Posted by: anthropologyinthewind | December 31, 2013

Fieldwork Reflections

January 2014 will be my final month living as an anthropologist in Caithness before returning to Aberdeen to write my thesis. As 2013 draws to a close, I have been reflecting on what I’ve learnt whilst I’ve been here – and how much I’d still love to find out. As I sit listening to the wind whistling around my little house, I thought I’d share just a few of my favourite thoughts with you – and some of the more unexpected aspects of fieldwork! A quick warning: don’t expect many philosophical musings here – this post’s just for fun!
My favourite line of inquiry has been asking people about the wind. When we think about the way we live our lives, we rarely consider the impact that the wind has on us, yet it influences so many of our habits and customs, from the way we plan our towns to when we do the housework. Still, I have been surprised by how difficult it is to converse with people about the wind. Whilst people are often able to tell me about a storm or other bad weather incidents, the more everyday relationships with the wind are often forgotten about. I have learnt that it is often easier to observe how people adapt their behaviour to the wind, than to ask them directly about it. Similarly, many people have a very intimate knowledge of how the wind affects certain aspects of life, although they may not frame it in those terms. Rather, by talking to them about surfing or gardening or forestry practices, I am able to glimpse how their knowledge of the world is being informed by the wind.
One of the biggest surprises for me has been the scope, innovation and expertise of industry in Caithness. I am, of course, showing my ignorance when I say that I had expected Caithness to be a fairly traditional farming and crofting county, so exploring the so-called ‘Dounreay effect’ has been a source of fascination for me.
A recurring theme throughout my time here has been the concept of belonging. The typical Caithness query, ‘where do you belong to?’ has been given new meaning as I have talked with people extensively about what belongs where. From plants and animals, to people and turbines, what belongs and where the ‘right’ place for something is, is a never ending source of debate.
Most memorable have been those aspects of fieldwork that were entirely unanticipated. Whilst any anthropologist will tell you that every encounter brings fresh insights, who would have imagined that PhD research would involve some of these adventures?

Coming second in a zombie race

Coming second in a zombie race

Chatting to a film director

Chatting to a film director

Appearing in the local paper

Appearing in the local paper – several times!

Acquiring some HUGE blisters

Acquiring some HUGE blisters – fieldwork isn’t all fun and games

Being Mrs. Christmas - twice!

Being Mrs. Christmas – twice!

Creel fishing - and trying lobster for the first time

Creel fishing – and trying lobster for the first time

Sleeping under the stars in all kinds of locations

Sleeping under the stars in all kinds of locations

Making charcoal in the snow

Making charcoal in the snow

Building a dry stane dyke

Building a dry stane dyke

Learning to strim

Learning to strim

But best of all have been the new friendships made – and the countless walks I've taken and cups of tea I’ve drunk whilst chatting to folk!

But best of all have been the new friendships made – and the countless walks I’ve taken and cups of tea I’ve drunk whilst chatting to folk!

The intricacies of life lived in the 21st century mean that my work will never offer more than a window onto that complexity. I could never hope to get to grips with all the subtle nuances and peculiarities of a region as large and diverse as Caithness, but I do hope that what information I have gathered, courtesy of the many wonderful and interesting people I have been privileged to meet over the past year or so, will provide some insights into a world in transition…Watch this space over the coming year as I post excerpts from my thoughts and writings as they begin to take shape.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for all your posts and have a happy and fruitful new year, lang may yir lums reek.

  2. Fantastic life as an anthroplologist in Caithness.
    What an experience to live in such a beautiful place and interact with the community and environment- great observations Louise.

  3. Nice representation ….
    From: Youtubeonfire


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