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Children In The Field

Joan Cassell

Publication Year: 2010

"The wisdom of taking children on this journey into the abyss of otherness is debatable. That's the point: the unsettled (and unsettling) quality of this book is what makes it worth reading and pondering." —The Women's Review of Books The conditions under which knowledge is acquired help shape that knowledge. Yet, until quite recently, the conditions under which anthropologists observe and interact with members of other cultures were considered the stuff of memoirs, not science. Although many families have accompanied anthropologists to the field, few researchers have discussed this aspect of scientific life. This collection of narratives by anthropologists who brought children with them into the field combines personal drama, practical information, and advice with an examination of the way in which the presence of children can alter the relationship between those who study and those who are studied. The stories are funny, sad, horrifying, fascinating. Each essay presents different field conditions, locations, family constellations, experiences, and reactions. Photographs of the anthropologists and their children enhance the engaging and illuminating accounts. This book, the first study of its kind, will be essential reading for anyone involved in field research. "A superb collection of papers documenting the value, trauma, joy, and frustration of taking children along on a field work adventure. This book covers, among other topics: burying a child in the field, bearing a child in the field, analysis of the hardships children face in a difficult field experience, and children serving as role models in language learning and the establishment of rapport with community members. This should be required reading for anyone anticipating a field work experience." —Sue-Ellen Jacobs, University of Washington "[These] stories...present the missing factor in anthropological research, which is after all supposed to be producing the most human of disciplines, involved with the intercultural world of woman alive and man alive; at last in this book we have children alive. The volume covers difficulties both of family and field situation and truthfully faces the differences in cultures.... The vignettes of children's lives are unforgettable." —Edith L.B. Turner, University of Virginia

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. xi-xii

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1. "Oh No, They're Not My Shoes!": Fieldwork in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica

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pp. 1-26

Every night, those first two weeks, the rats would hold what Jamaicans called a "fete" in the living room. I would cower in my bed, listening to their creaks, steps, and squeaks, terrified that one of the children would call me and that I would have to walk through the rats to get to their room. At 4:00 in the morning, before the donkey brayed and the rooster crowed, I would lie ...

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2. Children in the Amazon

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pp. 27-64

It is a curious experience for a woman anthropologist to write about taking children to the field. The subject threatens the dual system, born of sweat and tears, into which we force our adult lives. Attitudes, emotions, time and place, verbal styles, and self-images are all "family" or "professional." Although we are ...

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3. A Tale of Simeon: Reflections on Raising a Child While Conducting Fieldwork in Rural South India

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pp. 65-90

During our first two years as co-researchers in rural South India, hardly a day went by without someone asking us how many children we had. To our reply, "None," the next question would invariably be, "How many years have you been married?" Our reply of three years would be followed by silence and a pitying...

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4. "Daddy's Little Wedges": On Being a Child in France

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pp. 91-120

In 1950-1951 when my father had a sabbatical, we went to live in Roussillon, a village in southeastern France. I turned five that year. My brother David turned three. I remember very little of the year in Roussillon: a pig being butchered down the street, some kids I played with, losing my first tooth, my father trying to light a fire on bone...

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5. Birthing in the Bush: Participant Observationin Trinidad

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pp. 121-148

In the beginning of July 1957, we arrived on the island of Trinidad, then part of the British West Indies. We were a childless married couple. When we departed, at the end of June 1958, we were a family: Our eldest daughter had been born in April 1958 while we were living in an East Indian village, conducting....

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6. Three Children in Rural Jamaica

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pp. 149-172

In June 1978 I left my husband in a comfortable Connecticut suburb and set off with three young children to conduct fieldwork in rural Jamaica. Jackie was seven at the time, Colby four, and J.P. only nine months. We have one of those "his-hers-ours" families. Jackie is my husband's daughter from a first marriage, Colby is mine, and J. P....

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7. Our Ulleri Child

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pp. 173-184

The night was clear, and I could see the shining surface of the water as it poured from the leaf spout into the spring pool. I cupped my hand in front of my chin and bent over to catch some of it. The climb was worth a drink that did not have to be boiled first. "Sweet water," the Musuri villagers called it. I dabbed my...

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8. Children and Parents in the Field: Reciprocal Impacts

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pp. 185-216

Parents who take their children "into the field" have confronted applause, questions, and condemnation: "Aren't you scared they will succumb to infection? The doctors can't be nearby, can they?" "Won't the kids miss out on school? How can they...

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9. A Children's Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term: Managing Culture-Shocked Children in the Field

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pp. 217-236

In an early essay, "The Anthropologist as Hero," Susan Sontag refers to anthropology as a "total profession," one that demands a psychological and spiritual commitment equal to that of the artist, and a physical stamina equal to that of the explorer or adventurer.1...

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10. "Drink from the Nile and You Shall Return": Children and Fieldwork in Egypt and the Sudan

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pp. 237-256

Two years after our marriage in 1968, we headed for our first experience in the field, in Khartoum, Sudan, to conduct research for our doctorates. We had each received grants to conduct separate studies, in Sudanese law for Carolyn and urbanization for...

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pp. 257-270

Despite differences in anthropologists' temperaments, experiences, family constellations, and research sites, the ten narratives in this book have a common characteristic: like Wordsworth's definition of poetry, each stems from emotion recollected in tranquillity...

E-ISBN-13: 9781439903612

Publication Year: 2010