From field constraints to 'native's point of view': journey of a female ethnographer
Saloka Sengupta (Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad)
Paper short abstract:
What happens when a leg of field work does not go by the plan? This paper investigates the occasions where the ethnographer fails to understand the nature of the field but eventually realizes the potential benefits of those mistakes.
Paper long abstract:
Nachnis are the women dancers in the rural provinces of West Bengal, India who perform in the backdrop of the Jhumur songs, a form of folk music that revolves around popular myths of Hindu deities Radha and Krishna. The performances start late night in an open village surrounding and lasts till morning. The Nachnis are accompanied by their paramours or partners called 'Rasiks' and other male instrument players on stage. The audiences of the programs are dominantly men, residing in nearby villages and belonging to the lower strata of the society who attend the performances in an inebriated state. While attending these nightlong performances the female ethnographer is interrupted by the audiences, and often confronted situations out of control (such as inappropriate behavior from the audience) resulting in not getting to observe at all. In the recent discussion of 'field of screams' this paper examines the failure and frustrations of the ethnographer who could not collect the information as planned before and at the same time could not get back to the same place because of time constraint and constant discouragement, thus creating a gap in the collected data and the already existing data. But with sufficient time spent on the field and 'in depth' reading of the incidents actually revealed that this gap can actually lead to the 'native's point of view'. By the process of gaining experiences and ceaseless corrections in an ethnographic approach this paper shows how the field is changing the discipline and not the discipline changing the field.
The ethnographer's slip: fail again, fail better