Ethnographic Fieldwork 4 A Brief Ethnographic Interview Crossing Cultures – Option 1
Fieldwork is the single most important method used by anthropologists to gather data. One aspect of doing good fieldwork is to be an objective observer. Another aspect involves interviewing informants. An informant is a native member of the culture being observed. In the interview process you are asking someone else to describe or explain events, behaviors, and customs to you. This person can provide the fieldworker with insights and a perspective that may not be apparent from initial observations. To elicit information from informants, the fieldworker must be careful to ask questions in the same way each time so that responses can be compared.
For this ethnographic assignment you will conduct background research and interview someone with a cultural background that is different from your own.
PROCEDURE 1: The first Steps…
- Select an informant who has spent less than five years in this country. This must be someone who has been enculturated into a culture different from your own. Do not select a family relative. Remember to distinguish between culture and a nation.
- Consider using a friend or coworker to facilitate the initial introductions, if you do not already know a suitable informant.
- Research the informant’s culture before your initial meeting. Plan how you will attempt to establish rapport. Sharing a photo album or a homemade food item is often effective. Be creative and imaginative.
- Explain to your informant that this is a class assignment.
- Review the interview questions (see Procedures #3). Prepare both formal and informal types of
- Record your feelings, expectations, and attitudes about this project before you begin the actual
- Remember to treat your informant(s) with respect. They are doing you a favor. One way to show
respect and concern for your informant(s) is to avoid topics that may make them uncomfortable (i.e. politics or religion). In a field situation, the anthropologist will talk many times to a key informant. Do not expect to obtain intimate details about their life in just one or two meetings.
- Determine how you will compensate your informant. Seek out a culturally acceptable form such as buying them a soft drink or coffee.
- Proceed with the interview. Record questions and responses. You can take written notes, tape or video record the experience – but develop a strategy AFTER consulting with the informant, so that your informant has the opportunity to help you select a format that is comfortable for him/her.
PRE-INTERVIEW AND POST-INTERVIEW QUESTIONS (to be integrated into the final paper).
- Before you meet the informant, record your feelings, expectations, and attitudes about the pending interview and describe how you prepared for the experience.
- After the interview, report how the interview went:
- Describe how you explained yourself. Describe the general course of the experience from
beginning to end. Did the conversation flow smoothly? Be candid and be specific.
- Describe how the informant (and his or her family, if appropriate) responded to you.
- Describe how you compensated the informant (e.g. you bought the informant lunch).
- Describe what lessons this interview experience taught you and what lessons you would
share with others who will conduct future interviews.
GUIDELINES FOR CONDUCTING THE INTERVIEW
- Be as objective as possible and continually check your own cultural bias. Avoid ethnocentrism.
- Do not challenge the individual’s “correctness of thinking,” especially when she or he is making
observations about aspects of YOUR culture.
- Avoid questions of an intimate or overly personal nature.
- Frequently ask for clarification if you do not understand a point being made.
- Be willing to ask for a second meeting to clarify and follow up on specific points.
TYPES OF SPECIFIC QUESTIONS
- Find out how the informant’s first impressions of this culture (and its people) were shaped.
Inquire whether friends (or family) PRECEEDED the informant to this culture.
b. Ask whether the media (for example, TV or movies) influenced the informant’s perceptions
of this culture BEFORE (and AFTER) his or her arrival.
c. Ask about the role of advertising media in the decision to immigrate. (Travel brochures do
not always convey an accurate portrayal of a destination).
d. Explore how the informant’s views were shaped by his or her experiences at the port of
entry or at the train (or bus) stations. Do not overlook the impact of jetlag or first
experiences with the North American transportation infrastructure.
- Ask about what the informant misses most from his or her original culture.
- Explain ethnocentrism, and ask whether the informant has experienced it. Attempt to elicit specific
- Explore cultural attitudes and cultural customs with your informant.
PAPER FORMAT: your paper must conform to the following specifications:
- It must be typed and spell checked
- You should use Times New Roman 12-point font or a comparable sized font.
- Left/right, top/bottom margins should not exceed 1 inch.
- It must be double-spaced throughout.
- It must be at least five pages in length; make sure you have covered the necessary information with
depth and breadth.
- Create appendices containing the following information (appendices are in addition to paper page
- Background information on informant: culture, country of origin, length of time in this culture, gender, approximate age, marital status, and number of children.
- Date, location, and length of interview.
- Describe the meeting; describe how rapport was (or was not) established.
- General discussion of responses to interview questions (include a narrative paragraph
about each of the questions).
- Your evaluation of the experience.
- Explain anthropological rationale for interviewing an informant who has been in this
cultural environment for less than five years.
- Optional: photos, drawings, maps, etc.
- Do not use a cover sheet. In the top right hand corner of your paper you should have your name, class, and Ethnographic Assignment #. The title of your paper should relate to the content of your paper, as well as be insightful and original; it should catch the reader’s attention and make them want to read your paper.
GRADING CRITERIA: Your paper will be evaluated for how well it fulfills the assignment. Full credit will not be given to papers that are too short, or do not make “sense.” Nor will full credit be given to papers that are missing the field notes (appendices). The grade will be broken down as follows:
- The contact information from the informant – first & last name, phone number & email address – 5 points. They will not be contacted unless there is a need to verify the interview was actually conducted.
- The date, time, & location the interview took place – 5 points.
- The typed paper – 70 points.
- The attached appendices – 20 points.