Returns to the Field

Returns to the Field

Multitemporal Research and Contemporary Anthropology
Afterword by Bruce Knauft, edited by Signe Howell and Aud Talle
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 12/15/2011
Format: Paperback 22 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-22348-7
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Many anthropologists return to their original fieldwork sites a number of times during their careers, but this experience has seldom been subjected to analytic and theoretical scrutiny. The contributors to Returns to the Field have all undertaken multitemporal fieldwork—repeated visits to the same place—over periods ranging from 20 to 40 years among minority groups in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Melanesia. Over the years of contact, these anthropologists have witnessed dramatic changes, but also the perseverance of the people they have worked with. In vivid and personal essays, the authors examine the ramifications of this type of fieldwork practice—the kind of knowledge it produces, what methodological tools are appropriate, and how relationships with people in the field site change over time.

Author Bio

Signe Howell is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo. She is author of The Kinning of Foreigners: Transnational Adoption in a Global Perspective; The Ethnography of Moralities; Societies at Peace: An Anthropological Perspective; and Society and Cosmos: Chewong of Peninsular Malaysia.

Aud Talle (1944-2011) was Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo and author of The Power of Culture: Female Circumcision as Tradition and Taboo (in Norwegian) and Women at a Loss: Changes in Maasai Pastoralism and Their Effects on Gender Relations.


“This telling analysis examines multitemporal fieldwork and the dramatic changes that many anthropologists encounter upon return to their original fieldwork sites throughout the years.”

“Returns to the Field is a highly readable collection of essays filled with insights on how long-term, or multitemporal, fieldwork has both deepened and complicated the reflexive processes through which anthropologists and their interlocutors produce new understandings of how people experience and navigate social change. The importance of long-term fieldwork based on return visits to the same host communities has been recognized within mainstream anthropology since early days of the discipline, but the editors of Returns to the Field have taken this tacit recognition to a new level by exploring theoretical and methodological dimensions of such fieldwork. Contributors include renowned senior scholars who have worked for decades in such diverse regions as Amazonia, Africa, Australia, Oceania, and Asia and who convincingly demonstrate that the intimate knowledge gained over multiple returns to the field offers unique abilities to grasp the significance of unpredictable events as well as the existence of core values that persist over time.”
 — Jonathan Hill, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

“This book demonstrates the extraordinarily powerful bonds that can grow between long-term ethnographers and the people they study. In doing so, it offers a penetrating vision of the resilience and vulnerability inherent in people’s creative efforts to remain true to their core cultural values.”
 — Sharon Hutchinson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Overall, this is a great collection of essays that hang together well and — for once! — address the common theme that the edited volume is ostensibly about. At the same time, each is strong enough that it could be read separately. If you are interested in the topic or the contributors, it is definitely worth picking up.”

“This is an important book because we need a disciplinary conversation about our myths. . . . [I]s more always better? Are there limits to the value of returns to the field? What are the costs and who will bear them? Returns to the Field has done us the valuable service of allowing this conversation to begin.”
 — Social Anthropology

“[V]aluable insights can be gained by returning to the field—whether physically or intellectually—to reflect upon the inevitable shifts in the researcher’s intellectual transformation, disciplinary trends, and even popular understandings of key events and narratives that have been documented. Summer/Fall 2014”
 — Oral History Review

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Table of Contents


Introduction \ Signe Howell and Aud Talle

Part 1. Change and Continuity in Long-term Perspective
1. Forty-five Years with the Kayapo \ Terence Turner
2. "Soon we will be spending all our time at funerals": Yolngu Mortuary Rituals in an Epoch of Constant Change \ Frances Morphy and Howard Morphy
3. Returns to the Maasai: Long-term Fieldwork and the Production of Anthropological Knowledge \ Aud Talle
4. Contingency, Collaboration, and the Unimagined over Thirty-five Years of Ethnography \ David Holmberg
5. Nostalgia and Neocolonialism \ Peter Metcalf

Part 2. Expansion in Time, Expansion in Space
6. Cumulative Understandings: Experiences from the Study of Two Southeast Asian Societies \ Signe Howell
7. Repeated Returns and Special Friends: From Mythic Encounter to Shared History \ Piers Vitebsky
8. Compressed Globalization and Expanding Desires in Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands \ Edvard Hviding
9. Widening the Net: Returns to the Field and Regional Understanding \ Alan Barnard

Afterword: Reflecting on Returns to the Field \ Bruce Knauft

List of Contributors

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