Candice Cornet and Tami Blumenfield, eds.
Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2016, 336 pp.
Reviewed by Indulata Prasad
Doing Fieldwork in China… with Kids! The Dynamics of Accompanied Fieldwork in the People’s Republic with Kids is a collection of articles by anthropologist-parents that foregrounds the productive tensions that accompanied fieldwork brings about in the process of anthropological knowledge production and ethnographic writing.
While acknowledging that the presence of kids in the field tests the limits of cultural relativism, the volume underscores that the process of knowledge production is not tangential to the anthropologists’ way of life. Instead it is central to what they do— thereby engendering the notions of objectivity and positionality in the field. This volume is a nod to the reflexive turn in anthropology as it debates the pros and cons of openly acknowledging accompanied fieldwork with children in one’s writing as it remains relegated to the margins— of our professional lives, acknowledgments, footnotes, and endnotes.
This volume also responds to the shifts in demographics of increasing number of women and men undertaking accompanied fieldwork by affirming the creative ways in which anthropologist-parents have sought to make “fieldwork” happen in progressive and innovative ways. The volume, therefore, demonstrates the ingenious ways in which anthropologist-parent attempt to create and or be “at home” in the field, impacting the way in which both anthropology and parenting gets done. Irrespective of the positive and or negative consequences of doing fieldwork with kids, the authors reiterate that accompanied fieldwork nevertheless forces anthropologists to engage with issues that they would not have in normal circumstances. Overall, the articles work to eschew the stigma of parent-anthropologists and to suggest ways for both the parent and the anthropologist to co-exist. In the process the distinctions between what gets classified as work and family are blurred.
Organized under three subheadings, “Health, Fieldwork and Family Configurations,” “Polyvocal and Long-term Reflections on Fieldwork,” and “Perspectives from Children and Advice for Adults,” the compilation of essays in each of the sections is both instructive as well as timely. They not only nudge the boundaries of anthropological knowledge production by undermining the myth of a lone anthropologist, ethnographer in the “field” but also serve as a great resource for those attempting to undertake fieldwork for the first time in the People’s Republic of China or elsewhere, with children in tow.
Having undertaken accompanied fieldwork in rural Bihar, India since the summer of 2009, the articles resonated with some of my struggles and anxieties, particularly around issues of health, schooling, safety and fieldwork with an accompanied minor. Of particular interest were the chapters in which anthropologists experimented with different work-family configurations to make fieldwork happen and the co-authored parent-child articles, which center children’s take on the fieldwork experience.
In conclusion, Doing Fieldwork in China foregrounds the highly gendered process of accompanied fieldwork. It not only provides a list of considerations for those who are planning to bring children to the field but also offers critical insights on what this process entails methodologically as well as for anthropological knowledge production. Although the ethnographic observations are rooted in The Central Republic of China, it nevertheless contains ample insights that transgress geographical boundaries of fieldwork to be useful to both who have undertaken accompanied fieldwork or are planning to conduct one.
Indulata Prasad is an assistant professor in the Women and Gender Studies program in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. She undertook accompanied fieldwork with her child in rural Bihar from summer 2009 onwards. Her work is on social movements and Dalit women’s struggle for land rights in rural Bihar, India.