Waylaid Dialectic

December 12, 2011

Quite possibly you don’t want to know what I really think

Filed under: Research for Development — terence @ 4:57 pm

Unless you’re a saint, an already transcended practitioner of a transcendental religion, or not actually undertaking any development related fieldwork yourself, it’s likely that at some point during your data gathering you are going to end up feeling at least a little frustrated with at least a few of your research subjects.

I certainly do from time to time. Although it turns out I’m not even in the big league. The following excerpt comes from Paul Theroux’s book ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania.’ He’s writing about Bronislaw Malinowski, one of the founders of modern Anthropology.

I was reminded of how Malinowski, the most sympathetic of anthropologists, would spend a day among these laughing people [the Trobriand Islanders of PNG] and then go back and scribble vindictively in his private diary.

“The natives still irritate me, particularly Ginger, whom I would willingly beat to death,” he wrote. “I understand all the German and Belgian colonial atrocities.” Or: “Unpleasant clash with Ginger…I was enraged and punched him on the jaw once or twice.” Or: “I am in a world of lies here.”

If you’re lucky, development field research will afford you profound insight into human nature. Even if it doesn’t, as a consolation prize, you’ll almost certainly end up afforded insight into a very important aspect of your own nature: the grouch within.

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