Is a happy anthropologist a good anthropologist?

  • Katherine Smith University of Wales, Lampeter

Abstract

The purposes of this paper are to introduce and contextualise my recent doctoral fieldwork research in Higher Blackley, North Manchester, England, and to discuss the difficulties in understanding and monitoring the fragmentation of the self in fieldwork (Coffey 1999:121). How do we deal, as ethical but also politically motivated human beings, with responses or actions which make us cringe, make us afraid, confused or unhappy? How do we reconcile our own moral, ethical and political perspectives with those of individuals who hold very different perspectives in the field? A Weberian tradition has legitimated research programmes that attempt to equate objectivity with an attitude of emotional disengagement, cognitive objectivity and moral indifference. When faced with anger, fear or depression, a sense of "passionate detachment" was often a desired state for me; however, it was a desire that proved to be part of the very fabric of fieldwork and a result of the "self" which I brought into the field. Through asking the question "Is a happy anthropologist a good anthropologist?" I will demonstrate that, in a rhetorical sense, this question opens up many avenues for elaboration and exploration, in attempts to better understand the world in which we may find ourselves during our fieldwork experiences.

Author Biography

Katherine Smith, University of Wales, Lampeter
Katherine Smith conducted 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in North Manchester, England, exploring idioms of "fairness", social exclusion and belonging. Her doctoral thesis, "The Outside Within: Belonging, Fairness and Exclusion in Higher Blackley, North Manchester" was submitted in September, 2008.