The politics of localization: controlling movement in the field


  • Akbar Keshodkar Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford



Romantic notions of the field, as depicted in works such as those of Evans-Pritchard and Malinowski, where an anthropologist is able to set up a hut in the middle of a village, conceal the complexities encountered by researchers in attempts to localize themselves in the field. In the post-colonial, globalizing world today, the field is marked by various unequal power relationships. Reflecting on my fieldwork experience I shall examine how questions of race and ethnicity affect a researcher's ability to acquire various apprenticeships for understanding how 'things are done' (Jenkins 1994: 442) and effectively conduct fieldwork. I worked in the ethnically divided society of Zanzibar, where I was categorized as a local Asian and my ability to move through the social landscape was tied to my ethnic origins. Placed within such contested landscapes, where the researcher becomes a part of the politicized field, traditional training in fieldwork methodology proves useless. In such situations, the researcher is required to re-examine approaches to fieldwork and re-evaluate their position vis-à-vis the rest of the community. As ethnic/racial categories through which the locals classify the researcher dictate the nature of data collected, the paper will explore issues that a researcher must attempt to comprehend when placed in such a situation and discuss how questions of power are integral for negotiating one's position in such a politicized field.

Author Biography

Akbar Keshodkar, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford

Akbar Keshodkar is presently in the final stages of completing his PhD in social anthropology at Oxford University. His dissertation examines the impact of tourism on the Asian and Swahili identity discourse in Zanzibar, Tanzania. His wider research interests include exploring effects of globalization on expressions of Islam and the Muslim identity in East Africa.