2004 Report

2004 Ethnographic Field Methods Program, Year 3


In 2004 the Center for Social Well Being, carried out both Spring and Summer 3 week programs with courses in language, ethnography, and field methods.

Students’ Comments and Reflections


1) Learning in the field…

  • “Field School was not what I expected. It was far more participatory, and there were much nicer views than I had bargained for. I learned a lot not only about Andean people in this area, but also about myself.”
  • “I have learned that the Andean way of life is highly community-based and the cultural complexity lies in its ultimate simplicity. People are tightly knit together through their agricultural and livestock production and are respectful of the property of others. People are always warm and friendly in their greetings and are always helpful to a “gringo” in need. “
  • “Locals seem to have a story about every plant, every bend in the road, and every building they pass. Although much of the culture is not material based – as in acquiring goods – local textiles, clothing, art and handicrafts are unique to the culture.”
  • “I have observed a marked expressiveness of the Andean people. Emotions are lived and acted out with a colorfulness to match their brightly colored textiles. I have observed a physical closeness and comfortability between Andean people. Personal space is not as vast and stuffy as my experience of the ‘west.’
  • “I experienced personal understanding of the cultural philosophy through communication with both campesinos and townspeople. Perhaps greetings and asking directions would be commonplace elsewhere, but here I have experienced firsthand the hard work people do – from merely passing old women on the road with huge bundles of products on their backs to take to market, or conversing with young children. Everywhere I have gone I have been amazed at the strength of the people, their ability to cope, and their overarching friendliness and hospitality.”
  • “The market is an important social realm, not only for buying and selling, but people also to network and form relationships. One example of this is the yapa, an extra bit of product given to a customer to ensure their return.”
  • “One of the most important things we got to experience was the marketplace. It’s a time where you can watch the way that people interact with one another, expressing ideas of reciprocity and investment. You need to have a reason to give someone a good price, and you give them this extra yapa, which is kind of like a reciprocal investment that the buyer and seller make with one another to say, ‘Look, I’ll put this in you if you put this in me, and we are one and we are in this together.’ I thought that was pretty important.”
  • “The culture is festive and bright as exemplified in the colorful traditional costume and extravagant fiestas. There is conflict mixed with cohesion of traditional and modern ‘western’ culture where traditional ways are preserved while multiple outside influences are incorporated as well.”
  • “The fiestas provided an example of the importance of social interactions, specifically the sharing of chicha. Chicha was passed from person to person via one cup, and just as important as drinking was the offering of chicha to another person.”
  • “I have seen how the role of religion is interconnected with people’s lives and practices, intermingling with other beliefs. The Catholicism practiced here carries with it an entire history which includes Pachamama [Mother Earth] and indigenous values.”
  • “The many saints and virgins who represent groups of people or miracles they have provided are celebrated here in fiestas. These fiestas are connected to a way of life, as many occur during months of harvest and planting. At the fiesta of Nonocoto we saw how social relations, ways of life and religion all interconnect.”
  • “I gained the knowledge and understanding of medicinal plants which I had expected, but also I learned so much about the local community, its economy and handicrafts that I feel like I was granted an extra boon.”
  • “I found everyday to be such a rich experience and one more step closer to understanding how people view life here.”
  • “There was definitely a good balance here between class time and community interaction.”
  • “Although I perhaps learned differently than I expected to in this field school, I did indeed learn a great deal – not only about local people and about methodology – but even about other anthropology students and about myself. Honestly, it is for the latter exchange of ideas and knowledge that I am most grateful.”
  • “The things that will stick with me are the things where I dove in head first and tried to participate or I watched from outside and then was brought in to participate.”
  • “The theme of what I’ve learned here concerns a unified concept of interrelatedness. I enjoyed understanding the systems and interactions within the ranch – among the structures, plumbing, irrigation, land plots – the ways that they interrelate not as independent parts, but all aspects of a whole, unified system of which we are part.”


2) Research Methods…

  • “I feel that methods of Participatory Action Research are quite useful in unobtrusively gaining knowledge on cultural perceptions, values and concerns held by members of a community; which can be useful in showing communities ways in which to empower themselves.”
  • “Becoming part of a community and being accepted as a member is vital to the acquisition of knowledge. It is important to show people that their community, or they themselves, will benefit from one’s research.”
  • “So, research doesn’t have to be divorced from action. Participatory Action Research offers some ideas on how to facilitate community action toward realization of their own goals. The most important aspect for me is that action comes from the community outward, and that research belongs to the community in question, and with the intent of self-motivated social change. These are ideas that breathe life into Social Science and bring it back from the dead.”
  • “I learned a lot about Participatory Action Research as a way of life and a tool to promote action. I feel that research for research sake in anthropology is pointless, and also that top-down development does not work. PAR seems to be a good alternative to change the way such work is done.”
  • “Once we were in the market we realized that the only way to understand its importance was to experience it. Through direct experience we were able to explore the market and people who attended it seeking medicinal herbs. It was clear to see that the market plays a major role in the medicinal practices of the local communities.”
  • “Ironically, my own illness became a source of data for our study, as I both experienced and benefited from the use of medicinal plants. This began to translate to our entire student group. When anyone became ill, immediately we turned to the plants we were studying for help. Our small anthropological community was mobilized and taught about different herbs. We were able to see the advantage of natural medicine, and thus have gained a new respect for nature.”
  • “As I’ve spoken to members of the community, watched how they’ve observed me, and learned to re-evaluate myself as a result of this reaction, I think that a few things about me have changed. I really want to try to work on being a facilitator rather than an investigator. I was open-minded previously, but I’ve gained an added sense of flexibility.”
  • “Participatory Action Research is a good way to break down the relationship between knowledge and power, it serves as a way to bridge different kinds of knowing. For example, an outsider might come into a community and try to understand what they know through their own systems of knowing – when you participate and you map, you evaluate, reflect, observe and watch – you get a much clearer, a much less structured sense, at least internally, of what’s going on and you can kind of rebuild it yourself with the help of people who are engaging in it.”
  • “Experiential learning – the process of doing something, reflecting on it, analyzing it, strategizing for what you’ll do next time, repeating the process – produces a more fluid way of learning.”

3) Setting / Context / Environment…

  • “I have learned a lot in this setting about the local environment, traditional dishes and medicine, as well as ecological practices.”
  • “Ultimately, La Casa de Pocha is an Andean paradise, and my time spent here has been an amazing experience. I have learned many things about myself and people in general – truly a unique opportunity.”
  • “The Andes and the environment here is beautiful. The aesthetic quality of the setting is an added bonus to the lessons. At La Casa de Pocha we were able to learn about ecologically sound living and the practical (not detrimental) uses of nature and the local environment.”
  • “I really enjoyed that the food was completely natural and cooked by the sun; that our water was solar-heated, and that the power to run the lights was wind-powered. In an ecological setting such as this, one becomes very aware of what products he or she purchases and throws away, as well as recycling. One spectacular analogy of the entire system is that of the fertilization of the lilies. Awareness of the earth and our natural resources becomes focused.”
  • “Everything is composed of relationships – I was able to see that on the farm, by the way the garden is made, the land is divided, food is prepared, the animals work, how people take care of chores on the farm – it’s a very fluid way of living.”


Photo gallery


Student thesis:
Eric Dangoy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign



Posted on: September 21, 2017admin
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