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What is fieldwork? Explaining the merits and people who are suitable

When people say, "I will do fieldwork in this class!" And "Your research is suitable for fieldwork!", You may not have an image of what to do.

By learning about the appeal of "fieldwork" and concrete examples, it is expected that research and reports will become more interesting and prospects will become apparent.


What is fieldwork

First, I will explain the definition and purpose of fieldwork.

Before fieldwork-specific terms and concepts, it is important to first understand the definition.

Fieldwork definition
Ikuya Sato, a sociologist and fieldworker of popular culture, defines in his book "Fieldwork Revised Edition" as follows.

"" Fieldwork "is when conducting a survey by putting yourself in the" field "(= field) where the event you are trying to investigate is occurring, as represented by a survey using a technique called participant observation. You can think of it as referring to the work (= work) in general. "

Quote: Ikuya Sato (2007) "Fieldwork Revised Edition" Shin-yo-sha
It is also stated that "fieldwork" is, in the most general sense, "field research".

The so-called "questionnaire survey", that is, the "survey" conducted using questionnaires and questionnaires, is a survey that is not included in fieldwork and is almost distinguished as an antonym.

Fieldwork is broadly divided into humanities and sociology fieldwork, depending on whether the main target is society or culture, or other fields, but in terms of going outdoors and conducting research. It is common.

One of the unique vocabularies of field surveys is the word "informant."

This term is a term that stands for "fieldwork target" and "material provider".

It is assumed that there is close contact between the researcher and the subject for a fairly long period of time.

Subjects in fieldwork are called "informants", just as they are called "patients" in medicine and "subjects" or "experiment participants" in psychology centered on experiments.

Reference: Ikuya Sato, 1992 = 2007, "Fieldwork Revised Edition" Shin-yo-sha


Purpose of fieldwork

The main purpose of fieldwork is to collect information and data obtained in the field.

The goal is to observe undiscovered and unconfirmed things in detail and bring back information and data to people outside the field such as university researchers.

In addition, when the subject is a human being, the task of listening to the explanation, interpretation, meaning, and reality of the "informant" life is important.

In addition, fieldwork may be used in high school or university for on-site learning such as "go out into the field and observe events" for educational purposes.

Fieldwork techniques can be systematically learned in conjunction with qualifications.

Based on the idea that training and qualifications are required to acquire fieldwork skills, it is possible to obtain the qualification of "social researcher" within the curriculum of the university or graduate school.

This is the class that corresponds to the [F] and [G] courses of the "Social Researcher Course".
The following articles will be helpful for "social researchers".


Benefits of fieldwork

Understanding what fieldwork looks like requires long-term, close observation, and can be annoying and difficult to become a hypothesis-generating study.
This section describes the benefits of fieldwork.

You can touch information that is not written in the book

If you enter a library or laboratory, you can get secondary materials such as documents and specimens.

By secondary analysis of information that has already been verbalized and quantified, there will be areas that can be fully realized as research.

On the other hand, if the research theme you are interested in is an undiscovered, uncollected, minority research subject, or a question that is not clarified by words or numbers, obtain primary materials. Have to.

When you get stuck with book information, fieldwork is an option as an opportunity to come into contact with information that you cannot find in books or dissertations.

Being a party in the field gives you the stimulus that you will be able to meet interesting data and people, and that you will have the opportunity to obtain and publish your own information.

However, just by immersing yourself as a party in the field, you have to take a stance that is one step away from the local people because of the research that records and analyzes it at the same time.

Fieldworkers are forced to constantly ask, "In what position do you face the subject?"


Data can be collected and analyzed directly

In modern society, documented historical materials and information uploaded on websites are very easily accessible.

However, there may be a lack of prior research and data on the lives of people who have not yet been clarified by the humanities and social sciences, and the individuals and terrain that have not yet been collected by the natural sciences.

One of the strengths of fieldwork is that the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" fits perfectly.

One of the strengths of fieldwork is that we go to the site and acquire data with our own eyes, rather than secondary materials that can be obtained from materials or information on the Web.

If there is a harvest that can only be obtained by actually going, even if the analysis itself is not unique, the material itself as the research target will be a valuable research that will be highly evaluated.

Lots of stimuli and discoveries

For those who like to use their five senses to collect new knowledge from research subjects, fieldwork is a very attractive research method, and one of the merits is that there are many stimuli and discoveries.

Even if you are not strong in discussions, if you can cut out and draw an overwhelming reality that goes beyond theory, it will give insight to the readers and listeners of your research.

It is a great advantage for field workers to be able to obtain new stimuli and discoveries that go beyond the understanding of theories, wise sayings, mathematical formulas, and diagrams that we already know.

In addition, new stimuli and discoveries will be doubled by walking among the people in the field in a so-called "Imozuru-shiki".


Become a field specialist

Some surveys can be completed on a day trip, but in many cases, the research is carried out while staying at the site for a long period of time.

The longer and deeper you face the field, the more you can become a field specialist in the sense that you can observe and understand the entire scene where the event occurs.

In fieldwork, we often adopt a hypothesis-generating research style, so we can expect that questions and analysis will become more critical.

Furthermore, in the flow of hypothesis-generating dynamic research, you can become a specialist in the field of research by combining multiple methods called triangulation.

What is important in fieldwork is to adopt "strategic triangulation", which is to strategically consider and modify the shortest route to derive "theoretical implications", says Nakamura, an educational sociologist. It is stated in Takayasu's paper.

Reference: Takayasu Nakamura "Bridge between quantity and quality" "Society and Survey" No. 11

Targets and methods of fieldwork

The research subjects and research methods of fieldwork vary depending on the academic field.
Since the related fields are very diverse, I will first explain what kind of academic fieldwork is adopted.
After that, I will explain how the nature of fieldwork differs in each field.

Related disciplines

Fieldwork is used in a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, linguistics, political science, cultural anthropology, geography, geology, archeology, zoology, and botanical science.

It is not uncommon for government agencies and private companies to go into targeted locations and conduct surveys for the purpose of conducting on-site fact-finding surveys.

Here, let's break it down into the humanities and social sciences and the natural sciences to understand the trends in objects and methods.


In the case of humanities and social sciences

In most cases, the subject of research is an ethnic group, society, group, or relationship.

Sites where multiple people are active are subject to observation and are required to be described from their own perspective.

Among the methods adopted, the most common ones are field notes and recorded / recorded data. Field notes (field notes in Japanese English) are "notes and records of what you see and hear at the survey site."

If it is a memo related to field research, what you leave on your PC or smartphone is called field notes.

For recording / recording data, cameras, tape recorders (IC recorders), and computer programs called QDA software are generally used.

The basic technique is to reread, re-view, and "code" these field notes and data over and over again to classify and analyze them.

Also, especially in cultural anthropology and sociology, I often write dissertations and books using a technique called "ethnography" in fieldwork.
Ikuya Sato, a sociologist, describes the characteristics of ethnography as follows.

"Ethnography is a mixed genre of text that combines the characteristics of various genres of text, such as travelogues, reportage, academic literature, and novels, and has a character that spans the two areas of literature and science. "

Quote: Ikuya Sato, 2002, "Fieldwork Techniques" Shin-yo-sha
In other words, the ethnography of the humanities and social sciences is a unique form of output that retains the taste of a scientific dissertation while also having a literary and documentary-like vivid style.

In the English-speaking world, "ethnography" has become established as a term that refers to field surveys in the humanities and social sciences.

While maintaining the attitude of a scientist, ethnography, which depicts events from the perspective of the local people and is objectively and dramatically explained, is a reading material that is methodically sophisticated and still appeals to the general reader. There is also.

In the case of natural science

In the fields of natural sciences such as geology, archeology, zoology, and botany, fieldwork is called "field excursions" in Japanese.

It covers local materials, historical materials, specimens, terrain, geological formations, flora and fauna, and often the entire ecosystem of animals and plants.

It is characteristic that natural objects, not humans, are directly observed locally.

As a method of fieldwork in the natural sciences, a method of approaching the real thing while showing pictures and figures using maps, surveying instruments, tape measures, compasses, cameras, recording instruments, etc. is taken.

If the research target is animals and plants, they may be captured using decoys (decoy models), cameras, and traps. If it is an earth science system, boring (excavation) is performed.


Books to learn fieldwork

To systematically learn about fieldwork, you need to read ethnography and a polite introductory book. Here, we will introduce the titles and outlines of the two books.

Cultural Anthropology- "The Savage Mind"

Beginners in cultural anthropology can be expected to experience reading from the literature of Levi-Strauss, a well-known fieldwork classic, to rethink our society and civilization.

It will be a study from the perspective of grasping the question and approach of what kind of fieldwork the anthropologists 60 years ago practiced and asked the question from the ancient wild way of life such as language and myth.

The Savage Mind was written in 1962 by the French anthropologist Levi-Strauss.

After being assigned to a university in Brazil, he meets the indigenous peoples of the Amazon River basin and is fascinated by their rich life world.

Having learned linguistics and theory from linguist Jacobson, he finds that the seemingly barbaric indigenous customs are logical thinking. Levi-Strauss called it "The Savage Mind".

In Western civilization, which separates reason and sensibility, it can be seen from his writing that indigenous peoples have lost their way of thinking in the midst of modernization.

It is a dramatic classic that they, who looked at meteorological phenomena, flora and fauna with "wild" eyes and built an accurate paradigm of knowledge, reached philosophical questions from everyday life and mythology.

Sociology "Method of qualitative social research"

This is a book in which the author learned qualitative research methods including fieldwork like a textbook.

Recommended for undergraduate and graduate students taking sociology classes.

Masahiko Kishi, who continues to study Okinawa after the war, Satomi Maruyama, who depicts a life world where women homeless people experience poverty and exclusion, and Tomonori Ishioka, who participated in a boxing gym in the Philippines. It is a reference book for beginners by sociologists.

Through this book, it is easy to see how modern qualitative social research approaches the traditional question of sociology since Max Weber, "how can we understand the rationality of others?" Written in style.

Reference: Masahiko Kishi, Tomonori Ishioka, Satomi Maruyama (2016) "Method of qualitative social survey" Yuhikaku

Not limited to the book titled "Fieldwork", there are many books where you can learn the design of research examples and plans that make use of field research, so it is a good idea to research them extensively and pick them up.


People who are suitable for fieldwork

Finally, I would like to introduce two characteristics of people who are suitable for fieldwork: "I am interested in the reality that is happening in the field" and "I like talking to people."

I'm interested in the reality that's happening in the field

If you are interested in seeing and thinking about people's realistic emotions and the way nature is, without being bound by prejudice or prejudice, you will be absorbed in fieldwork that approaches your research subject with your five senses.

The attitude of collecting records from digital cameras, IC recorders, and tatami mats and trying to face the reality without getting tired is an essential quality for field workers.

Of course, researchers are also required to steadily read previous research and references and demonstrate their writing ability by making full use of analysis and expression.

On the other hand, fieldworkers are particularly required to have the curiosity and continuity to immerse themselves in the information they have gathered.

I like talking to people

It is important not to suffer from close relationships with people, such as sociability and adaptability, especially in the fieldwork of the humanities and social sciences.

People who can communicate appropriately so that they can build trust and get close to the people involved will be suitable for fieldwork.

Even in natural science fieldwork, I often accompany members of laboratories and collaborative research rather than going to the field alone.

Even if you observe the same natural phenomenon, you will get different views and samples, and you will have the opportunity to consult and discuss.

In that sense, people who like to talk to people are considered to be suitable for fieldwork.


In this column, I explained what fieldwork is, its definition and purpose, objects, methods, and people who are suitable for fieldwork.

In conducting research, it is necessary to be careful not only in fieldwork but also in reading specialized books before continuing research.

In addition, fieldwork may have the disadvantage that it is difficult to calculate costs such as funds, scale, and time in advance.

Also, as introduced in "People who are suitable for fieldwork," some people may not match the characteristics of their personality and research style.

Therefore, it is important not to think that fieldwork is the only research method, but to select the most suitable research method after considering your own research theme and research target.