Accepted paper:

The role of luck in successful anthropological fieldwork


Jonathan Alderman (University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on fieldwork experiences with the Kallawaya ethnic group in Bolivia, I will discuss the role luck plays in successful anthropological fieldwork, principally by relating how I feel I was lucky in my own fieldwork.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation will discuss the role luck plays in anthropologists' fieldwork. Drawing on fieldwork experiences in Bolivia, I will look at how my own fieldwork was influenced—especially at the beginning—by good fortune. During the first few month of my fieldwork, I was given several different roles by others as they sought to make sense of my presence and to identify me to others. At various time I was known as a tourist, gringo, or simply Jonathan. My most lasting identity (apart from, I suppose, my name) was "ambassador". I began fieldwork with the Kallawayas in Bolivia, following their autonomy assembly in drawing up their statute for autonomy. At the first meeting I attended I was suddenly introduced to all present at an English ambassador. I had no idea that the President was going to do this and thus no control over the identity which was foisted upon me. I will describe in the paper why I see being introduced in this way as being lucky for me in terms of the relations which it enabled with others in my fieldsite, and conversely, how in many respects this introduction may in some other ways have been unlucky. I will try to relate this to wider conclusions regarding the role of luck in the success or failure of anthropological fieldwork, and whether we create our own luck as anthropologists or we have to adapt to the circumstances that open up.

panel P56
The ethnographer's slip: fail again, fail better