Field of screams: difficulty and ethnographic fieldwork


  • Amy Pollard Cambridge University



fieldwork, higher education


Ethnographic fieldwork can be a time of intense vulnerability for PhD students. Often alone and in an unfamiliar context, they may face challenges that their pre-fieldwork training has done little to prepare them for. This study seeks to document some of the difficulties that PhD anthropologists at three UK universities have faced. It describes a range of feelings as experienced by 16 interviewees: alone, ashamed, bereaved, betrayed, depressed, desperate, disappointed, disturbed, embarrassed, fearful, frustrated, guilty, harassed, homeless, paranoid, regretful, silenced, stressed, trapped, uncomfortable, unprepared, unsupported, and unwell. The paper concludes with a set of questions for prospective fieldworkers, a reflection on the dilemmas faced by supervisors and university departments, and a proposal for action.

Author Biography

Amy Pollard, Cambridge University

Amy Pollard wrote her PhD dissertation at the University of Cambridge on aid effectiveness and harmonisation in Indonesia. Her research interests include the social life of policy processes, development, institutional relationships and bureaucracy. She can be contacted at pollard.amy(AT)




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