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M.N. Srinivas's "The Fieldworker and the Field"

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In this class we will have a general reading of a very famous and a celebrated book titled “ the fieldworker and the Field ” This book was edited by M.N.Srinivas, A.M.Shah and E.A.Ramaswamy.It is a very important book on the relationships between the fieldworker and the field and can be considered as one of the classics.One of the reasons for introducing the students to this book is to impress upon the students the importance of going back to some of the classics and getting introduced to these readings before initiating research in the first place.Now there is another important reason why I thought this will be a very good introduction to the students as far as fieldwork and field research is concerned that is primarily because this the authors, the scholars who have authored the papers in this book were largely conducting the research in the 1950s and the 1960s and it gives us a very good snapshot view of what are the challenges that they were facing during the early periods of social science research.The papers come mostly from the disciplines of sociology, social anthropology and economics as these were the disciplines that mostly ventured into fieldwork during those times.So, what I will do is to give you a very brief introduction to the articles contained in this book.And following which I have taken various sayings from the articles contained in this book particularly the article written by M.N.Srinivas himself who has been a sociologist par excellence, who was a socialist and social anthropologist.And another article by Professor P.C Joshi who was a professor of economics particularly in the field of institutional economics who is also the director of the Institute of economic growth in New Delhi.And the third article by Professor Khadija Gupta who was a sociologist.And these 3 articles together I have presented in this lesson exactly as it appears in the papers that they have written.So, let us get introduced to this book.This book is titled as I said the “ Field Worker and the Field- Problems and Challenges In Sociological Investigation ” which came out first through Oxford University Press 1979.So, far there are 2 editions of his book, the second edition came out in 2002 and for the purpose of this lesson, I have used the second edition of 2002.Oxford India paperbacks came up in 2004 and the third impression of this book came in 2008.Now for a very serious student of field work, of all those researchers who are planning on taking fieldwork, you may consider this lesson some kind of a book reading session.Although all the articles contained in this book are a gem in themselves and it will actually not be possible for me to include all the papers in this lesson.However, I have used my judgment in trying to bring some of the most important facets of what these scholars have considered as that should be kept in mind while initiating into field research.Therefore my judgment has a big role to play in introducing you to what I think is important and should be an important takeaway as far as this book is concerned.So, this book has been divided into 4 sections.One is in Rural India.Second is on Urban India.Third is on Complex Organizations in India.And the fourth one is on Societies Outside India.So, the papers that are contained in Rural India- there are 5 very important, very invaluable papers contained in the first part- Rural India.The first one is by M.N.Srinivas and which I will begin with for this lesson ‘ The Field Worker and the Field-a Village in Karnataka Rsquo;.There is “ Studying the Present and the Past a Village in Gujarat ” by A.M.Shah.“ Experiences of an Encapsulated Observer, A Village in Rajasthan ” by Anand Chakravarti,“On Racks and Tracts in My FieldWork Rural Kerala” by K. Raman Unni and the final one is on “ Fieldwork Experience Relieved and Reconsidered- Rural Uttar Pradesh ” P.C.Joshi.For the purpose of today’s lesson I will be focusing on extracts from the “ Fieldworker and the Field ” by M.N.Srinivas and the “ Fieldwork Experience Relieved and Reconsidered from Rural Uttar Pradesh” by P.C.Joshi.So, these articles are mostly in the form of experiences that the scholars have come across or have lived while conducting village studies in India.And for anybody who is interested in looking at the different facets of village studies and how to carry out village studies, this is a highly recommended book that must be studied by anybody who is getting initiated to village studies research in India.The second one is in Urban India.There are again 4 very interesting papers in this section.“ Travails of a Woman Fieldworker Rsquo;, the challenges faced by a woman field worker and what it means to be conducting development research in the complex organizations that Indian societies have.And this is an eye-opener in terms of an important takeaway for women researchers when studying this paper by Khadija Gupta.Similarly a very interesting paper by Veena Dua on “ A Woman Rsquo’s Encounter with AryaSamaj and Untouchables- a Slum in Jalandhar”“ The Bottom View Up Some Cognitive Categories Slums in Madras ” “ Objective AppreciationThrough Caste Images, Untouchables in Poona ” It is a pity I could not introduce all of these articles in this lesson.However keeping in mind the brevity that should be kept in mind given the hazardous of an online course, I have taken into account this very important paper on “ Travails of a WomanFieldworker” so as to bring out some of the important things that a woman researcher goes through while getting initiated to research and that must be negotiated beforehand.The last 2 sections which I have not covered in this lesson are “ Complex Organizations In India ” there we have “ Trial And Error in a New Field- a Factory in Gujarat ” “ BeingWhere The Action Was, Trade Union In Coimbatore ” “ Walking On The Edge Of Factionalism, AnIndustrial Cooperative In Rural Maharashtra” “ Varied Roles In The Field, A Hospital InDelhi” “ An Apprenticeship Marked By Frustrations College Students In Mysore ” A final one, Societies Outside India, “ Selecting a “ Representative Rsquo; Village”Usually, when we are selecting the field of our study the doctoral committees, as well as the set of reviewers who are reviewing project reports or research outputs, generally have a question about how representative our field study and these are questions that are very beautifully dealt with in this paper by S. Seethaiah- “ Selecting A “ Representative Rsquo; Village In A Village In Japan Rsquo;A paper by Triloki Nath Pandey on the “ Anthropologist-Informant Relationship ” then “ Problems of Entry Of the Researcher from Sri Lanka, Zambia and Australia ”And I really hope that the students of this course can find this book and get initiated to readings in this book, and particularly those interested in doctoral research in the social sciences and aim to do fieldwork, this is a highly recommended book.So, as I have already said what I have planned to do in this lesson is to take the extracts from the 3 papers that I have identified as it is.And I have tried to bring the extracts from the papers as it is, so as to not compromise on what the authors themselves are trying to portray.Because any amount of paraphrasing or summarizing the notable scholars might lead to misconceptions and miscommunication.And therefore this lesson will be mostly in the form of communicating the extracts from the original articles of the very noted scholars of social sciences.So, let us begin with “ Fieldworker and the Field- a Village in Karnataka ” by M.N.Srinivas.Students of social sciences would know that M.N.Srinivas was a very famous sociologist and as well as a social anthropologist.Concepts such as westernization, Sanskritization, the dominant caste, the patron-client relationships-these are attributed to professor M.N.Srinivas and he devoted his life to working on caste issues in India.So, this is his article on the village named Rampura which is a village 22 miles from Mysore On the Mysore-Malavalli road.And therefore this article refers to Srinivas Rsquo’s Rampura experiences and he has widely written on his Rampura experiences in various journals and research articles.So, he entered this village in the year 1948 and his fieldwork continued till about the 1950 rsquo;s.I have also already mentioned that the scholars that I have taken for this lesson were conducting their field studies in the 1950s largely, also in the 1960s.And let us understand what were the problems that they faced while conducting their fieldwork and if we have some lessons from their experiences.So, in this article on the ‘ Fieldworker and the Field’ Srinivas basically talks about how he zeroed in on his field first that is Rampura village.And one of the first thing he discusses the physical conditions in which he was putto when he was about to conduct his research.So, this is an extract from his article straightaway.He writes “ the accommodation that was made available to me was the cow house of the headmansituated about 40 feet diagonally across the headman’s main house.I shared my quarters with the headman’s 5 pairs plough-bullocks and one solitary bullock which was used for drawing a covered cart in which the headman or his sons occasionally travelled to their fields or to neighbouring villages.The northern portion of the cow-house was separated by a mud wall from the rest of the building and in it lived a Muslim client of the headman and his family.The snoring of the servants and villagers and byways of the tiled roof provided the backdrop to my sleep at night.” Now I find this to be a very interesting passage from Srinivas&rsquo’s ‘ the Fieldworker and theField’ First, he makes it clear regarding the accommodation that he was put to which was the cow-house of the headman.He was living in the family of the headman or the village leader and that was the entry point to the village.He also mentions this sentence regarding the fact that there was one solitary bullock which was used for drawing a covered cart in which the headman or his sons occasionally travelled to their field or certain neighbouring villages, also in a sense shows us the status of communication in the village that he was studying.So, the headman or the village leader himself use a bullock cart, so which means bullock cart was the most important mode of transport which could be afforded by the headman.So, the others in the village might not have the privilege of having access to a bullock cart even.And another important thing that drew my attention to in this passage was the fact that the headman had a Muslim client which means a patron-client relationship in this village went across religious lines.And if you can read more articles of his Rampura experiences from different sources, you will see that Rampura also had a decent number of Muslim households.And the activities of the Muslim households were also delineated by the caste dynamics of the village.So, these are some of the important things that caught my attention and we could draw some conclusions from these narrations or experiences of the author.In the same paper in this article he goes on about some of his personal conditions while he was a researcher there and we can draw some of the conclusions about what being a participant observer means.We talk often about participant observation and here the researcher is a participant himself and what can we draw from participant observation is something that I think is of importance in this extract.So, he writes “ my bath presented a problem.The cow-house had no bathroom and the headman suggested that I take my bath in the open courtyard in the middle of the house.I did not find this practicable, as the headman rsquo;s servants and others were moving about in the cow-house especially in the morning when I wanted to have my bath.Once or twice, I proceeded to my bath after bolting the front and back doors and asking my cook to stay in the kitchen till I finished.Within a matter of minutes, there were bangings on the front and back doors, and loud demands for the doors to be opened immediately.The villagers quizzed me about my bathing habits...Eventually, I found a way out of my problem by having an enclosure woven bamboo splits put up in one corner of the central courtyard.This incidentally brought me into contact with the Medas, hereditary basket workers and it enhanced my knowledge of Medas and of rural life.” In some of the subsequent classes from here, you will also get introduced to field diaries as part of the course on development research methods.And this is an excellent example of how to maintain field diaries which may not form part of your main research output, whether it is a dissertation or a thesis or a research project.But these fields rsquo; notes can give you insights into how you have come in contact with different people and categorize them once you have come out of the field.So, this is an example of how Srinivas mentions from which incident that connects he came across the Medas, a caste category who were hereditary basket workers.And how his communication, his conversations with the Medas enhanced his understanding of the rural life that he was investigating.So, this I think is a very good example of what participant observation can help us draw from the research.He has gone into a detailed description about caste and factions in the village that he was studying with some comic anecdotes also about how he is being single and his single status became a hurdle in his being able to conduct research.In the 1950s of a Karnataka village as an able-bodied male researcher, it was looked down upon as being single and not being a married scholar.And how not being married and being in a village conducting research also created hurdles for him in interviewing younger girls.And therefore he could not have a perspective on what the younger woman of the village feel about rural life.So, these are certain anecdotal narrations that he has in this village and in this paper which can inform us about how to write down our experiences in field diaries.Now, this is an example of caste and factions that he talks about in his village Rampura-“ on first and “ scouting ’ visit to Rampura, I was told that it is a united village, unlike neighbouring villages which were faction-ridden.I very soon discovered that this was only an establishment myth.A day or two After I had settled down in the village, I went to a tea shop and there a young man from the peasant caste asked who I was and what I was doing in the village.(He had already heard about me.)When I had explained to him the reason for my stay in Rampura, he admonished me that if I were desirous of presenting a true picture of village life, I should not stay in one part of the village meeting and talking with only a few but go all over the village and talk to everyone...” Now this is a very important lesson to new researchers who when entering a village or entering a field for their study talk about sample selection.Now before we enter into the issues of choosing a sample or selecting a sample, it is very necessary, it is very important for a researcher to establish contact with different sections of the population within a village or the field that we have chosen.Because there might be different worldviews and different perceptions that are coming from different categories and any one category or any one person cannot give a representative view of a certain village.So, if Srinivas went with the initial view that he had about Rampura of being a united village bereft of many factions in the village the perceptions might have been coloured and it would have been a misconception to portray the same in his writings.So, this is an example of how to establish contact with different people within the village, so that we can have a better understanding and come up with better conclusions.Going on about caste and factions this is another example that I have brought out in the form of an extract.“I soon learnt that there were two main factions in the village, one of them led by the headman and the other by two or three younger men who resented the headman rsquo;s hegemony over the village.” Now remember here that Srinivas is staying for the sake of conducting his fieldwork, his fieldwork in this phase of Rampura continued for over 10 months.And during this period he was staying in the house of the village headman.So, obviously, it would have created some kind of a stir within the village among the otherwise subservient castes or subservient groups who might have had notions against Srinivas about staying in the headman’s village.But as a researcher it is researcher’s responsibility than to ensure that his or her access to other groups does not get limited because of his or her attachment to a particular group such as in the case of the headman’s case in here.So, he writes that the latter group avoided the headman’s part of the village.Indeed many others also avoided walking past the cow-house or on the headman’s street for fear that the headman or one of his sons would entrust them with the job which would take them away from their main work.The headman had made a fine art of utilizing everyone’s time and energy for his work.So, this is an example of how the headman or the village leader used his privilege of being the village leader in making use of others’ time and energy for his own benefit.So, in a way, he was free-riding on others time and energy and how privilege can create those social networks and which is also some form of economic discrimination, some kind of economic exploitation if that can be taken as a conclusion from this passage.He has another interesting thing to say about caste and factions in his village, he writes that “ during one of my field trips to the village, two brothers, bitter enemies of the headman, invited me to photograph a portion of the tank embankment which had been breached and flooded their banana crop.And they obtained from me a promise to send them copies of the pictures I had taken.When I later returned to the headman’s house I learnt that the brothers had filed a suit against the headman and the village panchayat for their negligence which had let to breaching the embankment and the resulting ruin of the banana crop.The headman told me that by my action I was going to become a witness in a lawsuit against him and the Panchayati.I felt humiliated and assured the headman that I had no knowledge of this matter when I took the photographs and that I would destroy the negatives.” Now I think this is a very important description of events as far as the researcher coming in between, getting sandwiched in the politics of the village is concerned.And this is an important thing to keep in mind for researchers who are planning to stay for a longer duration in their field.Because one of the things to keep in mind here is that the researcher here has approached a field to investigate a certain question or set of questions.Now in the process of investigation in social science as development research, development research it is but natural for you communicate to various groups within a locality or a region.However, it is always important to maintain a safe distance from various factions within the field.Often it becomes impossible to take to maintain a safe distance because the researchers rsquo; own worldview also comes in conflict with the worldviews of the participants within the village also.And this is a tricky situation to be in.However, this is where the presence of mind and the theoretical background of what we have studied in our literature, there is a reason to keep going back to the questions that we have asked in our research project which will enable us to decide what distance to keep with the participants.Now among the various things that he writes in his article on “ the Fieldworker and theField’ there is a final note to anthropologists which I will end with as far as Srinivas Rsquo; the article is concerned.He writes that “ anthropologists usually write reports which are impersonal, abundant in sketches and charts and nowadays also tables.This is the accepted style of presenting learned reports.But quite apart from their dullness, the reports convey an impression of objectivity which they do not and in my opinion, ought not to have.” So, this is this issue of objectivity of a researcher and this is something that haunts every social science researcher whether you are coming from sociology or anthropology or economics.When you have gone to the field, about how much objectivity you are maintaining, particularly in the field of economics often there is a question of how objective is your data.And this is something which has been a matter of serious debate across disciplines about how to maintain objectivity.And in response to that, we can consider Srinivas Rsquo’s thoughts about whether objectivity should be maintained or not.He goes on “ nowhere in such reports does the anthropologist make it clear that his perception could be anything other than objective and that his affiliations, class, regional and religious, quite apart from his values and temperament influence what he sees and how he sees them.Contrariwise the role that local community assigns to him is also relevant in understanding his perceptions etc.” So, I will end M.N.Srinivas Rsquo’s “ Fieldworker and the Field Rsquo; with this final note to the anthropologist.However, I would urge the students to take up his articles on these issues in more details if possible.Now let us move to the second scholar P.C.Joshi, who was conducting his research in Uttar Pradesh in the 1950s and P.C.Joshi was an economist particularly in the field of institutional economics.He worked under the supervision of the very noted scholar Radhakamal Mukerjee and he always adds this conflict between in fact in his paper on the “ Fieldwork Experiences from RuralUttar Pradesh ” he is focusing on this conflict between theory and practice, and this is something that we have discussed in the beginning of our course.And about the conflicts that arise between theory and empiricism, when to focus on theory, how theoretical considerations breakdown when we are in the field and how the researcher needs to come back and juxtapose the findings from the field with the theoretical training that the researcher might have had.So, again in this article based upon P.C.Joshi Rsquo’s article also I have taken some of the important extracts from his article and in no way can I claim that I have covered his article completely.However, I have taken extracts which I think are relevant for the audience of this course.So, among the various things, I think he begins with this question about the interplay of theory and fieldwork about there are certain theoretical considerations that a researcher has to bear in mind because of the literature review that the researcher has done.And the questions that the researcher has asked before beginning the study and then there are a separate set of issues that crop up in the fieldwork.So, there is an interplay of theory and fieldwork and how to balance between the two.He writes “ if I had no theoretical background, my fieldwork could have been far less exciting and productive.My theoretical approach favoured a “class’ analysis of the agrarian society.But fieldwork served as a powerful corrective of the gaps in this approach.It impressed upon me the hiatus between what I learnt from class theory and what I found from direct observation.Field experiences showed how difficult it was to view agrarian society as a class society and the peasantry as a class in the classical sense.” All those students who are introduced to agrarian studies or to development economics, who have a keen interest in the class analysis will find these extracts more interesting as far as how to think in terms of conceptual frameworks, theoretical considerations and how to reconcile them when we are getting to fieldwork." “ The field view also helped me to distinguish between regions in Uttar Pradesh having a landlord dominated agrarian system on the one hand and a peasant-dominated system on the other.The distinction between landlord and peasant ideologies, the latter being less fatalistic than the former was also revealed to me by fieldwork.” This is a very interesting finding that is coming from his fieldwork and in fact, these findings later form theories that we consider as takeaways from a study of the rural society for the rural economy.Often while studying the rural economy, one of the characteristics that is mentioned of the Indian rural economy is that of farmers being fatalistic in nature.And I think in that context this is a very important finding that Joshi is talking about where the distinction between the landlord and peasant ideologies.The worldviews that these two different sets of or categories or classes of people come from- landlords and the peasants, these two different ideologies, the latter or the peasant ideologies being less fatalistic than the former was also revealed to me by my fieldwork.And this is a very important contribution to the theory as far as agrarian studies or research in agrarian studies is concerned.He writes that “ these insights let me reformulate my theoretical positions regarding the institutional requirements of economic development.And I came to appreciate the potentialities of the peasant economy and peasant ideology for the transformation of the rural economy.” He also has very important points to talk about the fieldworker and the field or the different worldviews of the fieldworker and the field.So, the fieldworker here is basically the research investigator, the researcher and the field is not just the geographical location but the whole gamut of participants, the complex categories, social categories or social class and caste categories of people who comprise what we refer to as the participants.So, in that context he writes about the following, “ the contact between the fieldworker and the field is a contact between two types of cultures whose categories of understanding are not identical and who do not share a common framework of values or a common worldview.” In the subsequent classes that are coming up, I will be taking examples of complementary feeding practices in a certain community.And when you are approaching the field as a research investigator, you have certain prior information about how things are, how things should be, what is the ideal state that we are trying to achieve.Whereas the community that you are studying is living in their realities where the mayor may not have notions of what the ideal standard is, but they also have a standard.Now how do we reconcile with these kinds of issues because we are coming from two different worldviews?The researcher/investigator has a certain worldview about how thing should be, the community may have a separate worldview about how things should be.So, how does one reconcile between these issues?I think we can have takeaways on this from P.C.Joshi Rsquo’s article on when he conducted his fieldwork in the 1950s.So, he writes that “ the investigator observes the many-sided activities and processes of rural life and the meaning which he attaches to each of them in terms of his values differ from that which different segments of the rural population attach to them in terms of their values.” Note that these scholars were writing largely in the 50s, and the 60s and the language of writing then mostly focused on the masculine haze rather than on her.But we can safely assume that what they meant here is researchers including both genders.So, I have added “her’ in here.Joshi does not refer to her in his article.So, I will repeat this “ the investigator observes the many-sided activities and processes of rural life and the meaning which he attaches to each of them in terms of his values differ from that which different segments of the rural population attach to them in terms of their values.For instance the extortion of rent and forced labour which he may regard as an index of feudal exploitation ” which he regards as in the researcher may regard as an index of feudal exploitation “ may have a different meaning for landlords and tenants under the sway of the ideology of patronage.” So, in the case of if there is an ideology of patronage which prevails, the landlord and the peasant who is under the domination of the landlord might seemingly have a very harmonious relationship.Although to the researcher it might not seem as being in sync or being in a very harmonious relationship.“ Land may be viewed by landowners more as a source of social status and power rather than as an economic resource and a source of profit.What the fieldworker considers conspicuous consumption may be viewed as a necessity for maintaining or enhancing status by groups indulging in it.” Now it is also important how we can bring out these questions of conflict as far as the researcher and the field, the fieldworker and the field is concerned.Because being able to come out with these conflicts will also inform how we can interpret our results and the findings emanating from the field.