Fieldwork: Theory and practice
Ali Ebrahim AL Daw (Sudan)
Although academia provides field researchers with a great deal of support and information - including the results of studies in the humanities – fieldwork is based on factual rather than theoretical findings. Many academic references are general rather than specific to a particular situation.
This can also be said of academic methodologies and tools; even those that are considered efficient may prove less than useful to a researcher doing fieldwork.
In this abridged article, which is based on the outcome of twenty-five years of fieldwork in Sudan, the writer attempts to shed light on some conventional fieldwork methodologies and to describe the successes and failures experienced by researchers who collected data on Sudan’s musical culture.
The writer summarizes the major points of his study as follows:
1 - It is necessary to identify appropriate sites and times when conducting fieldwork.
2 - It is also necessary to specify what data is to be collected, and to determine the timeframe for collection. It is also important to have a contingency plan in case any unexpected situations arise in developing countries.
3 - Before heading to the field, the field researcher should review any available information about the area or topic to be studied; such information can prove useful when making travel plans.
4 -The field researcher should seek out people who have conducted similar research in the region. Other researchers may be able to offer useful information about potential sources of oral narratives and about significant community officials and leaders. This information can also prove useful when arranging details such as accommodation.
5 - The field researcher can use audiovisual recordings to familiarize himself with the language and lyrics of the area. The researcher can even use his travel time to listen to recordings. This will make it easier for the researcher to connect with the local people.
6 - The field researcher should be well-prepared and equipped with supplies such as audiovisual recording devices and tools for writing and measurement. The researcher should know how to use, charge and perform simple repairs to data collection tools; if a researcher seems incompetent when operating a device, narrators or interviewees may be less willing to cooperate.