Doing Fieldwork at Home: Some Personal Experiences among the Tumbuka of Northern Malawi
The bulk of anthropological theory grew out of western anthropologists studying “exotic” cultures. The end of colonialism, the reduction of funding for academic institutions, the increase in student enrolment and difficulties in accessing the field are some of the factors that contributed to the practice of anthropology at home in the west by western anthropologists. However, most anthropologists from Third World countries have in most cases conducted fieldwork in their own countries and among their own people during training and professional work. In this paper I examine the problems of working at home, where being a native, studying fellow natives, I was branded as a foolish person asking silly questions because I was expected to know the answers. My extended stay at home was interpreted differently by my own people and different identities were given to me: a member of the CID, a physician, a person who had been sacked from his place of work (and who hence had nowhere to go apart from home) and someone who was after “their” women. Since my home village is only 15 km away from the research site, my relatives did not understand why I had to stay in my research site, claiming that it must be that I did not like my own village. Before I began fieldwork, the idea that while I would be trying to study the behaviour of my fellows, they would at the same time be trying to understand me never occurred to me. The major conclusion in this paper is that though I was at home doing research, I was in essence not really at home because my long absence from home and the choice of my research topic had somehow de-familiarised me from what was supposed to be familiar.
JOURNAL OF THE PAN AFRICAN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION Number 2 Volume VIII October 2001, pp. 114-136