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Assignment One For 146303 “Fieldwork”

By Matthew Bluck ST ID 08596042

Compare and contrast the central premises and methodology of research as

enunciated by Malinowski with those articulated in the work of any other
anthropologist in that set of readings. Consider what is implied about the process
of research, relationships with informants and ethical issues involved in
conducting fieldwork based on participant-observation.

Fieldwork as a method of anthropology involving participant observation and a

rigourous method of recording is held as being first carried out by Bronislaw
Malinowski as described in his introduction to Argonauts of the Western Pacific in
1922 and can be understood as approaching issues with the practice of “armchair”
(Shokheid 5628 : 2001) anthropology as represented by James Frazers monumental
work the “Golden Bough” (Senf 629 : 2006). Malinowski was one of many people
influenced by A.C Haddon’s emphasis on fieldwork and A.C Haddon had carried out
a Torres Straight expedition in 1898–99 (Young 2001). The idea of fieldwork as part
of the professional practice of anthropology was taught by R. Rivers and C.
G.Seligman but the principle of participant observation, “live right amongst the
natives” (Malinowski 6 : 1922) as carried out by Malinowski was arguably new. A
contemporary account of fieldwork as an anthropology method is described by Anette
Lareau in Common Problems in Fieldwork: A personal essay (Lareau 1996), the
description of the research enterprise is similar and there is a reflexive narrative
(Dewalt, Dewalt & Weyland 290 : 2000) in both accounts of fieldwork which reflects
a comparable commitment to methodological candor (Malinowski 15 : 1922) but
there are differences in the two accounts that are approximately 74 years of
methodolgical development apart.

Both Annette Lareau and Bronislaw Malinowski situate their research and give an
account of their research aims. Bronislaw Malinowski in order to situation his
research on the Trobriander Islanders in his introduction to Argonauts of the Western
Pacific in 1922 gives a description of the subject, method and scope of his study, and
in doing so is defining his study as produced by a scientific method and thus a valid
form of knowledge (Malinowski 4 : 1922). His ethnography is a science practiced
away from laboratories out in the field that adhered to his three stated principles of
scientific aims, immersion in the native way of life and the collection and analysis of
research data. Annette Lareau was investigating social class differences in
contemporary American family life and how these effected schooling and educational
performance (Lareau 200 : 1996), her research was conducted in two schools, Colton
school as a low socioeconomic school and Prescott as a upper middle class school and
this ethnographic research was the basis of her book titled Home Advantage: Social
Class and Parental Intervention in Elementary Education (Lareau 2000). She has
subsequently developed the concept of “ concerted cultivation” (Lareau 2 : 2003)
(Bodovski & Farkas 2008), a child rearing strategy associated with middle and upper
class parents and the concept of “the accomplishment of natural growth” (Lareau 3 :
2003) (Bodovski & Farkas 2008) as a child rearing strategy practiced by poor and
working class parents and this theory has been supported by quantitative studies
(Bodovski & Farkas 2008). The location of their fieldwork is indicative of
transformations in the practice of fieldwork (Shokheid 5630 : 2001), Malinowski is
studying another culture while Annette Lareau is investigating an aspect of her own

Writing in 1996 Annette Lareau does not have to justify her research as scientific, she
is operating in an established tradition that recognises her participant observation
fieldwork being a qualititative method as part of a range of methodologies and is
aware of issues associated with the way data is collected. Historically there are
examples of problematic fieldwork, which includes Margaret Meads observations in
Samoa subsequently challenged by Derick Freeman (Shokheid 5629 : 2001), Oscar
Lewis challenging Robert Redfields study of the Tepoltzlan (Shokheid 5629 : 2001)
and Patrick Tierney challenging the research by Timothy Asch and Napoleon
Chagnon as found in the ethnographic film A Man called Bee: Studying the
Yanomomo (Gregor & Gross 687 : 2004). Annette Lareau is aware of the issue in
participant observation of introducing information to her subjects of her own creation
(Shokheid 5629 : 2001) and in retrospect she doubts her research question, “How does
social class influence childrens schooling” was appropriate to a qualitative
methodology. She considers that qualititative data is useful for demonstrating the
meaning of events and not so useful for the demonstration of correlations (Lareau 224
: 1996).
For Malinowski the neccessary premise of the ethnographer having “real scientific
aims” (Malinowski 6 : 1922) is similar to the neccessity of asking the appropriate
research questions with respect to the methodology and Malinowski expands this
statement to include the neccessity of knowing values and criteria of ethography as
taught by R.Rivers and C.G. Seligman. I would argue that to contemporary
anthropolgy Malinowski’s research question for studying the Trobriand Islanders was
ambitious, to derive an outline of the society, cultural processes and understand native
psychology and behaviour (Malinowski 12 : 1922). This type of research question is
appropriate to the evolutionary theoretical basis of his time, which included the ideas
of Frazer and Durkheim (Malinowski 9 : 1922) (Senf 629 : 2006). The Golden Bough
written by James Frazer is a compendium of folk lore and myths that was obtained
from the literature and archival study, it is an example of the “arm chair” (Shokheid
5628 : 2001) anthropology that Malinowski’s method is repudiating (Senf 629 :
2006). The central idea of this type of work was the idea of cultural evolution
(Shokheid 5628 : 2001) and Malinowskis synoptic charts compiled before going into
the Trobriand Islands (Malinowski 14 : 1922) (Senf 629 : 2006) indicate a
functionalist theoretical approach based on observation instead of evaluating the field
experience in terms of evolutionary schemes (Young 2001) (Shokheid 5628 : 2001).
Malinowski’s idea of culture was as a self sustaining system of cultural institutions,
(Firth 1957 : 16) an idea acheivable on an island with an interest on the uses and
functions of culture as formed by customs, institutions and belief (Firth 1957 : 16).
He was preoccupied with the difference between biological and sociological
components of human nature. Malinowski’s classification schemes included a theory
of needs (Firth 1957 : 16) that held that the functions of culture were to satisfy
particular needs of individuals and the community and thus a distinction between the
needs of the individual and the needs of the community for maintenance and cohesion
could point to the components of human nature that were biological and sociological
(Firth 1957 : 16).

Malinowski’s second principle was for the individual to be in the correct condition for
ethnographic work, to attempt immersion into their way of life. Malinowski’s method
requires him to live in contact the natives, he is an outsider with limited ability to
communicate, alone1 and unskilled in the local technologies of subsistence
(Malinowski 5 : 1922). This principle was developed by his initial experience of
ethnography when studying the Mailu of the south coast of Papua New Guinea for
five months (Young 2001). Malinowski was directed there by Seligman and during
this experience he found that the more time spent in the village away from European
contact the more detailed his data got (Young 2001). This condition of living with the
people of his study means that when something important occurs he can investigate it
at the very moment of its incidence (Malinowski 8 : 1922), during his participant
observation fieldwork he describes loneliness but because of his isolation from other
Europeans he seeks out the company of the Trobriand Islanders and gets to know
them better, with richer data because of it (Malinowski 18: 1922). This description
of the experience of fieldwork for Malinowski sounds like friendship, there is a need
to gain the trust and loyalty of ones informants and the anthropologist as observer is
also being observed (Corsino 278 : 1987) and has to adopt a consistent ethical stance
to maintain informant relations in the community, friendship contains ethical
obligations that could result in role conflict (Beer 5807 : 2001).

In Malinowski’s own words he is striving to understand native mentality and

behaviour (Malinowski 5 : 1922) and to do this he must apply methods of collecting,
manipulating and fixing his evidence. The practice of participant observation which
Malinowski describes as “ living with the natives” (Malinowski 6 : 1922) has changed
over time since the first generations of Malinowski’s influence (Shokheid 5628 :
2001). The degree of participation and nature of observation in fieldwork can range
from complete participation where the anthropologist becomes a member of the group
to, active participation where the anthropologist engages in most of the same cultural
activity, moderate participation where the anthropologist is present at the scene but
has only occasional interaction (Dewalt, Dewalt & Weyland 260 : 2000). At the end
of this spectrum of participant observation is non participation, where cultural data is
obtained from media that includes archives, writing, diaries, movies and television
(Dewalt, Dewalt & Weyland 260 : 2000). Fieldwork for Annette Lareau’s study
described in Common Problems in Fieldwork: A personal essay (Lareau 1996) was a
combination of interviews with school officials, teachers and parents with moderate
Malinowski’s diary indicates some contact with Billy Hankcock and Raphael Brudo, traders in the
Trobriand Islands. Billy Hankcock in Malinowski’s second expedition helped with some photography,
supplies and both of the traders provided some ethnographic detail (Senf 630 : 2006)
participant observation in class room and school situations three times a week.
Ultimately she ended up interviewing 12 families. Annette Lareau describes difficulty
in conveying her purpose of study to her subjects and clarifying her relationship with
the schools to the parents she was interviewing (Lareau 1996) and this type of
description, asking for permission and explaining his role in noticably absent in
Malinowskis Argonauts of the Western Pacific. It is apparent from the biography on
Malinowski by Michael Young (Young 2004) A biography is the Strictest sense of the
term (Shenf 626 : 2006) that Malinowski had to ask permission from the colonial
authorities and despite problems with the governer of Papua New Guinea and the
colonial society at the time of World War One, he managed to obtain some funding
for his ethography within the Trobriand Islands from the Australian goverment (Sherif
627 : 2006).

It is now understood that an anthropologist has an ethical obligation to their subjects

to explain the purpose of their study and make sure the potential consequences of their
work are not detrimental. Part of the criticism of the ethography by Timothy Asch and
Napoleon Chagnon of the Yanomomo is that it was used subsequently to justify
mistreatment of this people by government institutions (Gregor & Gross 687 : 2004).
The 1997 code of ethics for the American Anthropological Association with reguards
to the people being studied includes the principles of openess about purpose,
consideration of the potential impacts and disclosure of sources of support for their
research, whether the subjects want to remain anonymous or receive recognition and
the neccessity of obtaining a high quality informed consent (Fluehr-Lobbab 197 :
2000) . For New Zealand anthropology the Association of Social Anthropologists of
Aotearoa/ New Zealand has Principles of Professional Responsibility and Ethical
Conduct which includes ethical statements regarding the of responsibility of
anthropologists to informants and the wider community and the discipline itself
(ASAA/NZ 1997). For Annett Lereau to gain access to the schools and families of
her study she was obliged to present her role, purpose and the potential consequences
of her work to her subjects and gain informed consent. She has a ethical obligation to
protect the welfare of her subjects and in Home advantage: social class and parental
intervention in elementary education (Lareau 2000) she gives examples from her
notes of the families she was interviewing, gives names to her subjects, conveys parts
of a life history and her subjects are given a voice and agency (Lareau 65 : 2000).
Malinowski in Argonauts of the Western Pacific does not give a detailed anecdote
concerning the development of his relationship with his subjects, there is no
description of having to seek approval or permission by his informants to study them,
he describes his enquires as sometimes intrusive and unwelcome which are
ameloriated in part by gifts of tobacco (Malinowski 8 : 1922).
Malinowski’s descriptions of the Trobrianders in Argonauts of the Western Pacific
(Malinowski 1922) almost to a rule do not contain the names of individuals, the
descriptions are more a catalogue of types and roles of peoples (see figure 1).

Figure 1 : A photographic plate from Argonauts of the Western Pacific across

from page 48.
In trying to explain this absence it possible that such a description could compromise
his intension to demonstrate his ethnographic research as a science and his theoretical
basis of a functionalist description of a culture within the academic culture of his
time. From the biography written by Young 2004 (Senf 2006) it is known that
assistant resident magistrate “Doctor Bellamy” and the trader Billy Hancock were
instrumental in facilitating the conditions required for Malinowski’s fieldwork (Senf
623 : 2006). In terms of his relationships with his informants, Malinowski had good
relationships with the high ranking important personalities at Omarakana which
included the paramount chief Touluwa and the garden magician
Bagidou (Senf 623 : 2006) and these are not described in Argonauts
of the Western Pacific (see figure 2).

The importance of having Malinowski conduct his research at the

high ranked village of Omarakana to the paramount chief Touluwa
indicates a degree of understanding of his activities by high ranking
individuals but also potentially reflects economic and political
advantages. Exploring these details would help situate the context
of his research.
Figure 2 : Malinowski mentions informants in Argonauts of
the Western Pacific, a plate across from page 48.
The relationships of Annette Lareau with her informants and her
ethical obligation of informed consent to the people of her study
addresses in part the issue that participant observation is
“inevitably unethical by virtue of being interactionally deceitful”
(Dewalt Dewalt & Weyland 273 : 2000), in effect informants forget
that casual interactions are part of the information gathered by the
anthropologist. Although Annette Laraeu’s moderate level of
participant observation and interview was of a different scope to
Malinowski’s isolated active participation fieldwork, it allowed her to
achieve her research aims and from her experience develop a better
methodology for her later research as described in Unequal Childhoods:
Class, Race, and Family Life (Lareau 2003). I would also argue that her
relationship with the people of her study was more ethical because
it was on a more professional basis, this would be facilitated by her
subjects being within her own society.

In conclusion the descriptions of the experiences of participant observation by

Malinowsk and Annette Laraeu though seperated by 74 years of methodological
development contain a commitment to methodological candor (Malinowski 15 :
1922), reflect a need to obtain high quality data and development of high quality
interpretations of the data obtained. There are differences in the underlying theory,
Malinowski is developing a functionalist interpretation while Annette Lareau is
comparing class differences and they have different relationships to their informants.
The different context of their studies reflects the more contemporary practice of
locating sites of anthropological research within Western societies and accumulated
practical experience of fieldwork over time. This accumulated experience of
fieldwork has resulted in its increasing professionalisation which includes ethical
dimensions and so I would argue that Annette Laraeu’s relationship with her
informants is more professional than Malinowski’s. Annette Lareau’s work is also
more reflexive (Dewalt, Dewalt & Weyland 289 : 2000), in part because as it makes
explicit the fieldwork process and the interpretation of data. This reflexive narrative
facilitates education on the fieldwork experience and when complementary to
participant observation as means to obtain data, provides better claims to truth for that
data (Dewalt, Dewalt & Weyland 290 : 2000).

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