Fieldwork, Science, and Ethics
Introduction The role of fieldwork in advancing a greater understanding of social processes seems too obvious to merit any defense – surely a closer relationship with the objects of one’s study and research can only enhance the acuity and analytical acumen of one’s investigation and inferences. But fieldwork is also controversial, for different reasons in different disciplines. In disciplines such as political science, many question the relevance of fieldwork for advancing scientific knowledge.1 In other disciplines such as anthropology, the necessity of fieldwork is unquestioned, but there are heated discussions about the ethics and politics of fieldwork (Chambers and Trend 1981, May 1980, Kovats Bernat 2002). Given the many different ways in which fieldwork is situated within the force field of academia, it is useful to state at the outset that the ensuing discussion approaches the relationship between fieldwork and science, and fieldwork and ethics from the perspective of a political scientist interested in policy research, specifically policies related to development and environmental conservation. As such, it interprets the idea of fieldwork in a somewhat conventional fashion – a period of time somewhere between a few weeks to many months spent in a non-instructional setting, collecting evidence
Contributions to a recent issue of the newsletter of the Comparative Politics division of the American Political Science Association, for example, examine whether fieldwork is necessary to advance research in comparative politics. The different contributors agree that fieldwork is most useful for empirical description, and Stevenson 2005 suggests that in research programs that already possess good empirical descriptions, fieldwork is unnecessary, especially because fieldwork is not particularly conducive to theory building.
related to a social-scientific and/or policy-related research question. The typical goal...