- Reflections on Collaboration, Ethnographic and Applied
Ethnography for me began with collaboration as a necessity, but lately collaboration has become an end—part of relationships and "applied" work—with ethnography as a byproduct: a move from collaborative ethnography in a narrow sense to collaboration per se in a broader sense with possible ethnographic aspects. A reason for this shift is a move from research to applied work, with "applied" being a facet of a larger focus on social issues.
I'll trace some ways this has unfolded.
My first fieldwork was in Indonesia back in the early sixties. My wife and I lived with a family in a slum in Surabaya. We developed strong ties to each other so that collaboration was an end in itself, part of living together, but it was also a necessity, just to get by and get my work done. In 1983, one of the twelve children in that family moved to the community where we live. Sharing bonds to his mother and father, we became close friends; the ethnography part has almost disappeared or folded into our relationships, although it has reappeared in reverse; the grandson recently proposed to interview me about his grandparents because we lived with them. So the ethnographer becomes a source for a latter-day ethnography.
On a wider scale, the book I wrote on my work there, Rites of Modernization (Peacock 1968), which focused on Indonesian working class theatre and society, was translated into Indonesian and recently has been discussed in the Indonesian magazine Tempo, so my ethnography has been absorbed into wider collaborations that are part of the culture's reflections, its own ethnography. Joining that national cultural discussion is another level of collaboration. [End Page 163]
My second period of fieldwork was also in Indonesia but this time with a different group, members of a somewhat fundamentalist movement called Muhammadiya. Muhammadiya is a social movement, now claiming 35 million members. They were and are rather intentional about collaboration. After seven months with them I participated in several of their training camps. The last camp was for branch leaders, and the trainees, whom I got to know, invited me to speak at their branches. I did so, throughout Java, evaluating the movement. Thus my analysis and their own actions and analyses merged somewhat. A sign of that collaboration is given in a short book I wrote about Muhammadiya, Purifying the Faith (Peacock 1978). One of the leaders wrote a preface to that book in which he described my role. That book was also translated into Indonesian and has been part of Muhammadiyan discussions. Recently I received an e-mail from a young leader of Muhammadiya, and he recounted that at their recent congress in East Java, they recalled my response to one of their questions. A kind of jury or committee had asked me, early in my fieldwork, "What is your religion?" I replied "My religion is anthropology," explaining that my purpose was to study them. Our collaboration was very explicit. I made clear that my purpose was research. At the branch leaders' training camp, where I did everything the trainees did except the prayers, they had a session about research; they joked that I was their research branch. However, I felt gentle pressures to convert to Islam, and they joked about that too in the camp, that I "kenak da'wa," "was hit by evangelism."
After I returned from Indonesia, I continued to do fieldwork but locally, in North Carolina and Virginia, mainly among Pentecostal and Primitive Baptist Christians. I and my colleagues would explain carefully that we were doing research. Members accepted that but would frequently envision a deeper collaboration, that we would convert and even witness. Doris, a large black Pentecostal preacher, grabbed my friend Ruel Tyson and me in each arm and spoke: she said she knew we said we just wanted to interview her, but she had a vision of us playing a larger role, witnessing. Mamie, a Primitive Baptist in the mountains, told our colleague Beverly Patterson that she knew we were doing research, but she detected an interest deeper than that: "I sense they are interested in...