ASA Conference 2004, Durham - Locating the field

Mobilities and embodiment

Leaving home: studying mobility and emotion in Irish society through dance

Helena Wulff, Stockholm University

The notion of leaving is at the centre of a dance theatre piece titled Back in Town by Irish choreographer David Bolger. The piece was sparked by the late rock star Phil Lynott´s song ´Dublin´ where Lynott remembers how he was standing on the boat going to England, watching his home land disappearing. Emigration and exile have defined Irish society for a long time. The threat of people leaving is still there today, and many do leave, which produces strong emotions of homesickness, longing, and nostalgia. Contrary to the situation in the past, contemporary emigrants often go back and forth, however, for ´there is always something that draws you home!´ as a woman dance teacher told me. And those who stay in Ireland tend to travel more now, often on a global scale, such as Dublin choreographer John Scott who identifies himself as ´a real traveller´ on the basis of his annual tours with his company to France and the US, and one visit to Japan. In my study of dance and culture in Ireland, and questions of social memory, modernity, and place, these mobilities represent one end of the scope of mobility. The other end is represented by a young dance administrator in Belfast, who describes how ´young people in the countryside, they tend to travel. I´ve travelled 30 miles to get to a venue´. Originating from a small village in the north of Northern Ireland, however, he had never been abroad.

In this paper I discuss my methodological procedures for grasping how Ireland is constructed as a place though the mobility and its emotions of dance people, and also how this is negotiated in stories of the dance pieces. This is a multi-local mobile fieldwork which includes polymorphous engagements in the form of archival work, video watching, e-mail messages and web pages. Since 1998 I have been going to dance events for participant observation and interviews around performances, dance festivals, and competitions. This yo-yo fieldwork between Sweden and Ireland takes place for about a week every other or third month, that is when the field is being constituted. For this field is not there all the time, and it moves between Dublin, Belfast and other places on the island.

New ways to frame an answer to “Where did you do your fieldwork?”

Tamara Kohn, University of Durham

As social anthropologists treading the paths of our ancestors, many of us have searched for our own little villages or remote islands to study and understand. These villages or tribes or hamlets or islands have frequently been defined in terms of the kin relations, social structures and webs of cultural understanding that are shared within particular geographic spaces. These places also typically identify the anthropologist in the academic community. Increasingly, however, the anthropological gaze has been diverted from what we could call the traditional locality full of subjects who are ’at home’ (whether or not the anthropologist is!), to alternative localities where the subjects of the analytical gaze are not necessarily at home or to localities that may or may not be geographically defined ‘occupational spaces, leisure spaces, transnational spaces, embodied spaces, virtual spaces’. This on the one hand marks a creative departure for the discipline and on the other is a conundrum for the anthropologist’s professional identity and position as a teacher of anthropological field methods. In this paper, I will be thinking about these issues through an introduction to three different ‘locations’ of study involved in framing an anthropology of martial arts practice: the moving body that is trained and shaped through interactions with others, the mat that ritually and spatially encloses the body practice, and the ‘dojo’, the geographically situated home of a community of practitioners that houses a mat and gives an alternative sense of ‘home’ and refuge to its members and visitors. I will introduce each of these as separate but connected localities and subjects, drawing from ‘multi-sited’ fieldwork in the UK, France and the US with aikido masters and students. I will ask how their study may challenge but also potentially contribute to expanding ideas about anthropological method (in terms of design and execution), and how we conceptualise ‘the field’.

People, places and the location of meaning: anthropology in a mobile world

Dr Donald Macleod, Glasgow University

This paper recognises the multiplicity of meanings and experiences associated with place, and is based on fieldwork and research undertaken in three different regions: a Canary Island, the Dominican Republic and South West Scotland. The research sites are relatively peripheral to centres of power and population, and they have retained a local character associated with many ‘classic’ studies of indigenous populations that strongly identify with their land and environment. However, these sites are also spaces through which many visitors pass (often as tourists) and briefly dwell. They are also, increasingly, places where the settlement of non-locals and foreign incomers is occurring. Consequently, there are numerous groups that have specific interactions and experiences with these particular locations.

In terms of ‘locating the field’ this paper argues that the field remains in the minds of the human subjects of research. They may have a particular attachment to a space or a place, but ultimately, the anthropologist is interested in their mental construction of it, their explanations, interpretations and use of the space itself. The research should not therefore be located fixedly to physical boundaries, but focus on the people living in and passing through it, over varying periods of time.

Research in this paper explores the varieties of interpretations of place given, and highlights certain patterns of understanding that relate more to social and cultural experience, than to the physical place and location itself. ‘Fieldwork’ does not have to be bound physically: the sense of place and its meaning is a mental experience and as such forms part of a complex relationship with the actor’s personal experience and socio-cultural background. A major objective of this paper is to improve our understanding of the ‘sense of place’: how such constructions are created, interrelate and conflict, and the extent to which globalisation (including mobility) impacts on the development of a location physically and changes the perceptions of observers.