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Accepted Paper:

Urgencies vs. high impact – why long fieldwork still matters  
Tone Danielsen (Kristiania University College)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on the experience of two decades’ of fieldwork with the military, this presentation shows how long-term ethnography reveals aspects of life – including embodied – that cannot be derived from other kinds approaches.

Paper long abstract:

Long fieldworks give answers to questions never asked up front. The power of contextualized fine-grained ethnography is to illuminate the complexity underlying people’s everyday life. Ethnography allows us to analyse cases holistically and is our source for new theory building.

I worked for two decades on military culture and over the years I conducted many long fieldworks. Doing fieldwork is a slow research process, and sometimes ground-breaking. Doing fieldwork in a military special operations unit is harsh: I never got enough sleep, all my muscles were sore after walking with them during Hell week, I was always hungry and frozen deep down to the marrow after long hours outdoors in the cold Arctic climate, and I parachuted in a tight James-Bond-like black one-piece jumpsuit. I felt like the personification of Douglas’s ‘matter out of place’. An 18-month fieldwork was my entry into this all-male world, finding my way into closely knit and intricate networks. I ended up describing part of their culture which had never been academically discussed and analysed.

The complexity of real life cannot be reinvented in an artificial lab-experiment. Surveys can give fast and systematic data but are often just a fragment of the big picture. It is in this time and age – with covid-19, wars, climate changes, and globalism – we need thorough analyses and answers on the topics the urgent political agendas never raise. Ethnography is the key tool to deepen understanding of the contemporary order and disorder. By providing thick descriptions of how people, conditions, and scale are at play at the same time, we can describe the cacophony of real life, and thereby better inform ongoing discussions on the big issues of our era. Over time we become more competent, we are listened to, and build relationships with people – including people with power. Independently of erratic ‘urgencies’ of our time, that is what makes long term impact.

Panel PlenC
Reinventing urgent anthropology: EASA Exec Plenary