Today’s guest blog post is by Robert Mahaney of Indiana University. The IUB Anthropology Graduate Student Association is including a photography exhibit “In the Field: Images of the people and places of IUB Anthropology” this year during its annual graduate student symposium. The symposium will take place next Friday, February 22. Click here for event details. If you’re in area, check it out!
Reflecting on Fieldwork: “In the Field: Images of the people and places of IUB Anthropology” by Robert Mahaney, Indiana University
What is ‘the field’?
We could answer this question simply. The field is where we work. Its where the people are — or its where they were. But this answer is unreflective. It avoids the subtle and sometime difficult issues involved in knowledge creation. ‘The field’ is a space constituted by the interaction of the observer – ethnographer, linguist, archaeologist, or biocultural researcher – and those she observes. It is structured and bounded by research questions and paradigms, means of analysis and representation, disciplinary tradition and lore, and personal experience and expectation. Of course, this is also is a simplistic and obvious answer. It may be a banal truism. However, there is no field without the fieldworker.
Its this creative act that we, as graduate students, are trying to master. How do we create these spaces? How we build these relationships? And how does this place and experience become knowledge?
These are the questions that motivate our exhibition of images from field sites. From February 22-24, a photo exhibit titled “In the Field: Images of the people and places of IUB Anthropology” will be presented during the annual Indiana University Anthropology Graduate Students Association Symposium. This year the symposium will be held at the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology in Bloomington, Indiana.
Working at sites in places including Southern Indiana, Wyoming, Greece Kazakistan, Tanzania, and Turkey archaeologists Megan Buchanan, Kaeliegh Herstad, Sheena Ketchum, Robert Mahaney, Rebecca Nathan, Tekla Schmaus, and Liz Watts provide a distinctive group of images with two distinct focuses. First, they seem to highlight the interaction with their collaborators – PIs, specialists, and excavators – which hints at the central role of ‘the crew’ in archaeological research. Second, they often focus on the physiography of the place, reflecting the imaginative aspect of archaeology in which the researcher tries to orient themselves in landscape in the same ways that past people may have.
Shingo Hamada is an ethnographer studying fisheries in Hokkaido, Japan and Lyra Vega studies food culture in her Belize. They provide pictures of the events and people that inform their work. Interestingly, material culture – in the form of food or animals and plants harvested from the ocean – play an important an important role in their images. of course, this hints at the mediating role of the photographic medium.
It is very interesting to note that the images of biological anthropologists such as Alicia Rich Stout, Caroline Deimel, Evanna Singh, and Lindsey Mattern provided pictures of fieldwork in Guyana, India, and Uganda that bridge the concerns and perspectives of the contributing archaeologists and ethnographers. The biological dimension of human experience is placed in a culture context of people, place, and event. Susan Spencer, a bioarchaeologist, osteologist, and forensic anthropologist provides images from Indiana cemeteries in she highlights the role of grief and practices of commemoration.
Together, these images hint at the various ways that students performing fieldwork have constituted the fields in which they work. As hinted briefly already, there are subtle differences between the images presented by archaeologists, ethnographers, and biological anthropologists in this exhibit. But the fields in which we operate as Anthropologists are hardly incommensurable. Though evidence, methods, and theoretical tools may vary amongst the sub-fields, there is a commonality amongst in how we constitute and embody the places in which we work and interact with our collaborators. Ultimately, this may be the most characteristic feature of our shared culture as anthropologists.