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British Forum for Ethnomusicology

Experiencing People: Relationships, Responsibility and Reciprocity


Author(s): Ruth Hellier-Tinoco
Source: British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2003), pp. 19-34
Published by: British Forum for Ethnomusicology
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RUTH HELLIER-TINOCO
Experiencing people: relationships,
responsibility and reciprocity1
Human relationships have always been fundamental to ethnomusicological
fieldwork contexts. Discussion regarding how such a vital and complex area
should be handled has been limited, however This essay aims to trace the
restricted exposure and discourse in extant literature and challenges us, as field-
workers, to advance the discussion surrounding our own field relations, parti-
cularly accentuating both responsibility and reciprocity as central to human
relationships in fieldwork contexts.
At the heart of all fieldwork contexts there is a fundamental norm, an integral
"feature", straightforward in its normality yet infinitely complex in its day-to-
day workings. It involves experiencing people and revolves around human rela-
tionships and one-to-one encounters. If we, the researchers, take a moment to
consider our own fieldwork contexts, the faces and voices of individuals with
whom we spent time flood the halls of our memories in an instant: individuals
who shared with us their expertise, knowledge, music, food, homes, secrets, joys
and sorrows. Our experience of the field was and is enmeshed in a web of
human relationships, more or less intimate, more or less personal. There is
clearly nothing new in the realization that people are fundamental to our ethno-
musicological fieldwork - researchers have deliberated upon issues concerning
how best to approach field situations and the people in them, in order to make
the time and the experience (for us as researchers) as fruitful and successful as
possible. But questions arise as to how far we are involved in a continuing dia-
logue in which we discuss, debate, deliberate and reflect upon our own field
relations.
The aim of this essay is primarily to review how the issue of human relation-
ships in fieldwork contexts has been presented and discussed in recent decades in
the literature on anthropology, ethnomusicology and folklore studies, and
secondarily to probe the need to further process this fundamental feature in a pub-
lic forum. Developments and shifts in recent decades have explored the asymmet-
rical relations in fieldwork contexts, with attempts to blur and even do away with
11I thank Jeff Todd Titon and Tim Cooley for their helpful comments on previous versions of
this essay.
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL. 12/i 2003 pp. 19-34
BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
the boundaries between informant and researcher, to make projects more collabo-
rative and to focus upon experience rather than data collecting. In this essay, how-
ever, I will suggest that there still remains a deep-rooted imbalance, and even a
self-centred or selfish stance, in which the complexities, impact, ramifications
and outcome of each relationship that we, as researchers, enter into in the field are
not considered as a fundamental part of our planning and being in the field.
Many questions have arisen directly out of my own fieldwork experiences in
Mexico. My research context, in the Lake Pitzcuaro region, has prompted me to
struggle with the ramifications of the relationships that I have formed, and this
paper has been written partly as an exercise in coming to terms with these rela-
tionships. I continue to work through and nurture the diverse aspects of respon-
sibility, reciprocity and commitment that I share with the many people with
whom I developed relationships. From close friends to acquaintances, these rela-
tionships are on-going, requiring care and attention. Yet how to achieve this
remains an area of constant concern. For example, when I am in Mexico my
time is always divided between my family, my friends and my acquaintances.
When I am away from Mexico communication is difficult, even with the advan-
cing technological systems. Whilst I have the time and financial resources to
travel to Mexico, the possibility of my fieldwork friends coming to the UK is
slim for economic reasons. So an on-going, reciprocal, two-way relationship
seems hard to sustain, despite commitment from both sides. I look forward to a
time when we can communicate more easily despite the geographical separation
and to a time when I can again live in Mexico. I cannot tell you what reciprocity
will mean in your fieldwork relations, but in mine it involves a commitment of
time, money, energy and emotion.
A challenge to us all
I have written this essay using the personal pronoun "we" on the assumption that
the majority of those reading this discussion have undertaken fieldresearch (or
will do so) at some stage. It is safe to say that whatever our field contexts, all of
us enter into human relationships and so, using this sense of inclusiveness, I
would wish to animate each of us to examine our own relationships in the field
and to engage in regular and deep-seated debate.
Although the focus of this essay is upon responsibility and reciprocity in
fieldwork contexts, it is worth noting here that issues specifically concerned
with applied, public sector or practice ethnomusicology will not be dealt with
(see Ethnomusicology 36.3, 1992). Clearly, applied projects have specific aims
and objectives other than undertaking fieldwork for academic research purposes,
where the emphasis is very much upon those who live "in the field" (see Titon
1992, Sheehy 1992, Davis 1992, Nettl 1964, Feld 1999). As Daniel Sheehy
notes, "It has been talked about in terms of an ethical responsibility to 'pay
back' those whose music and lives we study and make our livings from"
(1992:323). Such a notion of reciprocity is indeed relevant to non-applied
projects, for contained within this concept is the fundamental nature of giving
and receiving, of a two-way relationship, with certain responsibilities and duties.
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HELLIER-TINOCO Experiencing people: relationships, responsibility and reciprocity
Why such a paucity of literature?
What is most striking in terms of discussions regarding relationships in the field
is the paucity of literature that deals specifically with this fundamental yet dif-
ficult area. It is worth spending a moment pondering upon what this lack of pub-
lic debate implies. Does it highlight an unwillingness to engage and grapple
with this complex and personal topic? Is there a sense in which it is considered
to be unimportant, or that human relationships are so normal and so integral to
life that we have a sense of knowing how to deal them? Perhaps it is related to
what Mark Slobin has described as "the situational nature of ethics: no general-
ized response provides an easy answer in the light of the very specific nature of
the immediate circumstances surrounding each case ... This situation may help
explain the apathy towards ethics discussions: if everything depends on context,
why bother talking about the issues?" (1992:332). Perhaps the paucity of litera-
ture is linked with the idea that the relationships formed during fieldwork are
personal and therefore somehow not really appropriate to scholarly discussion.
Indeed Gregory Barz has noted the concern that he has experienced from
students "about the legitimacy of needing to know about friendships, ... the
loneliness of a field site, and of course of the ethnomusicologist's personal or
even sexual relationships while engaging in field research" (Barz and Cooley
1998:198).
Bruno Nettl's Theory and method in ethnomusicology (1964) includes a
chapter on fieldwork, which focuses upon issues such as eliciting information,
collecting, equipment, archiving and storage. Whilst the idea of eliciting infor-
mation is directly concerned with research relationships, the question of the
responsibilities involved in such relationships is not pursued. Ethical considera-
tions do emerge in Nettl's work in the mid-1970s, when he writes of "the ques-
tion of ethics in field research and the whole problem of the field worker's
obligation to the people who are helping him" (1975:75). Such a stance is
important, for it specifically points to a notion of reciprocity, suggesting that
fieldworkers have certain responsibilities towards those with whom they are
working. A development in Nettl's position is clearly demonstrated in The study
of ethnomusicology (1983), in which he refers to what may be considered to be
two crucial aspects of many field relationships: sharing and departing. He notes:
"To teach an outsider your culture is a kind of sharing, sharing of yourself with
one who will not remain but will discard you once he has what he wants"
(1983:265).
In his seminal publication The ethnomusicologist, Mantle Hood, like Nettl,
made brief reference to relationships in fieldwork, noting that "success in field-
work depends on the combination of three things", the third of which is "a great
sensitivity to the values and feelings of other human beings" (1971:202). From
such a notion queries abound, such as how success is to be measured, whether
the values and feelings of the researched come before those of the researcher
and how the feelings of the other human beings are to be sensed and understood.
At the end of the 1960s a challenging edition was published, which called for a
radical rethink with regard to anthropology. The numerous contributors to
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BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
Reinventing anthropology critiqued the academically centred nature of anthro-
pological undertaking and proposed a more responsible and reflexive approach
(Hymes 1969). Gerald Berreman called for "personal accountability" (1969:90)
and Robert Jay explores issues surrounding responsibility and relationships with
people in fieldresearch contexts (1969:367-81).
A chapter entitled "Ethnography: the fieldwork enterprise", by Pertti and
Gretel Pelto, was published in 1973 within an edition tackling various anthropo-
logical issues. In this lengthy chapter, issues concerning field relations are aired
and debated with varying degrees of depth. Their work tends to view the field as
an exotic, far away place and the informant as an Other, with the fieldworker as "a
marginal person, an outsider who, if he is successful, is permitted relatively free
access to the backstage area of the local social scene" (1973:248).2 Although such
a marginal role may now be viewed as inappropriate in many field contexts, there
is still a surprising emphasis within the discussion upon the nature of friendship
within field contexts. Pelto and Pelto note how "fieldworkers still go out every
year and come back with amazing amounts of detailed data, gathered from people
who in general appear to have feelings of enduring friendship toward the stranger
who came into their midst and pried into their lives" (1973:260). Despite the
emphasis on data-gathering and the field as a context "out there", the essence of
this scenario is similar to many contemporary contexts. For the majority of
researchers, fieldwork is still undertaken in a place removed from the academy
and the home; hence we "go out" from our university or home, later to "come
back". Whilst the shift is towards experience in the field, we nevertheless gather
experiences, which are given to us by those with whom we form relationships
(whether as teachers, co-workers, informants). Indeed, the term "data" is derived
from "things given", so even though we may not return with numerous recorded
interviews or musical events, photos and fieldnotes, nevertheless we have
gathered experiences and skills which will be useful to us, as researchers, to fur-
ther our professional credentials. Perhaps the crux of the statement is the phrase
"enduring friendship", for contained in this concept are issues that are fundamen-
tal to responsibility and reciprocity in the relationships. "Enduring" clearly
implies a permanence of relationship beyond the limits of the fieldwork project,
whilst "friendship" encapsulates a certain type of relationship, pertaining to
issues of closeness, trust, respect, intimacy and even naturalness.
"Friendship as a strategy of fieldwork"
Pelto and Pelto develop this concept of field relations in a section entitled
"Friendship as a strategy of fieldwork" (1973:257-60). In many ways the notion
of friendship as a strategy seems almost too clinical and calculating, with the
concept of strategy suggesting a very deliberate planning of moves and actions
that will be beneficial to the success of a project. Is this way of thinking and
planning part of many of our field projects? Do we view our relationships as
2 Exoticism was the norm in the 1950s when Pelto began his fieldwork. However, this was,
of course, being questioned by the mid-1960s.
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HELLIER-TINOCO Experiencing people: relationships, responsibility and reciprocity
strategies that will assist us in fulfilling our objectives, whatever they may be? Is
such a stance problematical for the way in which it points us towards viewing
our relationships only as friendships so long as they are useful to us in some
way? Pelto and Pelto raise important issues by noting that "the anthropologist
may feel that he has not betrayed the friendships he formed in the course of
fieldwork. Very possibly, the task of general data-gathering was justified by its
contributions to the general body of social science knowledge" (1973:283). Here
the notion of over-riding purpose is given as a justification for what happens to
and in the relationships. Such a position is promptly queried as the authors note,
"Times change, however, and it may be that the old justifications are no longer
adequate in many cases" (ibid.). Indeed, perhaps we should review our own
justifications for the way in which we initiate, develop and finish individual rela-
tionships in the field. Pelto and Pelto further include the idea of responsibility in
our field relations, for "our work becomes ethically and practically impossible if
we cannot do right by those people ['primary research communities and their
spokesmen' (sic)] whose friendship makes our fieldwork possible" (1973:284).
Here the starkness of the situation is exposed; we rely entirely on our friends (or
colleagues or informants) in the field in order to undertake our research. Yet the
complexities of what is meant by "do right by" remain frustratingly undefined.
How far should we go ethically, morally and even legally? Can any norms be
established in order to guide researchers in their field relations?
Michael Rynkiewich and James Spradley's Ethics and fieldwork continued
along the path of discussing relationships in fieldwork, again within an anthropo-
logical framework, tackling certain important issues, including the idea of manip-
ulation (1976). Barbara Harrell-Bond's account includes a description of how, in
order to accomplish her research goals, she spent much time creating friendship
bonds with people who were initially not interested in that relationship, only to
"change the rules of the game" at a later date, finally cutting the bonds that she
had so carefully woven when she left the field (1976:118-20). Such manipulation
is surely not unfamiliar to many researchers and begs the question "is such
manipulation acceptable?" Indeed, Harrell-Bond admits that she is uneasy about
such matters. Here, notions of asymmetrical power-relations are in evidence, for
we, the researchers, are those in the position of choosing with whom we will
form our research relations, nurturing those relationships and then walking away,
either permanently or temporarily. Within Harrell-Bond's account there is an
element that begs further examination, relating to responsibilities within relation-
ships. Her research was conducted amongst the Western-educated elite of Sierra
Leone, and she suggests that elements of her relationship, specifically mani-
pulation and leaving, were more problematic because of the background of her
informants, for it is "simply always a great deal easier to avoid facing up to them
[the problems] when our field research is conducted among a remote and non-
literate group" (1976:120). There is an implication that personal relationships
are more or less problematic according to the background, lifestyle or culture
of the people with whom we are researching. Can we make such distinctions?
Do not all field relations, regardless of background, present us with similar
problems and difficulties in terms of relationships?
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In the same work, David McCurdy discusses his role as "medicine man" in
his fieldwork context, including the statement: "In the end fieldwork must
involve compromise, a willingness to recognise that informants are people too,
and that their needs are bound to impinge on research" (1976:16). Even before
these words were published this model of informants impinging on research was
already being challenged (cf. Hymes 1969). Responsibility was to involve a
thorough examination of the possible consequences of the presence of field-
workers and research on those who are the subjects of the research.
A crisis in representation, but what of relationships?
By the late 1970s and 1980s, the crisis in representation brought a surge of
attention towards reflexivity (cf. Myerhoff and Ruby 1982, Marcus and Fischer
1986, Clifford and Marcus 1986). Some scholars reflected on the politics of
their relationships with informants and friends in the field. Writing involved a
reflexive approach, in which both researched and researcher were included in
the picture. Whilst the researched remained the main focus of the writing, atten-
tion was also directed towards the researcher, enabling a certain sense of rela-
tionship to be explored. Notable is the way in which certain writers demonstrate
that they have been taken by surprise in terms of their field relations, to the
extent of being unwittingly and unexpectedly pulled into the politics of their
fieldwork context. So although there is a move towards examining fieldwork
relations, thorough debate and planning are still not in evidence.
In the field of folklore studies, Bruce Jackson's Fieldwork provides a detailed
account of the whys and hows of fieldresearch (1987). He challenges his readers
to consider carefully issues concerning motives for fieldwork, particularly with
regard to relationships with informants (1987:19, 259-65). However, his defini-
tion of "useful fieldwork", as "field research from which the researcher learns
something and by which valid information is obtained" (1987:1), does not con-
sider the experiences of the researched.
Moving on to the 1990s, Helen Myers' Ethnomusicology includes two chap-
ters that continue the debate (Myers 1992, Slobin 1992), but which do not place
field relations at the centre of the discussion. However, Jeff Todd Titon, in his
1992 paper, does place the focus upon field relations, returning to an idea sug-
gested by Pelto and Pelto, that friendship should be used as a model within
fieldwork. Is Titon's friendship as a model within fieldwork fundamentally
different from Pelto and Pelto's "friendship as a strategy of fieldwork"
(1973:257)?3 The concept of a "model" appears less clinical than "strategy",
yet perhaps there is still an implication that friendship is something to be used
within field contexts, as a way of succeeding with our fieldresearch goals. Titon
suggests that "as a way of knowing and doing, fieldwork at its best is based on
a model of friendship between people rather than on a model involving antago-
3 It is interesting to note that although Pelto was Titon's professor in a general anthropology
course in the mid-1960s at the University of Minnesota, it was a large lecture class and Titon
cannot recall learning this idea from him directly (pers. comm.).
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HELLIER-TINOCO Experiencing people: relationships, responsibility and reciprocity
nism, surveillance, the observation of physical objects, or the contemplation of
abstract ideas" (1992:321). He constructs "a horticultural, nurturing metaphor"
(ibid.), which arises from the root concept of "field"4 in which a sense of care,
attention, hard work and dedication are related to notions of field relations.
Titon has provided specific examples, not only of how friendships are intrinsic
to fieldwork but also of how they require a large and sustained amount of atten-
tion. Whilst this horticultural metaphor may suggest that it is we, the
researchers, who are in control of the situation and make the decisions, particu-
larly with regard to those with whom we will nurture relationships, it can
clearly be extended to include the notion of nurturing those being researched,
for it is often they who take care of, and care for, us.5
Friendship and indeed human relationships in fieldwork form the central
theme in the seminal Shadows in the field (Barz and Cooley 1997). Fieldwork
has become "the new fieldwork" (Titon 1997b; Rice 1997), with an emphasis
upon human relationships rather than just collecting information (Titon
1997b:92) and the politics of the relationships with friends and informants in
the field. Cooley describes fieldwork as an "extraordinarily human activity"
(Barz and Cooley 1997:5), which uses an "extraordinarily human research
methodology - after all, it is humans that fieldwork brings together" (1997:14).
In this context the relationships are seen as "unpredictable human encounters"
(1997:9). Titon develops his model of friendship, focusing upon the "types of
relationships fieldwork engenders" and suggesting that "it is naive to think that
the ideal field relationship will always result in friendship. Sometimes a kind of
contractual relationship, implicit or explicit, in which each party helps the
other, is more effective. Sometimes a combination of friendship and tacit con-
tract is most effective" (1997b:95). What is important here is the recognition
that relationships, whether classified as "friendship" or not, depend upon forms
of reciprocity, placing the emphasis on an interactive encounter. Not only are
human relations accentuated, so too are ideas regarding a dialogue between
researched and researcher. As Titon explains:
Fieldwork is messy, empirical, difficult, partial, step-by-step, but it grounds
our explanations in the dialogue between self and other. It counteracts the
intellectual tendency to theorize the world without living in it. It posits a par-
adigm for knowing based in knowing persons. This paradigm differs from
prior scientific ones; its epistemology is humanistic.
(Titon 1997a:257)
Whereas knowing music was the basis for the epistemologies of ethnomusicolo-
gists such as Nettl and Hood, a shift has occurred which places field relations at
the centre of the epistemology of the fieldwork project. From a Malinowskian
view of "participation" in fieldwork as on-site and in-person observation, inter-
active encounters have become increasingly essential to ethnomusicology as a
humanistic discipline (Gourlay 1978 and 1982).
4 Clarified by Titon in a personal communication, April 2002.
5 I am grateful to Jeff Todd Titon for this suggestion.
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BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
The new fieldwork
Within the new fieldwork "the field" is reconfigured as an experience rather than
a place, and thus Titon places great emphasis upon the experiential and the
transformative. How far does this reconfiguration continue to place the focus
upon the needs and desires of the researcher, as opposed to the researched or
indeed the relationship? Another emphasis is placed on experiencing participa-
tory musical contexts. According to Titon, "our most satisfying knowledge is
often acquired through the experience of music making and the relationships
that arise during fieldwork" (1997b:98). Is such an assessment based on per-
sonal experience and the stories of others, or on the evidence of a large number
of researchers or researched in diverse field contexts? Who is "our"? Is it "us",
the researchers, or is this a suggestion that we should be able to sufficiently blur
the division that for all involved the experience is satisfying? Issues arise sur-
rounding the difference in experience of those participating, according to
whether or not the researcher was present.
There is a passage in Titon's essay that provides a notion for further probing:
"you are a person making music and I come to know you as a person. We seek
to know one another through lived experience" (1997b:94). The phrase "we seek
to know one another" seems to suggest that in fieldwork contexts both
researcher and researched enter into a mutually explorative relationship.
Questions arise, however, as to how often both parties are mutually seeking to
know one another and how often the fieldresearcher is seeking to know An
Other musician for his or her own purposes, whether such purposes are experi-
ential, transformative or data collecting. According to Titon, the relationships in
his experience have been mutually explorative.6 In my own experience, virtual-
ly all my musical relationships have been initiated by myself, and although
many have developed into mutually explorative relationships, I would certainly
find it difficult to ascertain to what degree. This musical relationship has also
been noted by Irdn Kertdsz-Wilkinson, who suggests that we focus "on the inter-
subjectivity between researcher and the researched in mutual participation in
musical activities" (1998:189). Are our musical relationships distinct, then, from
our non-musical relationships? If mutual participation in musical activity
enables a certain experiential relationship, how is this to be reflected and sus-
tained in the relationships when not participating in such activities?
Titon also suggests that "fieldwork is ... personally transformative ..."
(1997b:94), raising the question "for whom?" Fieldwork may well be transfor-
mative, for us as the fieldresearcher and for those with whom we form relations,
but is it not we, the researchers, who are still doing the choosing and the deci-
sion-making (and the writing, filming, publishing, teaching). Rice also develops
the idea of transformation of self, with "self" being used in relation to both the
researcher and the researched. Writing of his native teacher in Bulgaria, Rice
notes, "He did not remain the inveterate insider, but transformed himself and
expanded his horizons in his encounter with me and my world" (Rice 1997:116).
Perhaps we may query the notion that transformation and expanding horizons is
6 Pers. comm. April 2002.
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HELLIER-TINOCO Experiencing people: relationships, responsibility and reciprocity
intrinsically "good" or "useful", for we are utilizing a particular viewpoint and
mindset to weigh up the relative value of a particular relationship. Rice also
moves forward the discussion surrounding issues of insider and outsider,
elements of field relations that continue to prove problematic. He asks:
Could theory and method, which take for granted a fixed and timeless onto-
logical distinction between insider and outsider, be recorded within an onto-
logy that understands both researching and researched selves as potentially
interchangeable and as capable of change through time, during dialogues that
typify the fieldwork experience?
(Rice 1997:106)
Such a notion appears highly attractive, with a balancing out of asymmetrical
relations, an exchange and interchange, with implications of reciprocity embed-
ded within such relations. If we apply such a model to our own fieldresearch
contexts, to what extent can we see ourselves (the researching) and the
researched as potentially interchangeable? Indeed, are there "dialogues that
typify the fieldwork experience"? A sense of separation becomes apparent in
relation to the Self-Other dichotomy, a dichotomy between self and other that
fieldwork requires (Titon 1997a:254) and seems to impose. Kisliuk suggests that
"the deeper our commitment in the field, the more our life stories intersect with
our 'subject's', until Self-Other boundaries are blurred" (Kisluik 1997:23).
What does this deeper commitment entail? If the experience is dialogical and
interpenetrating between researcher and the people with whom we work, this
will affect our relations in numerous unforeseen ways.
The great divide between the field and life
To enable a dialogical and interpenetrating experience it would seem that there
is a need to make a change to the way in which both fieldwork and academic life
are often separated from "real" life. Kay Kaufman Shelemay suggests that "the
acknowledgement of fieldwork as a problem in human relationships offers a
pathway through the thicket of issues surrounding the ethnographic process and
the potentially intrusive role of the fieldworker" (1997:201). In other words, it is
not human relationships that are the problem but fieldwork - hence the need for
reconfiguration.
Shelemay mentions certain key concepts such as "sharing", "interaction" and
"negotiated relationships", and suggests: "As relationships 'in the field' mature
from the initial formality of scholar/informant ... to more collegial and personal
ones, the fieldworker inevitably moves beyond the management of cultural capi-
tal into the negotiation of human relations in the field" (1997:197). Is such a two-
stage process really apparent? We begin a process of negotiation of relationships
from the moment we "enter" the field - a process of negotiation that will con-
tinue for as long as we remain in it. As Shelemay notes, "We must accept respon-
sibility not just for the impact of our entry into the field, but for our abiding
relationship to it and our teachers long after we have 'left' (i.e., discontinued
research)" (1997:201). So commitment appears to be a fundamental issue of rela-
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tions in fieldwork, where notions of truncating relationships or viewing relation-
ships as only part of a field that is separate from "normal life" are in evidence.
There is still a "dichotomy between 'experience' and 'scholarship'", which,
according to Michelle Kisliuk, should be erased (1997:24). There seems to be a
huge gulf between the academy (or scholarship) and the field, and between schol-
arship and life. Questions arise as to why the two are separated, and as to the
nature of the separation. If the academy is separated from the world at large,
where does our fieldwork, which is so intrinsically part of real lives and real
experiences, fit into such a context? The issues are intimately related to how we
regard our own fieldresearch: whether it is "simply" one element of an academic
project, compartmentalized as part of academic life, with the result that we view
the friendships and other relationships in the same way, or whether it is a normal
part of our everyday lives. How often do our friends or informants in field
contexts remain spatially and geographically in one part of the world while our
universities are in another? Even if they are physically close, how often are such
friendships or relationships part of the academic or university life? Complex
issues also arise surrounding the nature of relationships among colleagues in
academic life and the interface and interaction between friendships (or relations)
in fieldwork and friendships (or relations) in academic life.
If there is a separation between scholarship, fieldwork and life, then intrin-
sic to such separation are notions of our identity and role in each context and the
identity and role of those with whom we form relations. Ideas concerning "play-
ing a role" in fieldwork relations have been put forward, as if the way in which
we deal with field relations and the way in which others deal with us are some-
how fundamentally different from what happens in real life. Norma McLeod
and Marcia Herndon advocate role-playing for the ethnomusicological field-
worker, suggesting that "it is wise to act out roles without living them ..."
(1979:131). The implication that the field is simply a theatre in which we are to
act parts, only to return to our real lives and the real world later, appears to be
rather extreme. If this is so, it follows that whilst our roles are viewed as tem-
porary and part of game-playing, those with whom we interact are in the play
permanently. They will not be returning to a real life outside of the play. If
indeed we do view our role of fieldworker as separate from real life, there are
profound implications for the way in which we initiate, develop and nurture our
relationships. If we are aware that we can simply walk off-stage and return to
our normal selves, leaving the rest of the actors to continue the performance
without us, this surely affects the way in which we consider our own responsi-
bility towards those with whom we work.
Two further examples from the 1970s also implicate fieldworkers in field
relations in which they are not really "being themselves":
As the anthropologist slips out of the role of fieldworker and into one of
several roles available to him (friend, neighbor, blood brother, or whatever),
a closeness develops with some natives which cannot be achieved while in
the role of fieldworker.
(Freilich 1970:533)
28
HELLIER-TINOCO Experiencing people: relationships, responsibility and reciprocity
As the circle of friendship develops and the researcher becomes increasingly
relaxed in the company of the musicians with whom he is working, he may
unconsciously begin to slip back into the more deeply ingrained habits of his
own culture.
(Hood 1971:224)
As with McLeod and Herndon's suggestion, the implication is that the role of
fieldworker entails a separation from who we really are. Is it not the case that we
are all playing multiple roles in our lives and that we have different personae
that we draw upon as we enter the diverse and complex relationships in our
lives? The way in which we interact with a best friend is bound to be different
from the way in which we interact with a magistrate, a police officer, a master
musician or an Other. In this sense the field is no different. Why should we con-
sider the field then, and our tasks and relationships as fieldresearchers, as some-
how intrinsically different or separate?
Rice writes of "the impermeability of cultural boundaries..." (1997:106),
whilst Barz and Cooley describe how "the nature of our impact in the field,
either in domestic or in presumed more 'exotic' settings, is indeed shaped by the
political and economic differences that often characterize our relationships with
those we study..." (1998:200). Clearly there are differences in the field, as there
are in other areas of our lives, unless we shut ourselves away in our ivory towers,
refusing contact with all unless we consider them to be "the same as" us.
Cultural boundaries exist in all walks of life, and as we continue with our jour-
ney along the many and diverse paths that we take, we learn to negotiate, over-
come and enjoy such obstacles, usually with much discussion, hard-work and
care. Dealing with difference in relationships is part of life, it is not unique to
field contexts and relations, and our skill in handling such difference surely
comes with patience and practice.
Responsibility and reciprocity
Returning to notions of responsibility and reciprocity, it is clear that such issues
have been taken very seriously in relation to contexts of applied ethnomusico-
logy, but rather less so in relation to research-based fieldwork. Irdn Kertdsz-
Wilkinson has noted that "a better awareness of the responsibilities of the
fieldworker with regard to the individuals and community in question brings
with it additional considerations of ethics and personal obligation" (1998:190),
and Martha Ellen Davis has described "tangible reciprocity" as an "ethical man-
date", writing of "the duty of reciprocity" (1992:363). Reciprocity may of
course be viewed in terms of economic, financial or product-based remuneration
for services rendered (Sheehy 1992, Davis 1992), and roles such as cultural
advocate (Sheehy 1992) and cultural broker or intermediary (Davis 1992:369)
have been suggested, so that we are involved in "social and political activism, a
kind of musical activism" (Nettl 1983:10), in which we are helping people in the
music-cultures with which we work to have better lives (Sheehy 1992).
Recordings may be given back to the community, John Baily's recordings of
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BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
Afghan music serving as a poignant example (Church 2002). Steven Feld pro-
vides a specific example of a form of tangible reciprocity in his fieldwork
context:
...people have done a lot to support and help me, and increasingly as I get
older and as they get older, they expect that I will do more for them, for the
community as a whole. That is a distinctly Melanesian dimension of how
social reciprocity and obligation is about the importance of social relation-
ships.
(Feld 1999:20)
Pelto and Pelto describe an exchange relationship such that the value that the
informants deliver to the fieldworker takes the form of information, with this
received information being directly translatable into economic, professional and
social advantage (1973:258). Does such a model seem too crude, too material-
istic - particularly if the paradigm has shifted from receiving information or
hard data to receiving experiences? Is fieldwork still a "largely one-sided acquis-
itive enterprise", as Ren6 Lysloff suggests (1998:187-8), in which "we go to the
field to bring something back: photographs, audio and video recordings, experi-
ence, knowledge, etc." (ibid.: 187)? If it is, perhaps we should explore ways of
reciprocating and of forming relationships which do not place research at the
heart of the equation. Dwelling for a moment on the term "reciprocity", we may
remind ourselves that the meanings of this concept are linked with ideas of mov-
ing backwards and forwards; of things given or received in return; and of
expressing mutual relation, give-and-take. How do we translate these notions of
reciprocity into personal relations, on a non-material level? Part of the answer
surely lies in the recognition that personal relations need mutual nurturing, with
time and effort being spent.
It would seem that a fundamental question should be asked of us concerning
our fieldwork projects: Are we, the ethnomusicologists, at the centre of our
research? Are the "subjects" of our research taking the central role or have we
managed to nurture a balanced experience? Although not directly related to
fieldwork, it is interesting to note that Marcus and Fischer, in Anthropology as
Cultural Critique, state that "anthropology is not the mindless collection of the
exotic, but the use of cultural richness for self-reflection and self-growth"
(1986:ix-x, my italics). Who is "the self'? Is it the researcher, the reader of an
anthropological work or those with whom we form relations in the field?
It is pertinent to consider for a moment issues concerned with purpose and
intrusion, for such elements are directly related to how we view our relation-
ships in the field. We may no longer be burdened with such high-minded ideals
as "the increase of knowledge in the ultimate service of human welfare" (Beals
1969:2) or the pre-Malinowski paradigm to change those with whom we work,
yet we are still involved with "quests for knowledge" (Davis 1992:363), along
with life-changing experiences (Titon 1997b), generally within an academic
context to "establish or further professional credentials" (Lysloff 1998:190). We
cannot fully deal with issues concerning responsibility and reciprocity without
mentioning power-relations and intervention, for these elements are part of the
30
HELLIER-TINOCO Experiencing people: relationships, responsibility and reciprocity
web in which our field relations are enmeshed. It is useful to remind ourselves
of the critique for the abolition of ethnomusicology, the criticism being levelled
that traditional fieldwork-based enterprises rest on asymmetries of power.
Indeed Paul Rabinow raised the issue that we know a good deal about the rela-
tions of power and discourse that obtain between anthropologists and the people
with whom they work, recognizing that such relations are open to inquiry
(1986:251). How far has the inquiry moved, and have power relations been suf-
ficiently interrogated? Numerous issues arise regarding how far we take respon-
sibility for our relations in the field, being aware of the ramifications of the
macro- and micro-histories and discourses that surround us and within which we
are entwined. Can we ever say that we have done enough to actively seek out
details of the macro- and micro-politics of our field contexts, so that we are not
suddenly and unwittingly plunged into relationships which require responses
beyond those that we were initially willing to give?
An intrinsic element of power-relations involves aspects of intervention and
even departure. According to Titon "the issue isn't whether intervention is an
option; like it or not, ethnomusicologists intervene" (1992:316). In other words,
as fieldworkers we are the ones who make a move into the life of individuals, a
family or a community. Usually it is I, the researcher, who has planned, decided
and chosen where to go and with whom to form relations. Such a model is not
necessarily appropriate for contexts in which the researcher is the apprentice to
the master, yet even here there are implications in terms of responsibility to the
relationship. When we enter a field for research purposes, to what extent have
we considered both our long-term commitment to those with whom we will
form relationships and how to make our departure? Helen Myers touches upon
this crucial aspect, noting:
As there is an art to entering a community, there is an art to leaving. Don't
vanish suddenly. Say goodbye in a manner that is appropriate to the culture
- with words and actions ... Stay in correspondence with friends made in the
field; they may be relying on a continued relationship, however simple. You
may represent an important and unforgettable episode in their life.
(Myers 1992:43)
Yet even as we plan our fieldwork projects, should we be thinking in terms of
how to end them? Does this imply a foreclosing of the possibilities for a
responsible and reciprocal relationship? A brief reminder of the roots of the
term responsibility itself may serve to prompt us in a certain direction.
Spondere, from the Latin, means "to pledge", with "re" suggesting "once more,
anew, afresh." So our responsibility to our field relations might well involve
some sort of pledge or contract, implicit or explicit, which will be upheld by all
parties in the relationship, for the duration of the relationship. In my own rela-
tionships, consideration of these concepts of responsibility and reciprocity
mean a frequent reappraisal of how the relationship is developing. This is cer-
tainly not easy, particularly when many months are spent apart from my friends
and acquaintances in Mexico. But there is no finality to these relationships -
for all those concerned, including myself, these are continuing relationships. It
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BRITISH JOURNAL OF ETHNOMUSICOLOGY VOL.12/i 2003
is the complexities and the nitty-gritty of these relationships that we are work-
ing on and discovering ways of developing. What has become apparent to me is
that because of the commitment in these relationships, I cannot, at present,
imagine engaging in another fieldwork context because the responsibility
would be too great. I personally am struggling with the issues of reciprocity
and responsibility.
A time for openness and debate
Although a great deal of time and energy has been spent struggling with repre-
sentation and with the self, with writing ethnographies and with how the people
with whom we research appear in our books, articles, photos and recordings,
perhaps we should ask ourselves if we have spent an equal amount of time strug-
gling with the problems surrounding how we deal with those same people on a
day-to-day basis and on a life-event basis. Certainly we should acknowledge
how unimportant we are as fieldworkers and recognize the potential of being
forced into a position as extreme as a mouthpiece or pawn. Yet, surely Titon is
right to place the emphasis upon connectedness, suggesting that we should be
emergent selves, rather than autonomous selves, who are connected selves,
enmeshed in reciprocity (1997b:99). Such connection suggests a shift away
from the separation between scholarship, the field and life towards regarding the
field as an intrinsic element in our normal lives and the relationships within the
field as requiring of us the same responsibility, reciprocity and commitment that
we give to our "normal" life relationships. Such a position stands in stark con-
trast to Jackson's concluding assertion that "fieldwork is not everyday life"
(1987:279). Whilst the field may or may not be our home, it is home for those
people with whom we form relationships. We are all experiencing people, we
are not play-acting: this is for real.
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Note on the author
Ruth Hellier-Tinoco is lecturer in performing arts at King Alfred's College,
Winchester. She completed a doctorate in dance anthropology and ethnomusi-
cology last year (Birmingham Conservatoire, University of Central England).
Her research in these fields focuses upon aspects of identity and nationalism
with regard to post-revolution Mexico. Address: School of Community and
Performing Arts, King Alfred's College, Winchester, S022 4NR; e-mail:
Ruth.Hellier-tinoco@wkac.ac.uk
34