Fieldwork Matters; New Ethnography, New Perspectives

Hosted by University of Fort Hare, South Africa

20 – 23 September 2010

Social anthropology in southern Africa has always had a strong fieldwork tradition. In fact, the quality of our fieldwork has been one of the reasons why the work of social anthropologists in this region has been so enduring and influential. Lynn Schumaker (2001) wrote that when Max Gluckman was Director of the Rhodes Livingston Institute in the 1950s he would often visit his colleagues at their field sites rather than in their offices to discuss their work. Monica Hunter Wilson was known to judge her students and her colleagues by their ability as fieldworkers and believed that anthropological 'truth' was firmly located 'in the field'. When asked by one of her students when it might be acceptable for her to leave the field, she was plainly told: 'when you have resolved all the social contradictions'.

These days we are less inclined to believe that all of the social contradictions we encounter can be resolved in the field and thus engage more readily with other spaces, texts and contexts. But have we gone too far? Have we left the field behind? What does or should fieldwork mean to anthropology in southern Africa today? Is it still the sin qua non of the discipline? What does it mean that so many others claim fieldwork and ethnography as their territory? How is the knowledge we produce in the field constructed? What new and changing concerns face fieldworkers? Who are our interpreters? How do we relate to and acknowledge field assistants and respondents? What does it mean that some of us and many of our students are now studying our own communities, conducting auto-anthropology? How does this change the nature of the discipline in the region? Does fieldwork matter?

Against the backdrop of a critical reflection on our fieldwork traditions, the Association for Anthropology in Southern Africa invites you to present new ethnography and new perspectives, based on your experiences with fieldwork, to the annual conference of the Association to be held at the University of Fort Hare in East London between the 20-23 September 2010.


The two key note addresses were Engaged Fieldwork: The Dilemmas and Diversity of Anthropological Engagement Prof Setha Low, City University of New York and Addressing the Universals: Challenges for Anthropology in the 21st Century Dr Renee Hirschon, University of Oxford.

Click here for conference proceedings...