Fieldwork :-(


Hello everyone! I used to be a prolific poster but disappeared - too much PhD to do (and the forum was revamped and quite honestly, I didn't - don't - know how to use it!!!)...

I am on fieldwork atm and really need some help! I can't ask my sup because I have to always act totally in control, am in a land with no libraries and my PhD friends are not at the fieldwork stage yet :0(( !! I am at sea!

My issue is that I have only a visa for 5 and a half months in this lovely country, to do an ethnog style research. For reasons that are too long to go into my first two months have been wasted (not by me!) so I have three months left to get stuck in. I have identified two field sites so as to get a decent overview of a very big region and will start in earnest soon. Is 6 weeks in each site viable for a decent ethnog understanding? I do not need to do actual anthropological style ethnog, is more like needing to see people every day and ask how their lives have changed according to a recent event, lots of obs and interviews but no *real* participation as such. I could try and leave the country to get another visa bbut that would take a week (and I may be bombed, or not be given a visa!)... I am pretty stressed! Normally people spend 9 months or something on fieldwork. I just feel like such a novice, like I am making it up as I go along... what if I come back in April and have found out *nothing*? Nothing at all. How humiliating.

Any advice sooooooooooo gratefully appreciated!



======= Date Modified 30 Dec 2008 10:28:00 =======
Hi Janey, I'm not in the same area as you, but I don't understand why you can't ask your supervisor about all this? If the past 2 months have been wasted through no fault of yours, then surely it'll show up in your fieldwork results when you're back at uni, if all your research is documented properly? Your supervisor will know about it then and might want to know why you didn't contact him/her for advice. It might be better to ask for advice now than continue floundering on your own, especially if you're funded.

EDIT - a good reason for asking for help now is that if you have to re-jig whatever questions you're investigating, you need to make the best use of the time you've got left, and your supervisor is the best person to help, that's what they're for.



Yep, I shall ask my Sup then! He does know but didn't really say anything about it. But that doesn't mean much to me - he isn't here, how can he know how long it may/may not take? But, he is wise, so I shall ask what he thinks I should do/can do. Maybe I wasn't sure if it was a reasonable concern or if I was getting into a flap about nothing, so your advice has cleared that up for me. yeah, the last two months have got incredibly detailed notes, and not *totally* wasted, just not directly to do with my studies which has been frustrating.

Thank you so much for your advice and time!



perhpas what you need to do is make sure that every day that you have to do this fieldwork counts, and so I would be making sure I get the info I need, maybe making detailed plans of what I needed to find out. Obviously I don't know what you are looking for, - are you following the same people for a while for example, but perhaps you could record stuff as well as taking notes so that you don't forget any vital bits, using a dictaphone or something? not to record interviews, but to serve as a reference for you rown thoughts. Double check that the areas are the right ones, check with your supervisor and ask if there is anything they would do to make sure they got the right information...and then go for it:-) Oh, and don't forget 'nothing' is also a result!!!:$ :-)


Thanks Joyce!!

The first place I am studying is a really small village, and in time I hope to include the villages in the wider environs into the study too. I have easy access to people and contacts and have been there before (briefly) so know what to expect. I want to know how people are faring several years after a terrible trauma the village suffered. I know I can do it... but because these two months have not provided the 'in' or info that I expected in this site I am really terrified that this next one will be a mistake too! I am so scared to start the work and worried I will be there for 6 weeks and have no nouse about anything.

I am at the stage in my relationship with my Sup where he has let go of the reins really, so it didn't really occur to me to ask him directly what he thought of the sites I am choosing - I figure he will tell me if he is unconfident in my ideas. I should ask him outright (after new years of course!) I am currently working out very detailed plans, plans a,b, and c; am working out categories and themes I wish to study and how to use the time as wisely as possible; how to contact and research the groups - this is how I am using my days over xmas and new year (while it is quiet, research-wise). I have a break planned for a week then then am back into the work with hopefully renewed vigour and clarity... :p Bearing this in mind, it is hard to know how much of my fears can be attributed to working, being ill (!!) and being messed around in an alien culture for two months. Maybe a week off out of here will do me the world of good! man I hope so!

Thanks so much for the advice - that there is any advice other than 'go home, it is useless trying you ridiculous failure', is brilliant!!

Happy new year too!

Jayney xxx


I've had a few colleagues do this kind of project and I know that losing time in the early setting-up phase is very common. They have had problems usually in liaising with local staff/helpers e.g. interpreters or local institutions. Paperwork is often tortuous especially is you need to ship items in or out. A friend of mine had some problems with her interview questions - she didn't feel she had chosen the best set for the purpose and tried going back but it is very difficult to retrace and add in information with this kind of study. On the other hand - you will always look back and think you could have done things differently and better. I suppose you just have to keep in mind what your minimum information set is likely to be and can you get that. If you don't, would it be possiblet to go back again? That does often happen. Your supervisor may not have a clearer view than you as you probably have more specialised knowledge of your topic/region.


Hey Smilodon

Thanks for your advice! I had an epiphany yesterday and realised that I just have to do what I can, and to consider coming back later in the year if I haven't done everything I wanted to. I have been really concerned about coming back because when I go home in April I shall have 18 months to complete - and I *have* to complete on time! Yesterday though I realised two more months wouldn't hurt, if it gets better info - best not to compromise too much on that part! tho I am going to work hard to finish by April. I also thought that perhaps having such a small amount of time will be good initially as it will get me out there and talking to people asap...

Thank you for sharing your experiences of this kind of work - I am too far away from any fieldwork books to remember such stories as anything other than wishful thinking to make myself feel better... It is hard, you do get stalled all the time, interviewees are slippery suckers and getting those questions right so you get the info you wanted is so much harder than you think at home! And people promise a placement will be perfect for you - and then it really isn't and they fibbed so you have to start again!! Judgement becomes cloudy, you forget what you want to know at all and slip into that unproductive level of stress which can only spiral into more stress. Thankfully people here have been kind and helped me to reach a very simple conclusion - work as hard as I can and come back if I need to! And it does take ages for the groundwork. If I think I have longer here then this groundwork has been worth it - despite the waste of time by my placement people... but if I 'run out' of time then it was too much groundwork, too little actual work - this has been my guilty dilemma.

And yes, I do know more than my Sup these days, as I said I am off the reins and he tends to go with what I say/think unless I am wandering off into my own world... :p

Thanks again all, much appreciated - and happy 2009!