This chapter offers a series of reflections on how to access the ‘field’, based on personal experience as (junior) researcher, grantmaker and (senior) professor. This is done in sections that temporalize the ‘field experience’ in pre-field, field, and post-field practices, all the while arguing for a more expansive notion of field that allows for – or, better, requires – mutual and political engagements with a variety of different actors who may not be inside one’s – narrowly defined – field but who nevertheless have important impact.
In ‘The préterrain’ I build on the work by Condominas (1973) and Pels and Salemink (1994) on the work that is done – and often needs to be done – before entering the field proper, namely of building the relationships that eventually would make the serendipity, that Frank Pieke (2000) speaks of, go your way. In ‘Entering the field’ I relate to some of the tedious formal, administrative practices that create access, as well as the informal and contingent practices that might be important. In ‘Re-making the field as a grant-maker’ I argue that collaboration, exchange, reciprocity and mutuality – all too often seen as detracting from ‘real research’ – are important not only on moral grounds, but oftentimes enrich engagements and, hence, data. In ‘Does the field ever cease to exist? Postfield experiences and mutualities’ I claim that in this day and age, the field experience is no longer clearly bounded spatially and temporally, forcing ethnographers to continue to engage their research subjects and other relevant actors from afar. In my ‘Conclusions and reflections’ I argue that the field is no longer a clearly bounded, faraway place, and that there are no universal methods for securing access. The single most important thing that (aspiring) anthropologists can do is to patiently build relations of long-term mutuality and reciprocity – which is something that can be prepared for before the actual field research.
Securing Access a chapter in The SAGE Handbook of Research Management, Oscar Salemink, SAGE knowledge, 2015