How can scientists study the messiness of real life? What sort of knowledge can we gain outside the traditional laboratory? And how do we analyze data gathered “in the field”? This course invites you to consider these questions while introducing you to the many faces of fieldwork. We’ll look at the principles behind the practice, as well as the array of methods that put those principles to work in any given field setting.
Although field methods vary across the social and natural sciences, they have some basic things in common: Much (often most) of the evidence fieldworkers collect is qualitative. The field experience is not, strictly speaking, reproducible. And the boundaries of “the field” are always fuzzy. Yet despite these complications, fieldwork remains a vibrant and indispensable way of coming to know and make sense of the world. And while sometimes it might seem as messy as real life itself, it involves thick, systematic observation of a living, breathing community, generally by participating in that community in purposeful ways. Inherently, this calls on researchers to think carefully, holistically and empathetically about their own relationship to the field and about its inhabitants, whether human or nonhuman. The work you do in this course will be deeply collaborative, and will familiarize you with fieldwork not just by reading about it, but by doing some fieldwork of your own.