep your anthropologist hat on.”

“…the anthropologist must think outside the box and ask questions. They must collect every detail and observe their surroundings. They must also take culture into account…”

“The job of an anthropologist demands an open mind and an interest in differences, not a fear of them.”

“One approach to collecting data is to look at things in a different way. By this I mean to try and look at something you find to be normal, but then focus on it as if it were a new experience. For example, looking at Thanksgiving from an anthropological point of view has ruined it forever (at least for me). What used to be a mundane get together with the family is now a data collection opportunity. I now look at everything and wonder the reason behind things…”

“[Anthroplogy] requires us to do a lot of things that a lot of us—well, I—am not used to such as talking to strangers, just sitting back and observing others with my notebook in hand, and most of all, viewing and interpreting things in new and different ways.”

“Anthropologists study the traditions of cultures, but look under rocks that haven’t been looked under before.”

“Fieldwork implies that an anthropologist understands and has attempted to relate to their research. Rather than make judgements through passive observation, they are out there ‘getting their feet wet’ and attempting to better live out what they observe.”

“The use of going out and collecting data from complete strangers is an intimidating activity to complete, but not for anthropologists.”

“As an anthropologist, one must always be aware of themselves when studying others. This means that if something is uncomfortable for the researcher they must ask themselves why and try to figure out what that means about their own culture.”

“Context is important when doing research because you would not want to write something that would be irrelevant to the fieldwork at hand.”

“Fieldwork…could at times be extremely awkward or uncomfortable…it disconnects people from those they are observing. One stops being ‘another customer’ or ‘member of the family’ and suddenly becomes the person recording people’s every move.”

“Everything in anthropology is about context. The researcher must take into account where they are and where what they are studying is. Everything should be given in context and only then is it understood.”

“[Fieldwork] requires a lot of time and dedication. It requires you to look at things that may feel familiar in an unfamiliar way, you will have to go out of your comfort zone to collect data and also talk to and interview a lot of strangers along the way.”

“…participating in research required me to ‘see with new eyes’ and go out of my comfort zone at times, which was not necessarily a bad thing.”

“Context to anthropology is like oxygen to breathing, you just can’t do one without the other.”

“Fieldwork to an anthropologist is the blood that runs through their veins. It gives life and proof of existence to their work. Without fieldwork an anthropologist is some weirdo making up things to describe a people.”

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