Field
work is the hallmark of cultural anthropology. Whether in a Kasol village in
Himachal Pradesh or on the streets on New Delhi, India, the anthropologist goes
where people live and does field work. This means watching ceremonies, washing clothes,
observing play, learning their language, asking questions about their culture, taking
field notes, and lot of other things. This vast range of activities often
recondite the most fundamental task of all field work – doing ethnography. This
chapter details the vital task of anthropological field work.

Ethnography
is the subset of social research. The term ‘ethnography’ originated in the
nineteenth century in Western anthropology, where ethnography was an evocative
description of the culture of group of people, generally one placed in the
outskirts of the west. During the nineteenth century ethnography was divergent
with, and was typically seen as balancing to, ethnology, which constituted to
the past and relative study of non-western societies and cultures. Ethnology
was regarded as the center of anthropological work, and drew individual
ethnographic accounts which were primarily shaped by travelers and
missionaries. Over time, the word ethnology did not get any support since
anthropologists began to do their own fieldwork, with ethnography coming to
refer to an integration of both empirical investigation and the theoretical and
relative elucidation of social association and ethnicity.

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Due
to the above change, since the early twentieth century, ethnographic fieldwork
has been vital to anthropology. In fact, carrying out such work, typically in a
society very different from one’s own, became a rite of passage required for
entry to the tribe of anthropologists. The mandatory requirement of field work was
to live with a group of people for longer durations, sometimes more than a year
or more, so that they could record and infer their unique way of life, and the
attitude and ethics integral to it.

Culture
is described in the work of ethnography. The endeavor of ethnography is to assess
another way of life from the native point of view. The goal of ethnography, as
Malinowski (1994) puts it is to grasp the native’s point of view, his relation
to life, to realize his vision of his world. Field work then involves the
disciplined study of what the world is like to people who have learned to see,
speak, think, hear, and act in ways that are different. Instead of studying
people, ethnography means learning from people.

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