Next Forum

In the thirty-sixth number of Antropologicheskij forum / Forum for Anthropology and Culture, published by the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography 
(Kunstkamera) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the European University, St Petersburg, and the European Humanities Research Centre, University of Oxford, our ‘Forum’ (written round-table) will address the issues raised when researchers attempt to transform their preliminary records into an academic analysis. We would like to invite you to respond to the questionnaire below.

You may, as you wish, directly address the questions presented here, or send in a text responding to one or some of them (or taking up some other issue that seems to you relevant). Whichever way, we would be grateful if you could keep your answers to a maximum of 10 pp. (1.5 spaced, 12-point type). Please use the author-date in-text citation system for any references in the format [Smith 2002: 12], appending a list of ‘References’ at the end with full publication details: Author, ‘article title’, journal title, vol. and/or no., (date), pp. (e.g. Smith M. A.,‘Visual Anthropology’, Ethnology, vol. 47, no. 3 (2002), pp. 47–58) or alternatively, Author, book title. Place: publisher, date. Page span (e.g. Smith M. A., Visual Anthropology. London: Anvil Press, 2002, 356 pp.). Please send replies by 15 December 2017 to forum.for.anthropology(), with a copy to catriona.kelly(); your email address should be included in any attached file. We hope that the discussion will appear in the spring of 2018.


From Fieldwork to Written Text

When we arrive in the field, we rely to a large extent on our senses – looking, listening, smelling, touching, absorbing the atmosphere. Later, our impressions and experiences get turned into an academic analysis – descriptive, analytical, interpretive. On the face of it, the ways in which sensory experience gets changed into a written text are familiar and obvious: the recording and transcription of interviews, the composition of a field diary (or field notes or other such records).  And it is these in turn which underly any publication. Nearly thirty years ago, US anthropologists already noted the crucial role of these field notes to the career path of the anthropologist and to the construction of anthropology as a discipline [Sanjek 1990].

But how exactly do these processes work? Can we describe them, formalise them, predetermine the manner of the transformation, the reduction of the diversity and multidimensionality of the fieldwork situation to verbal form? Is that reduction once and for all, or can we move back to complexity again? As the authors collected in [Sanjek 1990] made clear, there is no once-and-for-all answer to such questions, but we have at least to grapple with them, constantly returning in our professional community to discussions about how we work with fieldwork material, about the transformations it goes thorough and about how our analytical text comes into being.

It is these issues that we seek to address in Forum-36. You are invited to respond to the following questions:

1. How do you record your data in the field? If you keep a written diary, what happens to your field notes later on? Do you treat your diary as an autonomous, unalterable 'written source', or do you think it is acceptable to edit your notes?

2. What are the processes by which your encounters and conversations with informants become a 'written source'? Do you retain the peculiarities of oral communication (which is often fragmentary, incomplete, contradictory, illogical)? What elements get altered, augmented, distorted in this work? Is it appropriate to treate the transcriptions of fieldwork interviews as essentially a substitute for an audio recording, a source that is complete and with an autonomous status, not to be altered in any way? Have you ever made post factum alterations to the text of a transcription, and if so at whose initiative and why? How do you regard that process? Do you ever go back to a recording after the transcription is complete, and if so, under what circumstances and why?

3. By what processes do these 'written sources' that we put together in the field turn into the text of a publication? Do you base the entire text on your field notes, or do you just put selected quotations from these into it? Do you employ quotations from interviews to illustrate contentions of your own, or allow the informants to 'speak for themselves', conveying their point of view in the discussion? Which of these two methods is, in your view, preferable? Is it proper for anthropologists to use analytical methods and approaches drawn from other disciplines, such as communication studies or discourses analysis?

4. In the international social science world (above all in qualitative sociology, with as yet  more limited impact on anthropologists themselves), grant-awarding bodies have often imposed a requirement to place fieldwork materials in repositories accessible to other researchers. This has prompted discussions about the ethics and practicalities of basing analysis and descriptive commentary on third-party fieldwork. Among other things, there has been an extensive discussion of the issue of personal presence in the field and the role of this in the analysis [Forum 2005; Moore 2007; Mauthner, Parry 2009; Hammersley 2010]. Do you yourself consider it acceptable to share your field notes and interviews with other researchers? How important is your own personal presence in the field? Is it possible to carry out productive research using field data gathered by others?

Thank you!



Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 2005, vol. 6, no. 2. <>.

Hammersley M., 'Can We Re-Use Qualitative Data Via Secondary Analysis? Notes on Some Terminological and Substantive Issues', Sociological Research Online, 2010, vol. 15. no. 1. <>. [Restricted access to full text].

Mauthner N. S., Parry O., 'Qualitative Data Preservation and Sharing in the Social Sciences: On Whose Philosophical Terms?', Australian Journal of Social Issues, 2009, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 290–305.

Moore N., '(Re)Using Qualitative Data?', Sociological Research Online, 2007, vol. 12, no. 3. < /12/3/1.html> [Restricted access to full text].

Sanjek R. (ed.), Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990, 432 pp.


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