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Introduction

Efram Sera-Shriar
Affiliation:
York University
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Summary

Reason and logic is itself a science, but like other sciences, it began as an art which man practised without stopping to ask himself why or how.

Edward Burnett Tylor, 1881

Rethinking the Significance of the Field

In the introduction to his book Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942) argued that it was important for researchers interested in human diversity to discuss the methods they used in the field when collecting ethnographic materials. It was only by outlining in detail these rigorous practices that researchers would be able to demonstrate the scientific standards of the discipline. Malinowski wrote, ‘it will be well to give a description of the methods used in the collecting of ethnographic materials. The results of scientific research in any branch of learning ought to be presented in a manner absolutely candid and above board’. He continued by linking transformations in anthropological techniques to the larger changes occurring within the social and natural sciences at the beginning of the twentieth century.

For Malinowski it was essential that anthropologists raised the scientific criteria on which they collected, analysed and represented their data. To this end, he identified ethnographic fieldwork as the surest method for studying human diversity. In a sense, the Trobriand Islands would become the laboratory where he would develop his research programme and transform the observational practices of all future anthropological projects.

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Publisher: Pickering & Chatto
First published in: 2014

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