ISLA MUJERES ETHNOGRAPHIC FIELD SCHOOL DETAILED FIELDWORK OVERVIEW

WHAT TO EXPECT -- AND WHAT IS EXPECTED OF YOU

 

 

We pride our program on being one of the most comprehensive and engaging ethnographic training programs available worldwide -- from the creation of new, innovative, and important applied research projects; to the development of theory and intervention models. Our students, and their studies, are serious...and we would not expect any less. This program is not simply 'discussions about methods' nor is it merely 'cultural immersion.'

 

It is hard to explain what a student will experience in our program, or what it is 'all about', because each student will develop independently and at differing levels. As one student from our 2017 Advanced Methods session stated 'It is what you make it.' She is a major in Education, with minimal exposure to Anthropology, who created an amazing project about literacy and education that had some very insightful data and analysis. She then submitted her final paper to the Anthropology of Education Journal, a subsection of the American Anthropology Association. Most of our students from 2017 have submitted their papers for publication with some of the most esteemed journals in the science, including Practicing Anthropology and Human Organization.

 

Advice to future students: Come prepared to do some great research. You might be very new to the field, or have already have achieved your Ph.D. We have hosted students ranging from early undergraduate, recent BA graduates, those in the MA program or with an MA, to those who have already earned their Ph.D.  All receive the exact same training, tailored to their individual level of experience. This program will sharpen your skills no matter what level of proficiency you have attained -- academically or professionally. We seek not to simply learn about how to understand methods and how to actuate them, but also to learn about the philosophy of the ethnographic research endeavor. How to envision the field.

 

Our students do more in 8 weeks than most ethnographers will do in 8 months. Students of anthropology or other social sciences may have experience doing field work for a class as part of a specific class as an undergraduate; this is usually in conjunction with a methods course. More advanced students, like a doctoral student, might experience a much larger ethnographic project, but feel that they were not given enough guidance on how the methods play out in real time, or how to think about them theoretically. Our program aims to reduce the anxieties of field research, and to allow the ethnographer to visualize the field and find harmony between personal interest, theory, methodology and application -- all through thoughtful, critical experiential learning -- what we call field-craft training.

 

Dr. Pierce, the Director of the Field School, will be the student's primary trainer. He will be accompanied by several other professional ethnographers from various backgrounds and disciplines throughout the program, based upon their availability. In the past we've had as many as three trainers on site at one time depending on personal schedules. There will also be local experts and mentors who are incredibly interested in and helpful with the student projects. Some work with the government here; some are NGO workers, while others are average citizens who might find a student project interesting enough to want to participate.

 

Students must understand that this is an 'individuating' experience. It is a process of learning how to see, that will mostly require their own self-motivation and dedication. Dr. Pierce and others are only here to help the student learn to see ethnographically. As the old adage states: 'You can lead a horse to water...' The same applies here: You can lead an ethnographer to a village, but you can't make them engage with the people there. That part is up to the student.

 

We will encourage the use of social media for communication and research. This has helped students tremendously in the past. Tools like Google Translate, Instagram and Facebook have proven invaluable for research. Smartphone applications like WhatsApp are vital for communicating with people on the island, as most use free communication apps and rely on WiFi in order to save money. We also create a social media communication thread using Facebook Messenger to better communicate between students and faculty. For example, the thread from 2017 Advanced Methods and Methods Practicum lasted over four months, and has literally thousands of archived messages.

 

Field Craft 1:  Research Design and Field Preparation -- Envisioning The Field

Duration:  Program Acceptance through Week One 

Students will work with Dr. Pierce and others online from the date they are accepted into the program. Our advice is to apply early and be as active as possible during this phase. We will discuss and develop student independent research projects well before the student arrives. Students must develop an informed research proposal based on the Wenner Gren Foundation format for proposals prior to their arrival to the island. This will not only save a lot of valuable time (as the student only has 8 weeks on the ground here), but it will also relieve a great deal of stress once they are here because they will have more informed ideas and formats for their personal research.

 

This phase also includes their first week on the island. The first week is very difficult physically, mentally and emotionally. Students will experience different levels of culture and language shock, sleep deprivation, physical adjustment to their surroundings and all that comes with being in a new, unfamiliar environment. They will have daily 2-hour lectures in Philosophy of Field Craft, theory, ethics and research design. They will participate in our 3 day - 3 hour per day Spanish Boot Camp, and also become PADI Open Water Certified scuba divers. Yes, all in the first week.

 

Students are expected to read all of our required materials prior to coming to the island. At the end of each phase students will have to have completed an annotated bibliography of all the daily readings, which constitutes 10% of their overall grade. This week will truly test the student's ability to adapt to adverse conditions. At the end of the first week, if their research proposal is as sharp as they can get it and it satisfies our Internal Review Board, then they will be authorized to begin their field research, which is the Second Phase of Field School. If not, then the student will lose critical field research time in the Second Phase, which is only 5 weeks in length. Students who do not complete Field Craft 1 on time will not proceed until they do.

 

Field Craft 2:  Field Research -- Methods Practicum

Duration:  Five Weeks

During this phase students will carry out the independent research projects that they have worked so hard to create. This is the meat and potatoes of Ethnographic Research; observing what people do and talking to them about how they feel about specific things in their lives. Students will be expected to go out in to the island and meet the locals who live here, engaging with people face to face, one on one, or perhaps in groups. They will actively participate in local cultural activities, embracing our central grounded theory method: Participant Observation.

 

They will also develop their skills in other qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Some interactions will be informal in nature, while others will be more formal. They might experience eye-opening casual conversations with a variety of people from different walks of life, or find themselves in intense discussions of social issues with government and non-government leaders and stake-holders. They will participate in lectures every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for a few hours where they will first discuss the progress of their fieldwork as a group, and then engage in discussions-lectures on various ethnographic methods that they will then put into practice through a variety practical exercises and field challenges. Each student will have their own challenges and goals to help them gather the data needed for their independent research, but will also practice methods that will better prepare them as professional ethnographers for future research, and help them in their careers as social scientists.

 

Writing Field Notes, In-Field Analysis, Transcribing Interviews (often in Spanish, requiring laborious translation for some) and other tedious tasks must be completed diligently during this phase. The Philosophy of Ethnographic Research, ways of visualizing theory in practice, social structures and the inter-relatedness of it all will be central to this phase. The main theme of this phase, aside from methods training and data collection, is the development of a way of seeing anthropologically: Creating a critical ethnographic lens.

 

It is during Phase Two that our Methods Practicum students (our 3 week Team Research and Methods Training Specialty course) will join our Advanced Methods students. The Practicum students will be briefed well in advance about the projects being conducted throughout the summer. They will be able to assist on one or several projects of their choosing, based on personal or professional aligning interests. They will participate in the first three weeks of the Phase Two program of Advanced Methods, which covers a wide variety of methods that they will be able to apply towards assisting on a project as a team member  -- making their data collecting an essential part of the overall work during the session.

 

Field Craft 3:  Data Analysis and Ethnographic Representation

Duration:  1.5 weeks and Beyond 

Ethnographers are story tellers. Interlopers who engage in cultural processes that they themselves must represent in a way that both the subjects of their research and the outside world can understand. They are here to explain complex social processes in a way that can be understood by the outside world.

 

This phase of Field School is of equal importance to the first two. It completes the three phases of professional research: Create an informed and meaningful project; conduct that research in a professional and scientific, yet ethical manner; and present your data to those whom you conducted research with as well as your colleagues and the world.

 

Students will dedicate themselves to creating two written pieces: The first is an academic journal article to be designed within the guidelines of an actual, reputable academic journal of their choice, depending on their research project's specialty area. The student is expected to submit this article for publication in the journal they have selected. Each student will also create a condensed version of this paper to be delivered orally in an American Anthropology Association standard conference paper. The students will participate in an 'Open to the Public' conference here on the island, where they will have 15 minutes each to present their research findings to an audience who will be able to ask them questions about their research and results. Students will also create and submit a new Curriculum Vitae (CV) to the Field School for our files.

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