This session hopes to examine how “field” can be a site of data collection, area of disciplinary knowledge, location of community-based engagement, metaphor for ecological thinking, as well as an object of study. Participants will compare approaches of field schools and community based practices in order to place four definitions of the term “field” under close scrutiny and explore how this term can be both useful and ineffective.
First, the act of documenting and analyzing the physical environment brings forth a notion of the field as material culture. Field in this form involves places where we collect data and engage with empirical knowledge. Second, field is also a location where students and scholars meet users, stakeholders and builders of that environment. It is here that they hear diverse interpretations of these places from individuals who live here. We find that the field is politically charged. Third, the field is also a part of a larger social, cultural, historical and ecological landscape. William Cronon’s Center for Culture History Environment espouses, “Many historical events, hitherto explained solely in terms of human enterprise, were actually biotic interactions between people and land.” Finally, in the academy our disciplinary field reflects our curricular and scholarly home. This use of the term represents theories and methods we use within our disciplines and reflects scholarly persuasions embedded within the politics of our disciplinary fields.
Gupta and Fergusson write that although many researchers conduct their studies in the field, the location itself remains relatively unexamined. Gupta and Fergusson’s imperative for a critical reexamination of the “field” and fieldwork comes out of necessity in a transforming globalized, uber-mobile world where “groups are not tightly territorialized, spatially bounded, historically self-conscious, or culturally homogenous” entities. While Gupta and Fergusson speak as anthropologists, scholars of the built field have yet to begin such a critical discussion.