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Crossing Over the Shoulders of the Other:The Three States of Fieldwork Situations

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China Social Science Review

No.3, 2021


Crossing Over the Shoulders of the OtherThe Three States of Fieldwork Situations



Yang Chunyu


The field should be regarded as a kind of “figuration” as Norbert Elias called it, rather than a simple “knowledge-power” relationship. One the basis of the actual field experience and with the Other’s shoulder as the coordinate, the state of people undertaking fieldwork can be divided into three types: “peering at the Other,” “standing side by side,” and “going before the Other.” Different modes of participant observation have different levels of involvement, participation and empathy, but all have the opportunity to produce excellent ethnographic works and valuable perspectives, and all face the risk of failure. Given this, it is worth reflecting ourselves on the “reflections on field research” that have proliferated in anthropology in recent years. Their overgeneralized “knowledge-power” model does not capture the complex subject-object relationships in field research. Fieldwork and ethnographic writings are still rich in possibilities and deserve to be taken seriously and attract scholarly engagement.