Fieldwork is the most treasured practice of anthropology. I was lucky to have gone to a 12 day long field trip with 3 of the wisest physical anthropologists. We went to mount Abu, a small isolated hill station of Rajasthan. It was an immense learning experience that I will remember for life. Here are the 9 things that I learned from my field trip:
1).Field work is a survival training exercise.
We think that fieldwork is training for budding anthropologists to gain an actual experience of an Anthropologist’s life. You are wrong. It’s about learning to bathe in cold water on mountains in December, eating meals to satiate your hunger and not your taste buds and living under tin roofs, when the temperature is 0 degree. Who cares how you establish your rapport in the village you are supposed to work in, those are secondary things. You must ensure that you use minimum amount of water throughout the day, so that there is some left when you take a dump in the middle of the night. After one M.Sc. fieldwork, you can be sure of your survival skills.
2).You are not a student in the field, you are an entertainer as well, for which marks are awarded.
When preparing for fieldwork, I would advise that you should learn how to sing or dance. Because every evening there would be a ‘meeting’ to discuss what you did in the field and the problems you faced which is not so important. It would take hardly 10 minutes to discuss the field day of 68 people and after that you have entertain and appease the teachers. The more you appease them, the more marks you ensure. Serenading teachers can even get you the highest marks in dissertation.
3).Blood sample collection is the only thing that a physical anthropologist is supposed to do.
If you have taken specialization in physical anthropology in M.Sc, you are supposed to collect blood samples. Failing to do so will label you as a story teller or , for want of a better phrase, a social anthropologist. Physical anthropologists can do ethnography in one day, and rest of the time should be devoted to collecting blood samples. If even a single person in the field becomes familiar with your name, you become unfit for physical anthropology. Getting to know people from your field does not suit a physical anthropologist. And by any chance, you take up a questionnaire based study; you become a ‘surveyor’ and not even a ‘social anthropologist’.
4).Antakshari is more important than data collection.
There are dos and don’ts in every activity. During field work, it is more important to play antakshari and if you fail to do so, you might not be able to submit your dissertations. When your teacher reserves one day specifically for picnic and antakshari, you better be ready on time. Data collection is secondary to the things planned for you by the teachers. If you refuse to be a part of the activity, you risk your career as an anthropologist. An anthropologist should always know how to indulge in buffoonery with complete submission. Unfortunately, I forgot songs while playing antakshari and thus I will have to suffer the wrath of examiners for being unprofessional in the field.
5).When you travel in a group of 70 people, it is okay to travel without tickets.
It is an important lesson for life. When you travel in a group and you have more than 70% berths in a coach, you can take along two three persons along with you for free without reservations. They should be your seniors to show gratitude and affection you have for them. They should get 2 berths each for their seniority and stuff. It does not matter if its illegal because the caring bond you form there is for life. So what if juniors have to share berths even though they have a reserved seat with their name, one should not forget to placate seniors with illegality and free stuff.
6).Consent forms are for namesake only.
When you go to the field and you have to take blood samples from 10 year old kids, its okay to have them sign the consent form because, like 2 year old babies, they too know all about the genetic research. They understand all about bioethics and willingly participate in every research, even if their blood samples could be used for eugenics. 10 years is the most informed and wise age and they can take every decision for themselves except their dependence on the adults for living.
7).You can always identify the tattletale of the class
Be it a comment about a teacher or a gossip about a class mate or better still, a birthday party where every classmate is consuming alcohol( and breaking the holy law of fieldwork), you can rely on this person to feed every tit-bit to the most revered teacher accompanying you. He or she has a heart of gold, who thinks that teachers are also a part of class and they should know all about the whole class except him or herself.
8).The time you spend with the teachers should be more than the time you spend in the field.
Fieldwork is just a training exercise in M.Sc. More important is socializing with the teachers for becoming a successful anthropologist. You are asked to go to the field by 9 A.M. and to be back by1.30 p.m. , so that enjoy the hot delicious potatoes from the last night’s dinner, while sitting under the sun with the teachers. It does not matter if you come back with only 5 samples as long as you have washed the plates of one of the teachers. And those who think that working for longer duration would get better data, they need two three lessons of Anthropology from these teachers.
9).Focused group discussions are the most important part of the field, especially about the people you know
Otherwise known as bitching, it is what you learn the most from the teachers. You can always spot teachers engaged in intense FGDs about the dressing sense of the students or the ethnicity and its impact on intelligence. They do not waste a minute in the field. They know about the research topic of every student and they sit for hours, critically evaluating each individual topic with immense pleasure. They were most concerned about every student in the field and sometimes, they invited a student in their room for further discussions.