The Evolution of Fieldwork in Anthropology

A Critical Examination Between Two Different Methodological Approaches

Term Paper, 2012

7 Pages, Grade: 1


The use of fieldwork is considered to be fundamental part of anthropological research, with many different methodologies being utilised depending on one’s theoretical stance. This essay will look to compare two different anthropologists’ approaches – that of Bronisław Malinowski’s (1922) work in New Guinea and Susan Krieger’s (1996) work in America. Through giving a general definition of fieldwork first, the two anthropologists’ methodologies will be outlined and contrasted. It is found that while there are certain similarities between both approaches, with each having their own distinctive strengths, the differences can be accounted for by historical environments and the goals of the anthropologist.

In an anthropological sense, participant observation is a structured and qualitative research approach that involves immersion into a society for the purpose of gaining an in-depth understanding from the point of the native, of how it is actually like to live in that community (Dewalt & Dewalt, 2002, p. 2-3). Corbetta (2003, p. 236) describes participant observation as when a researcher enters a “direct process for a relatively long period of time into a given social group, in its natural setting, establishing a relationship of personal interaction with its members, in order to describe their actions and understand their motivations, through a process of identification”. The methods used to obtain information include structured and non-structured interviews, note-taking, and questionnaires, with emphasis being placed on gathering first-hand information. The participant observation approach is most useful for studying communities or groups where “little is known about them, there are important differences between the views of insiders and outsiders, and the issues being studied are somehow obscured from the pubic and other outsider groups” (Jorgensen, 1980, p.12). From the above processes and compiled information, an ethnography is written that looks to help further the understanding of that culture, and of all cultures as a whole. When comparing the methodological framework between Malinowski and Krieger, it must be noted that each approach is specific to a historical period of time, alongside the socio-political and cultural aspects that encompass that environment. An outline will now be presented of both theorists’ approaches followed by a critical examination and comparison.

Malinowski’s attitude to fieldwork was that it should rest heavily on analytical and scientific methods, alongside being transparent (Malinowski, 1922, p. 2-9). The ethnographer must abandon preconceived ideas and hypothesises in order to fully allow results to appear, with the ultimate goal being to “grasp the native’s point of view and see the world as he sees it” (Malinowski, 1922, p.25). In outlining the general goal of ethnography, Malinowski came to the conclusion that there were three avenues one should follow to achieve this goal: The organisation of the tribe and the autonomy of its culture should be recorded through statistical documentation, phenomena of great importance, which cannot be recorded through the above method must be observed in their full actuality through involvement of the ethnographer, and that a collection of ethnographic statements, narratives, and any other relevant material must be documented in an ethnographic fashion.


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The Evolution of Fieldwork in Anthropology
A Critical Examination Between Two Different Methodological Approaches
Massey University, New Zealand
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evolution, fieldwork, anthropology, critical, examination, between, different, methodological, approaches
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Lee Hooper (Author), 2012, The Evolution of Fieldwork in Anthropology, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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