Accepted Paper:

‘Finding the talk’: negotiating knowledge and knowledge transfer in the field  


Lisette Josephides (Queen's University Belfast)

Paper short abstract:

Paper long abstract:

During fieldwork the ethnographer is, in a sense, in a permanent state of high alert. Everything observed and experienced in the field appears innately interesting, potentially even crucial, and must be recorded before it is lost forever. It might be said that all exchanges are interviews in these conditions, containing precious nuggets for analysis.

In my fieldwork among the Kewa of the highlands of Papua New Guinea, interviews, when undertaken, were a series of translations at different levels, involving three languages, three generations and several knowledge-brokers. In these conditions, the interview as a technique of knowledge has two prerequisites: the interviewer’s placement within a local system of relations, and the establishment of a baseline of shared understandings. As elicitations of knowledge, interviews constantly pulled away from the interviewer’s concerns. Because interviews could never be entirely individual or confidential, they were not limited to a relationship between interviewer and interviewee, but had more general local consequences. Kewa people turned them into group debates for staking their own claims and negotiating understandings.

But this negotiation of meaning happened only at the interview stage. Subsequent analysis was informed by far more than was obtained in the field, finding insights and reaching conclusions in a process not shared with interviewees.

Using Kewa ethnography, the paper will discuss three questions. First, what do interviews intend to elicit? Second, how is knowledge transacted through them? (Though they are conducted through language, much meaning comes from what is left unsaid.) And third, what are the ethical and epistemological implications of subsequent intellectual activity, post-fieldwork, which turns the interview into ethnographic and theoretical knowledge with a designated place in the anthropological corpus and beyond?

Panel Plen3
Interview negotiations