Stepping between different worlds: reflections before, during and after fieldwork
Before beginning fieldwork, the anthropology student pictures herself in a totally different dimension: an 'indigenous' world in which she will be immersed for the whole fieldwork period: she does not know the native language, she has no idea of who she will meet or where she will spend most of her time. Then, the 'limbo' state ends and she finds herself suddenly active, even when she does nothing. To be doing fieldwork means to be constantly observed by other people as well as having to observe all around oneself.
This paper explores issues I lived through and experienced before, during and after my fieldwork in southern Chile. It is a personal narrative of the contradictions that the fieldworker frequently has to face-especially when doing research in a region that has never been studied by anthropologists before. In it I discuss some of the most confusing episodes that occurred to me during my process of becoming familiar with the host culture. These events illustrate the difficulty of overcoming the 'innocence' typical of the inexperienced fieldworker and the impossibility of stepping outside one's own cultural expectations, despite months of serious professional training.
Eventually the experience of fieldwork deeply transforms the fieldworker and her perceptions both of herself and the surrounding world. However, can we cope with the potentially dangerous underpinnings of adopting a different lifestyle for a long period of time? Fieldwork provides us with a chance (with all its emotional implications) to step from one world to another, and the feeling of belonging to both worlds-despite the enormous distance between them.