7. Fieldwork and Ethnography
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206 CHAPTER 7 Fieldwork and Ethnography As much fun as we find reading about folklore to be, nothing can compare to the opportunity to do one’s own ethnographic research, exploring a group and the creative ways in which its members communicate with each other. Ethnography is the process of studying and learning about groups of people, as well as the written description and analysis of those observations. It is through ethnographic research and the written descriptions of their findings in the field that folklorists share their ideas. From the early days of the discipline, folklorists have gone into the field to study the songs, stories, objects, behaviors, and beliefs of the cultural groups about which they have written. Folklorists don’t necessarily have to go far away to gather information. Much contemporary folklore research takes place within local communities. The “field” is wherever folklore occurs: it could be a classroom , a locker room, or even your family’s kitchen. When a folklorist decides to go into the field, there are two levels of the fieldworkexperiencetothinkabout .Therearethepracticalelementsof research—the who, what, where, when, and how.And there are the more philosophical aspects of research:What relationship should the researcher have with consultants? How should the folklorist work with consultants and the information collected from them? What will the folklorist do to recognize the collaborative nature of fieldwork and interpretation and ensure respect for folklorist-consultant relationships , as well as for the texts and those who share and perform them? Where and when will the interpretations be shared with the consultants and others? Finally, how can all of this be presented effectively in the written ethnography? Many folklorists and other humanities professionals have written in detail about the fieldwork process, and you may find it useful to look at their more 207 Fieldwork and Ethnography specific discussions if you plan to take on a large-scale fieldwork project. For our purposes, we want to present information about some of the larger issues of fieldwork research and data collection, though we may refer to some of the work those other researchers have written about the process as we go. Fieldwork is a complicated process because it involves both practical and philosophical concerns. We want to start here by laying out the elements of the active practical research process—apart from the interpersonal, ethical, and interpretive issues—so you will have an overview of the basic steps of the process. After that, we will present some of the more complex ethical issues related to the process to provide you with an idea of the kinds of things you will want to consider as you begin researching and presenting your own ethnographic work. Collecting Data: The Nuts and Bolts of Fieldwork Finding Ideas As you have read about the texts and folk groups in this book, you may have wondered how folklorists go about contacting the people and finding the folklore they write about.There are a couple of primary collecting situations,or ways to observe folklore in its natural context. Sometimes a folklorist just finds the study. Being aware of and open to folklore and catching it in the moment allow you to begin the search. Other times you may have to actively seek it. Perhaps you are aware that a person is a recognized artist or performer, and you decide to find out about the ways that person creates and communicates. Folklorists collect their material by identifying folklore within everyday situations, as well as by seeking folklore out. Collection contexts can occur naturally or can be arranged by a folklorist and her consultant. Being able to observe a performance in its natural context does provide a perspective that can’t be replicated; however, the work doesn’t always have to be collected in action. In other words, collecting information from a consultant when you are not able to observe a performance is still valid. For example, you might see a wall hanging you admire, so you arrange to talk with the artist about her work. She might describe the work, how it was created and what it means to her, and show you the kinds of materials she uses. You don’t have to see her actually sew the cloth to gather information about her traditional process and personal innovations. LIVING FOLKLORE 208 Some Ways to Identify Folklore • Think about groups you belong to or know about—family, school, and so forth—and about the traditions, behaviors, language (names, titles, expressions, stories...