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Why socio-cultural anthropologists use long term field work as their main

research method.
A socio-cultural anthropologist concerns themselves with social patterns and
norms, interested in the differences and similarities among societies, in regards to
various practices and social structures that have been formed. And it is within this
pursuit, that research in the field over a long period of time, proves itself a
cornerstone of research within the anthropological field. Without it, it would be
difficult to acquire a holistic understanding of the society, with its many
interweaving systems that cant simply be isolated from one another. For this
reason, long term field work has been critical towards the development of societal
and cultural understanding.
It is no simple feat to understanding the mechanisms by which a society
operates, what systems enable it to keep it in place, and which are born out of
various environmental factors. In fact, even those that are native anthropologists,
struggle to unravel these structures despite their expected wealth of information.
Even within a given society, there are many microcosms that a native
anthropologist does not fall under. In the words of Kirin Narayan, The loci along
which we are aligned with or set apart from those whom we study are multiple and
in flux. (LOCATION 829). This is why even detailed interviews of natives will often
fall short, for even if the individual is very familiar with the rituals and culture from
which they reside, it does not mean they are capable of understanding the deeper
implications and origins of such structures, nor are they representative of others
within their society. It is only with the keen eye of a proactive anthropologist, that
these societal structures can be uncovered. A sentiment shared by Malinowski who
remarked, to see their society as a whole, as a set of related social institutions,
values, and activities is the ethnographers job. (LOCATION 691)
One of the largest reasons for this, is due to emergence. Unlike in other fields, it
is not possibly to simple view each piece of society on its own, for it is their
interactions that are at the heart of true comprehension. When Geertz went to a
small Balinese town to research why locals would partake in illegal cockfighting, he
was able to see how this seemingly simple activity connected with the societys
symbols of power and wealth, an extension of an individuals social status
(LOCATION 893). Another exemplary instance was Richards research into the
food practices in southern Africa. It became evident that food played a larger role in
their society than simply the satisfaction of a basic societal need. Like what Geertz
discovered about cockfights, the food was another symbol of wealth, its distribution
was a sign of power, where social relationships were defined, and made by the
production and consumption of it (LOCATION 1145). In both cases, it becomes
apparent how a particular social construct can have far-reaching properties,
contributing to the very basis of how the society operates. Without careful and
meticulous observation, it is easy to dismiss or ignore these nuanced details, which
comes at great cost.
Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology, was no exception. In his
time the myth of the savage was rampant, in part with the justification of
colonialism, it was the expectation that societies were to be evaluated on a scale of

development. This, in conjunction with John Lockes theories of property, led Darwin
to say, The perfect equality among the individuals composing these tribes, must
for a long time retard their civilization it seems scarcely possible that the political
state of the country can be improved (LOCATION 1739). This notion that this
society was less developed, and that they did not have a concept of property, was
in truth categorically false. By virtue of Darwins expectation and assumption of the
concept of property, because there was no immediately analogous structure, he
made the erroneous assumption that the Fuegians were without them. In actuality,
the tribes had rituals by which they determined who was allowed what hunting
territories, and who was allowed to marry with whom (LOCATION 1739). It was
simply because the concept of property manifested itself in a different societal
structure, that Darwin was incapable of seeing that they too had social structures
and norms. It is these, simple assumptions and norms that are easy to overlook,
but as shown above, can have drastic consequences. By deliberately experiencing
the culture first-hand for an extended period of time, what is considered common
sense can be overturned, thereby enabling the anthropologist to understand the
systems in place.
It is for these reasons that long-term field work continues to be a prevalent
tool in the socio-cultural anthropologists arsenal. For none is without innate
assumptions and preconceptions; a lack of deliberation and care can cause one to
miss/misinterpret events and facts creating wildly different conclusions. It is with
reflexive thinking, and the slow but steady deconstruction of the myriad of webs of
social structures, that enable anthropologists to bear insight into a societys
mechanisms. Whether one looks at the difficulty of even native anthropologists to
understand their social structures, the sheer size of societal implications of
something like illegal cockfighting, to the cautionary tale of making a simple
assumption, it is apparent why this tool is so pivotal in anthropological research. In
other studies, one can deconstruct something and model components into simpler
parts. However, the complexity of what makes a society dictates that the study of a
societal structure in a vacuum yields little, as it is not the parts themselves, but
rather their interactions between. In the words of Richards, explanation and
theory emerge from massive amounts of data that could be collected only through
and extended period in the field.