ABSTRACT

It might be easier to say what ‡eldwork is not. Fieldwork is not using data that someone else has collected, whether a census, a sample survey, or a collection of interviews. It is not sorting through an archive to unearth recorded information about life in times past or present. It is not setting up experimental conditions and then setting the experiment in motion. It is usually not done from the comfort of one’s oÇce, building up pen-and-paper (or keyboard) models of the social world. To us, ‡eldwork is the messy but exciting process of interacting directly with people to learn something about the way they live. When you are doing ‡eldwork, your data are the lived experiences of the people whom you want to know about. You can collect (or create) these data in many dierent ways-through classic ethnography, in which the researcher tries to become an “insider” to a setting; through action-research, in which research and transformative social

change go hand in hand; through interviews and focus groups, in which the researchers ask directly about questions of interest; or through participant observation, in which the researcher is both an onlooker and an actor in the social processes s/he wants to learn about. Many research projects combine elements of several of these strategies, as well as many others. We do not presume to advocate one form of ‡eldwork over others; instead we focus on the challenges, both expected and not, which arise whenever, and however, you’re “in the ‡eld.”