What is Ethnographic Fieldwork in Anthropology?

Ethnographic fieldwork is a type of anthropological research during which anthropologists immerse themselves into a specific society in order to get a better insight about the people they study. Generally, by conducting ethnographic fieldwork, anthropologists learn cultures by observing and living the life of people they are studying. Sometimes preparations for the fieldwork requires a good amount of time and effort. For example, since most anthropologists engage in interaction with locals, they may need to learn a new language. Sounds fun, huh? Personally, I would not have a second thought about going to an exotic tribe to experience a life which is totally alien to me.

Benefits of Ethnographic Fieldwork

One of the primary advantages of ethnographic fieldwork is first-hand data. The fieldwork allows anthropologists to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. Some examples of quantitative data gathering techniques consist of but not limited to going to through local archives, calculating daily calories locals consume and measuring local farming activities. Anthropologists gather qualitative data by listening to oral histories, observing daily activities, taking photographs, and interviewing locals.  

It will be very difficult to conduct research on a specific society or culture just solely relying on books or any written records. It is because every time societies undergo a change, the information on the books gets outdated. In addition to that, when an anthropologist bases his or her work on the written records, they limit their knowledge to data offered in those writings. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong about basing your researches on written data and doing “armchair anthropology”. However, in order to get a more accurate and clear knowledge about specific culture or society, anthropologists are recommended to conduct ethnographic fieldwork.

Challenges of Ethnographic Fieldwork

Ethnographic fieldwork is a fun way of studying different cultures. However, during the fieldwork, anthropologists may face some challenges such as Cultural Faux Pas, language barrier, civil violence, and some health-related issues, depending on the places they visit. For example, anthropologists who are planning on visiting the tribes that are prone to civil wars should have a specific contingency plan for the worst-case scenarios. And, sometimes, anthropologists go to the places which are prone to malaria virus. Not to catch the virus, anthropologists have to get vaccinated before heading out for the journey.

By Arslan Batyrovich

Founder of
Writer, Researcher, Fact-finder, and All-in-one
Loves nature, Likes history, and Adores anything interesting
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