It is true that all events taking place in society cannot be studied at the same time. It is also true that all phenomena are not visible to sense organ. In these circumstances, an anthropologist takes help of other techniques of data collection such as interview, case study, schedule, questionnaire, etc. All techniques of data collection have some advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, an anthropologist takes help of more than one technique, when he or she goes to collect data from the field. In fieldwork, an anthropologist goes to the field and stays with the people whom he wants to study. He observes the phenomena under study and records them systematically. Thus, fieldwork is an important means for the anthropologist to explore and analyze the data and to develop a theory in the basis.

The foundation of evolutionary theory in the field of cultural anthropology is regarded as the theoretical beginning in anthropology. But cultural evolutionists are generally criticized as armchair anthropologist, because they were not field workers. They relied too much upon data gathered by travelers, businessmen, administrators and missionaries, who were not anthropologists and lacked anthropological knowledge of data collection. However, their information played significant role in the study of classical cultural evolutionists, who attempted to reconstruct the evolutionary development stages of culture or cultural institutions like family, marriage, kinship, law, property, society, art, religion, etc. in a uni-linear sequence.

World View

Tylor was very much aware of the problem. He was not uncritical of these data and often attempted to test their accuracy by comparative method. His main tool was “the test of recurrence” or “undersigned coincidence” by which statements were evaluated according to their frequency in other accounts.

L.H. Morgan, an American classical cultural anthropologists and a contemporary of E.B. Tylor, had attempted to collect data from the field using some research techniques, though not very scientifically and systematically. Morgan, By profession, was a lawyer at Rochester. All his life, he was in close proximity to Iroquois Indians. Morgan visited and interviewed many Indians with note book in hand and collected data on games, dance, religious beliefs, customs and traditions, language, material culture, from of government and family organization of Iroquois. He published them in the form of a book, League of Iroquois (1951). Here Morgan also used genealogical technique to study kinship organization. Since then genealogical technique became an important tool to study kinships system of a society and associated behavior patterns like duties, privileges, status, roles etc. this method was successfully applied by W.H.R Rivers in his study on Toda of Nilgiri area, which was studied in 1904 and published in 1906. Morgan used another technique of data collection known as ‘Questionnaire technique’. In order to established data on evolution of kinship terminologies and origins of American Indians in Asia.

In America, the systematic field survey began with the work of Franz-Boas in Baffin land British land and British Columbia. Franz Boas had gone to Baffin land in 1883 primarily as a geographer, looking for the cultural effect of the people of their physical environment. But as he lived and travelled with Eskimos, he became concerned with the importance of social tradition as a determinant of culture and personality. His realization of social traditions of shaping human life turned his interest from geography to ethnology, and marked the beginning of his career as an anthropologist.

The field expeditions was followed by A.C. Haddon of Cambridge shortly afterwards in England. Haddon led a band of scholar to conduct field research in Torres straits region of the pacific in 1898 and 1899. The famous ‘Toress strait Expedition’ became a turning point in the history of Social Anthropology in Great Britain. This expedition was the first interdisciplinary anthropological expedition meant to cover all sides of primitive life by trained anthropologists. Rivers came to India in 1904 and studied Toda of Nilgiri area. The monograph on Toda was published in 1906. Seligmen, another British anthropologist, conducted fieldwork among the Vedas of Sri Lanka, which was published in 1911. Professor A.R. Radcliff-Brown, a student of Rivers and Haddon, came to India to conduct fieldwork among tribes of Andaman Island. He stayed among them from 1906 to 1908. He dutifully recorded Andamanese myths, ceremonies, customs etc. with a view to reconstruct the cultural history of these non-literate people of Indian Island.

Brownislaw Kaspar Malinowski, a pupil of Hobhouse, Westermarck and Seligmen, carried field research a step further. He not only spent a longer period than any other anthropologists before him and after him also, in a single study of primitive people, ‘The Trobriand Islanders of Malenesia’ between 1914 to 1918, but he was also the first anthropologist to conduct fieldwork through native language, he was the first to live through his work in center of native life and introduce the method of participant observations in anthropological research. Being a participant observer and having a knowledge of native language, whom he was studying (Trobriand Islanders), he was successful in gathering, vast information on social, religious, economic and political life of Trobriand Islanders of Melanesia. It can be fairly said that comprehensive field studies in modern anthropology, directly or in directly are derived from his teaching.

Leach studied the political system of Highland Burma (now Myamar), which was published in 1949. Firth carried out fieldwork among the Tallancy, which was published in 1949.  Firth studied the primitive economics of the New Zealand Maori, which appeared in 1949. Evance Pritchard studies the Azande and the Nuer, which were published in 1937 and 1940 respectively.

While British anthropologists conducted research on different tribal groups, following structural functional approaches in the third decade of 20th century, American anthropologist started fieldwork with a view to know the impact of culture on personality or influence of personality on culture or both. They formed a separate school of anthropological thought, which is known as ‘Culture and Personality School’.

Marget Mead conducted fieldwork among Samoa with a view to record whether the rebellion that marked adolescent personality in western cultures was a product of biological changes occurring at puberty or a result of cultural circumstances. Her study on Samoa was published in 1928. Her book “Growing up in New Guinea” (1930) was based on fieldwork carried among Manus tribe of New Guinea.

Mead brought another improvement in the study of culture personality by employing camera and tape recorders to capture characteristically significant behavioral events in their situational context and to publish it display these records along with word descriptions. These pioneering experiments used for data collecting were important contribution in fieldwork tradition in anthropology. Another improvement in fieldwork tradition by Mead is use of ‘Re-Study’ method to show changes taking place in a society. She had studied Manus in 1928 and again visited among them in late forties to record changes in Manus Society. Her book Cultural Patterns and Technical Change (1995) deals with changing aspects of Manus Life.

Ruth Benedict, an another pioneer and patternist of culture personality school, conducted her first fieldwork among the Sarrano Indians in California under the supervision of A.L Kroeber in 1922 at the age of 35years. Her field studies followed of the Zuni (1924,1925), the Cochiti (1925), and the Pima (1926).  Benedict’s field experience with Pima was crucial because here she tried out idea of studying and understanding people through an analysis of their characteristic ‘culture patterns’.

Another pioneer of culture personality was Linton, who was basically an archaeologist, but turned into cultural anthropologist in 1922, when he was sent to Marquesa Island by the Bishop Museum. Thus, he got opportunity to live with the people of Marquesa Island and centred his interest on personality structure, social and cultural traditions and material cultures. He with Kardiner, developed the concept of ‘basic personality type’.

Kora-Du-Bois another lady anthropologist, besides Marget Mead and Ruth Benedict, conducted filedwork in village on the Indonesian Islands of Alor, and recorded not only more traditional ethnographic facts, but also collected eight lengthy biographies, dream, and children’s games and administrated a number of projective tests. Her book on Alor was published in 1944. She developed the concept of ‘Modal Personality’. A very important development in the fieldwork tradition came into being when an American anthropologist, Robert Redfield, conducted field work among folk and urban villages in America, with a view to know the dimensions of civilization and folk-Urban continuum. In 1927-28 Redcliffe made two trips to traditional Mexican Village which resulted in publication of his book, Tepoztlan (1930). On the basis of his filedwork in a peasant village Chankom in America and Maya village in England, Redfield published his book on, Peasant Society and Culture (1956). Since then the study of peasant communities got momentum in filedwork tradition of anthropology.


to be continued…..