First Fieldwork; the misadventures of an anthropologist by Barbara Gallatin Anderson
First Fieldwork is a first-person account of the author, Barbara Anderson’s experiences and misfortunes as an anthropologist in the field during her graduate thesis. Although fictionalized, it is a clear testament to the perils of being an anthropologist thrust unprepared into the field.
During her fieldwork studying the effects of urbanization upon a small Danish Island village, Anderson is faced with challenge after challenge to fitting into the regular patterns and expectations of the people. From the beginning she nearly catches her family’s cottage on fire. As a means of better adjusting to the community she takes a cooking class, only to quit the course due to a series of embarrassing episodes beginning with a disastrous meatloaf resulting form her mistaking the Danish word for flour for the word for sugar.
I was especially amused by the chapter about the Danish bathhouse in Copenhagen. A situation like this, without much knowledge of the culture or the language is a perfect example of just how alien one can be even within another Western country. And just as the bath attendant announced to the other patrons in the pool as Anderson entered; “Here comes an American lady” could just as easily have been the second title for this book, perhaps with “Look out!” preceding it.
Overall First Fieldwork was an entertaining read with insights into fieldwork and the potential problems to be encountered as profound as they are humorous. The lesson for me was that although fieldwork can include a series of embarrassing and uncomfortable events, it is often those very things that can be of the most value in learning to effectively navigate and describe a culture.